CLEVELAND — The day that Cleveland stood at the center of the sports universe, a stiff wind forced itself through the streets, dark clouds lingered until sunset, bringing with them the chill of the autumn. But all was good in the place called the Land.
The time had come for a coronation. All the people could see and feel were colors and the warmth. There was the pride of hosting one team with a title in hand and one team on the brink of another. Yes, this is Cleveland, the city of champions, re-branded after decades of cold days and hard truths and enough losses to fill all of Lake Erie.
“Cleveland’s such a great place to be right now, man,” said John Rivera, a longtime fan from nearby North Royalton. “It’s such a beautiful day today.”
The river once burned here, and the Browns bolted for Baltimore, and the Indians and the Cavaliers remained to take up the torch of failure. Meanwhile, LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.
But Tuesday, with James at the center of it all, the Cavaliers received their NBA championship rings. Little more than half an hour later, just across the street, the Indians hosted the Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series, and won, 6-0.
“This is just amazing,” Rivera said. “Really, it’s just hard to put in words. It’s amazing. It’s such a beautiful day. After what the Cavs did and the Tribe trying to do the same, it’s almost unbelievable.”
Rivera wore a Sandy Alomar Jr. jersey and carried a contraption of his own creation. It took him six hours to affix an Indians flag, a Cavaliers flag and two placards to a metal pole. One placard read “Thank You King James.” The other said “Respect Cleveland,” just above an Indians logo. Rivera paraded around the space between Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field hours before the gates had even opened.
“Today is probably going to be tops, man,” Rivera said, acknowledging the rarity of the day. “That’s why I’m here. There’s probably not going to be something like it, ever. This is really good. Really good.”
Well, not all of it was good.
Said Rivera: “I just wish the Browns could play a little bit more football.”
As tip-off approached and first pitch neared, a stream of fans flooded downtown Cleveland. They snapped photos of signs on the arena that read “Champions Live Here.”
Strangers swapped stories about the bad old days, when the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964. That’s when darkness descended until this summer, when James and the Cavaliers chased it away.
“I’m still in shock about us winning the NBA championship,” said Jerrael Overall, who wore a Cavaliers beanie and recalled crying as a child when the Indians lost the World Series in 1997.
It was his first real taste of the bitterness that became a staple of rooting for teams in Cleveland. It was his scar, giving him standing with those who lived through The Drive and The Shot.
“The letdown — year after year after year — takes the spirit away,” said Overall, who came from his hometown of Elyria to be a part of history. “But after winning the championship, that spirit is always going to be here. No more Mistake by the Lake.”
Ken Taylor of Garrettsville raised his children to respect the loyalty of rooting for Cleveland, even during the dark days.
“Regardless of what happens in this World Series, I think it’s ridiculously uplifting for this city,” Taylor said. “It’s just really inspiring, regardless of win or lose.”