Unless you've been living under a rock and just came out and stumbled upon this article before speaking with anyone, you're probably aware that the Cavs won their first NBA title Sunday night, bringing Cleveland its first major sports championship since 1964. Their championship parade was held yesterday; more than three times the city's population crowded downtown to bask in the winners' warm glowing warming glow.
While the Cavs and Browns do sometimes come up here, Let's Go Tribe is not the destination for people looking to read and converse about those teams. We're here for the Cleveland Indians, and so I'll tilt this conversation their way:
What does the Cavs winning the NBA title mean for the Tribe?
There's a reasonable case that it doesn't mean anything. We've seen from a couple batting practice sessions that LeBron wouldn't be successful as a baseball player (though given some opportunities, I bet he'd make a few tremendous catches over the outfield wall), and their neighbors winning it all doesn't entitle the Indians to extra draft picks or anything. There's also nothing that says two teams from one city can't both be successful at the same time. The Indians are still competing against the same teams, with the same players, as they were a week ago. Nothing has changed.
As I said, I think that's a reasonable argument, but it's not the only one. There's also a pretty good case that things have changed, perhaps for the better, and perhaps for the worse.
The argument that this is good for the Indians
A massive amount of civic pride was on display yesterday. Folks from Cleveland were proud of their heritage even without the title, but seeing your team win it all allows you to stand a bit taller, to puff your chest out a bit farther. That elevated civic pride could carry over to better support of the Cavs' next-door neighbor, especially with that neighbor currently residing in first place.
As might be expected of any fan base that's been waiting a long (long) time for a championship, I think it's fair to say Cleveland sports fans were somewhat more pessimistic than the average fan base. It has long taken quite a bit going well to convince the city and metro area to believe in the Indians, whereas they've been ready to give the team up for dead at the sight of a three-game losing streak. The Cavs were behind three games to one against an opponent that had won more regular season games than any team in NBA history, but they came back, clearly undaunted. Perhaps fans will follow that example, and not spend the season waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The boost in civic pride could lead more Clevelanders to drop by Progressive Field, and newfound confidence from seeing the Cavs refuse to accept being fated to also-ran status in the story of Golden State's crowning as the greatest team in NBA history could lead more locals to stick with the Indians even when the going gets rough.
The argument that this is bad for the Indians
The Indians were already at something of a disadvantage, because the Browns have continued to be the city's favored child despite being the worst team in American professional sports this century. The Cavs have now launched themselves to the top of the city's pecking order, and while we can't yet say how long that will last, for now the Indians are very clearly at the bottom of that order. The Cavs will understandably continue to draw a lot of attention even though their season is over, and the Browns will soon sign a backup punter, leading the city's sports talk radio to devote entire days of content to what it all means. The Indians may have just gotten easier to ignore.
Some fans may also wonder why the Indians can't put together a championship team as quickly as the Cavs did. After all, the Cavs were really bad just two years ago, and here they are atop the mountain. Yes, this overlooks the fact that the Cavs were able to add the best player on the planet two years ago, but overlooking the differences between sports and leagues is a chronic difficulty for many. The Cavs only had LeBron the first time around because they lucked into the top pick in a year when a generational talent was the obvious choice. The Cavs initially squandered their good fortune by failing to build much of a supporting cast, leading to The Decision. If LeBron hadn't set his heart on a homecoming, or if the team hadn't landed a couple more #1 picks during his absence, the championship drought would still be in place. Will some Cleveland fans overlook all that, wonder why the Indians haven't been able to win even their division for nine years and spend more of their time and money on the Cavs?
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I'm biased in this discussion by my status as an Indians fan who doesn't care about the Cavs (or Browns). While I'm truly happy for those who hadn't experienced a championship before, some part of me is a little disappointed that now the Indians can't be the team that gives Cleveland what it had yesterday. Yes, if they win the World Series, people will be thrilled, and there will be a big parade, but it won't be quite the same, because it won't be the one that ended the decades of disappointment.
Cleveland fans have their long overdue championship. Indians fans still wait.