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Cleveland's Sports Title Drought: Five Decades And Counting04:30
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The Cleveland Cavaliers are two wins away from claiming the NBA title. To be fair, so are the Golden State Warriors, who last won it all in 1975. But it’s been more than 50 years since Cleveland won a title in any pro sport.

We asked Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto to share his thoughts about the title drought and some of his city's championship near misses.

(To hear Bill Littlefield's complete conversation with Pluto, click on the play button above the photo.)

Cleveland's Not So Close Calls

In a play now known as "The Fumble," Cleveland running back Earnest Byner (44) lost the ball in the 1988 AFC Championship Game, costing the Browns a chance to tie the score. Denver went on to win. (Mark Duncan/AP)
In a play now known as "The Fumble," Cleveland running back Earnest Byner (44) lost the ball in the 1988 AFC Championship Game, costing the Browns a chance to tie the score. Denver went on to win. (Mark Duncan/AP)

Since running back Jim Brown guided the Cleveland Browns to the the NFL championship (in the pre-Super Bowl Era) in 1964, Cleveland teams have had chances to add to the city's trophy case. But some chances were better than others.

"That's one of the things about our misery here in Cleveland. It isn't misery in the finals, it's misery that we almost got to the finals," Pluto said.

"The Shot" (1989) — In a deciding Game 5, Chicago's Michael Jordan sank a last-second jumper over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo, eliminating the favored Cavs.

"The interesting part of how they do Cleveland misery on national TV is they show, for example, Michael Jordan hitting a shot against the Cavaliers. They neglect to mention that that was a first-round playoff game."

"The Drive" (1987) & "The Fumble" (1988) -- In the 1987 AFC Championship game, John Elway guided the Denver Broncos to a come-from-behind win over the Browns. The following year, the teams met in the conference championship again, but late in the game Browns running back Earnest Byner fumbled and a possible game-tying touchdown turned into a city's heartbreak.

"'The Drive' and 'The Fumble' to Denver, [broadcasters] make it feel like it was the Super Bowl. It was not. It was a game away from the Super Bowl."

Missed It By That Much 

Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel after the Indians' extra-innings loss to the Florida Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. (Roadell Hickman/AP/ The Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel after the Indians' extra-innings loss to the Florida Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. (Roadell Hickman/AP/ The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

1997 World Series — The Indians reached the World Series in 1995 and lost in six games. Tough loss. But things got worse two years later.

"The only real 'they were so close, but didn't get the title' was the 1997 Indians, where they had a one-run lead in the ninth inning in the seventh game in Florida, and the Marlins came back to tie it and then win it in extra innings."

Prior to 1995, the Indians' last trip to the World Series came in 1954 when they were swept by the New York Giants. Cleveland's most recent World Series title came in 1948.

The 2015 NBA Finals: The Makings Of Another Close Call?

LeBron James expected to have the help of teammates Kyrie Irving (left) and Kevin Love in the NBA Finals, but both players are injured and out for the rest of the playoffs. (Tony Dejak/AP)
LeBron James expected to have the help of teammates Kyrie Irving (left) and Kevin Love in the NBA Finals, but both players are injured and out for the rest of the playoffs. (Tony Dejak/AP)

The Cavaliers made their first trip to the NBA Finals in 2007, during LeBron James' first tenure with the team. But they were no match for San Antonio. The Spurs swept the series.

After returning to Ohio this season, James teamed up with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Love got injured early in the playoffs and won’t be back. Then in Game 1 of the finals, Irving fractured his kneecap and he won’t be back, either.

"For the most part, the fans have been terrified ever since the finals began that they would get this close and not win. ... And by the way, I'm fearful that if the Cavaliers do not win, this will now become 'The Kneecap.' 'The Drive,' 'The Shot,' 'The Fumble,' 'The Kneecap.' They got kneecapped."

Pluto doesn't predict any sympathy for Warriors fans who have been waiting 40 years since their last NBA championship.

"No. Don't even go there. They've got the Giants. They've got the 49ers. ... We're miserable. We're proud of it. We've earned our misery."

Pluto says regardless of the outcome, LeBron's stature in Northeast Ohio is only growing.

"If six months ago somebody had said to you, 'It's now a three-game playoff for the NBA title.' Would you sign up for it? You certainly would. And so would every fan here. LeBron James, if he doesn't win the title, he'll be viewed heroically in terms of sports. And if he does, forget being on Cleveland sports' Mt. Rushmore. He's now on Mt. Everest."

This segment aired on June 13, 2015.

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