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Cleveland Celebrates After First Major Sports Title In 52 Years

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today is a good day in Cleveland - like, really good. The Cavaliers pulled off something last night that hasn't happened for the city in more than 50 years. They won a pro sports championship. The Cavs were down 3 games to 1 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals. No team had ever come back from that deficit. Last night the Cavs pulled it off with a 93 to 89 win in game seven. David C. Barnett of WCPN ideastream reports it is a therapeutic victory.

(CHEERING)

DAVID C. BARNETT, BYLINE: Thousands of fans were on hand on a hot, sunny day to greet the Cavs when their plane landed this afternoon. Deborah Watkins came here with her grandkids.

DEBORAH WATKINS: They needed to see this. They need to see what a championship was. This is my first time seeing a real championship. At least I'm old enough to see it now. And I wanted to share this with them.

BARNETT: The last time a major, pro Cleveland team had a sports championship was when the Browns won in 1964. The intervening years have been painful. There was the fumble that lost the Browns the 1987 AFC championship, Michael Jordan's shot that stole the 1989 NBA title from the Cavs and the loss of the 1997 World Series in the bottom of the ninth inning. Akron Beacon Journal sports writer George Thomas says it has indelibly shaped fans here.

GEORGE THOMAS: The Browns have probably lost two generations of fans. When LeBron left the first time, the Cavs were in danger of doing the same thing. But this changes all that, I think.

BARNETT: Cleveland native and lifelong sports fan Brad Sellers was 2 years old when the Browns won the 1964 championship.

BRAD SELLERS: Sometimes you can feel like you're second-class, that you're not quite good enough. So last night, I - it was a lot of therapy for a lot of people last night.

BARNETT: Sellers is now the mayor of the Cleveland suburb of Warrensville Heights, but in 1989, he was a member of the Chicago Bulls squad that robbed the Cavaliers of an NBA championship. In fact, it was Sellers who fed the ball to superstar Michael Jordan which led to Jordan's game-winning basket with seconds to go.

SELLERS: And there's not a week, really, that goes by that somebody doesn't ask me about either the shot - how's it feel to be at the demise of your own home town. And so there's a lot of therapy in there for me, too.

BARNETT: It was an unprecedented comeback for the Cavs. Until last night, no team in NBA history that was down 3 to 1 had won game seven. Standing outside the teams' plane this afternoon, LeBron James hoisted the NBA trophy into the air to the adoring fans...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEBRON JAMES: Squad Cleveland.

BARNETT: ...Fans like George Theodore.

GEORGE THEODORE: Cleveland has waited so long for this to happen, and they deserve it. The fans here are like next to nothing. They're the best.

BARNETT: The city will honor the hometown heroes with something that sports fans here have hungered for for 52 years - a celebratory parade. For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.