CLEVELAND (WJW)– What a year 2016 was for Cleveland sports fans.
The then-Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup. Stipe Miocic won his first UFC Heavyweight title. And the Cleveland Cavaliers ended the city’s 52-year major sports title drought by becoming NBA Champions. (Let’s not talk about the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series right now, OK?)
We were, “All In 216,” not just a nod to the Cleveland area code, but the Cavs’ path to 16 playoff wins.
The Cavs swept the Pistons and the Hawks in the first two rounds of the postseason, then finished the Raptors in six games for their second of four-straight Eastern Conference titles.
There was a familiar foe waiting for Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals: the defending champion Golden State Warriors with a historic 73-9 regular season record and first-ever unanimous MVP Steph Curry.
Things looked bleak for the Cavs, who fell to the Warriors in six games the previous year. They were down 3-1 in the Finals. No team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficient to win the Larry O’Brien trophy.
But when the Cavaliers evened the series at three each in front of an insanely-loud home crowd, we got to hear the two most exciting words in all of sports: Game 7.
Back on the West Coast at Oracle Arena on June 19, 2016, it was 75-76 Warriors to start the fourth quarter. The game came down to three iconic plays: “The Block,” “The Shot” and “The Stop.”
“The Block”: Warriors Andre Iguodala rebounded a shot by Kyrie Irving and powered down the court. You know what happens next. The words play in the heads of Cleveland sports fans like their favorite song: “Iguodala to Curry, back to Iguodala. Blocked by James!” With less than 2 minutes left, a chase down block by LeBron James kept Cleveland in the game.
“The Shot:” Irving posted 26 points in the game, but was one for four on three-pointers until this moment. It was 89-89 and Kyrie was in a standoff with Curry. There were just 55 seconds on the clock when he pulled back and sunk the three.
“The Stop:” Kevin Love ended up covering Curry while Irving was on Draymond Green. Love’s defense forced Curry to pass to Green and when the ball came back, the NBA MVP didn’t make the shot.
A foul shot by LeBron sealed the 93-89 victory and his words, “Cleveland, this is for you!” became chiseled in sports history.
Once the initial shock wore off, it was pure joy inside the watch party at Quicken Loans Arena, which was mid-renovations for the 2016 Republican National Convention. Outside, confetti rained down on Gateway Plaza and the party downtown stretched into the early-morning hours.
Our champions returned to Cleveland the following morning to a massive crowd at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
The streets of Cleveland were wine and gold on the morning of June 22, 2016 for a parade unlike the city had ever seen. It was supposed to be short: Start at Quicken Loans Arena, down East 9th Street to Lakeside Avenue and end at the Huntington Convention Center. But with more than a million people downtown, the parade stretched for more than five hours on a sweltering day.
J.R. Smith stayed shirtless, Mo Williams puffed cigars and Kevin Love wore wrestling belts over his shoulders. And LeBron James, with his arms stretched wide like the billboard of his likeness just feet away, took in the moment.