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Dyer: What the Cavaliers' championship means to a lifelong Cleveland sports fan

Dyer: What the Cavaliers' championship means to a lifelong Cleveland sports fan
Posted at 10:22 AM, Jun 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-21 10:02:55-04

WCPO.com high school sports reporter Mike Dyer is a native of Akron, Ohio and a lifelong fan of Cleveland sports teams.

AKRON, Ohio – Unreal.

That thought never left my mind even as the alarm clock read 12:36 a.m. Monday. Was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ improbable title perhaps a cruel dream Sunday night?

Full documentation and video evidence would need to prove a game was actually played at Oracle Arena Sunday night.

And a parade scheduled for Wednesday morning? Pinch me.

Fifty-two years since the Cleveland Browns captured the 1964 NFL title, the so-called Cleveland sports drought (curse?) can make anyone a cynic.

By now, the whole world knows the monikers and full history of fan disappointment over the decades between the Browns, Indians and Cavs.

Believeland was a cute term, but "let’s face reality" was my thought before the NBA Finals.

Somehow, early Sunday afternoon felt different. Maybe it was because of Father’s Day. Or that I tried to stay positive in light of the four-hour drive from Cincinnati to my hometown of Akron.

Why not this time?

A friend asked if I was confident, knowing full well I would never admit it. You learn quickly to curb your enthusiasm as a Cleveland sports fan.

Yet in fact, Game 7 of the NBA Finals was the greatest reality television drama Northeast Ohio ever witnessed.

Back and forth emotions throughout the game. Nothing ever decided until the final buzzer.

Draymond Green acted liked a mutated combination of Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller from beyond the 3-point line. Since when does that occur?

When LeBron James hit the floor hard in the final seconds, our watch party stopped in its tracks. The Cavs were up by three, but James had to hit one free throw with a bum wrist. Thankfully he made the second, and no one fouled a 3-point shooter at the other end.

Game over. This was a celebration for the ages.

Social media gave the up-to-the-second pulse of a region, but I heard it firsthand from family and friends.

“It can’t get any better than this,” Jim Dyer said. “It’s great. Unbelievable. Oh my gosh. All these years growing up as a kid and all these disappointments.”

Jim Dyer is my dad – an Akron resident for nearly 59 years. Sunday night was for him.

For the man who taught me about sports, this clearly meant even more on this Father’s Day because of the memories shared with family. My wife Trisha is extremely supportive of my fandom. Our two boys, 2-year-old Luke and and 5-year-old Brayden will hear the championship stories for years ahead.

Watching the tears in my brother Dan’s eyes and hearing my mom, Patty, recite prayers in the final seconds of the fourth quarter are something I will never forget.

We jumped in unison. We hugged. We cheered. We cried.

As we watched the images of the fans celebrating in downtown Cleveland, I reached out to another friend who walked around the wee hours of the morning after attending the watch party at Quicken Loans Arena. “This is unbelievable,” he said.

You could hardly believe the the fourth quarter. It seemed like it took two decades by itself.

I remembered the most recent Game 7 of a final championship opportunity occurred in 1997 as the Florida Marlins dashed the hopes and dreams of Cleveland baseball fans.

“We thought for sure they would win,” my dad reminded me.

There were so many close calls. So many unfulfilled sporting memories over the decades. Somehow those were all washed away Sunday night.

LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami? Forgiven.

Earnest Byner? No worries.

Jose Mesa. We've moved on.

Art Modell... well, maybe not.

My dad was 7 when the Browns upset the Colts a few days after Christmas 1964. The youngest of three brothers, his father and mother and the boys watched on a black-and-white television set in the North Hill neighborhood of Akron.

He doesn't remember a lot from that day, but he knew at the time it was a big deal. He wouldn't fathom another 52 years before Cleveland won another title.

Shortly after that '64 title game, his father died in his sleep. Dad’s life changed forever. It still doesn’t seem fair to me even though I never met George Dyer, who died in 1965.

Dad's interest never waned from the sports teams either, regardless of their win-loss records. That has meant hundreds of games over the years with the drive up Interstate 77 to Cleveland.

I still (barely) remember when the Browns were the craze of the late 1980s. But something always happened to deny a Super Bowl trip. My first Browns game in person was in 1995 after the team announced it was moving to Baltimore – the most somber sports memory I have to this day.

The Tribe was another story. I still remember watching games as a youngster with my dad at Cleveland Municipal Stadium with 2,000 other people. We sat behind home plate because, frankly, no one would stop us in the 80,000-seat stadium.

When the team moved to Jacobs Field in the 1990s, somehow 455 consecutive sold-out games occurred with the 42,000-plus ballpark. Still, the team couldn’t win the World Series.

The Cavs that I remember the most in the mid- to late-'90s simply never had the serious opportunity to make a run at the title.

I left for Cincinnati in 2004, but have always had a dream to celebrate with a title with my family. My views on pro sports aren’t what they used to be as a fan, but I wanted to see this part of the state celebrate something my generation has never seen before.

When James, an Akron native and athlete I covered during his high school days, left for Miami it was déjà vu all over again.

But when he returned, it gave the Cavs a pulse again. Then another Cleveland thing happened in the 2015 NBA Finals, with the injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Cleveland couldn't catch a break.

This year had its drama, too. I watched in simple amazement how the Warriors dominated the first two games. This was so Cleveland again.

And yet to watch an historic rally from a 3-1 deficit and to win three consecutive games over the Warriors was something that was part of the script all along. It was a redemption factor. If Cleveland was to win a title, this seems the best way possible.

“It’s good stuff all the way around,” my dad said. “Great for morale. Great for the city and great for Akron.”