By Mike Wilcox, Publisher
You’ve been warned! This column isn’t for everyone.
I confess to being a fanatical sports fan and one of my favorite sports is basketball. Thus you can imagine I was in all my glory when Sunday night rolled around and it was Game 7 time for the NBA championship.
And when Cleveland edged Golden State in what will go down in history as one of the most entertaining Game 7’s in sports history, I was deliriously joyful for the city of Cleveland and its fans. You see that poor city has been the butt of sports futility jokes for years. A Cleveland professional team hadn’t won a championship since the Cleveland Browns won the NFL championship (before the age of the Super Bowl) back 52 years ago.
Like so many I have been a long suffering Detroit Lion fan. They haven’t come close to winning a championship since the Bobby Layne era back in 1957. But the Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons have each won the title of their sports best team several times. In Cleveland, well, let’s just say their record of sports futility has been down right embarrassing.
But the monkey is now off their back thanks to Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and a host of role players. They won the championship despite being down three games to one. They won despite enduring a tumultuous regular season in which their coach David Blatt was fired midway through the season.
When I think of Cleveland basketball, I think of James and owner Dan Gilbert. But I also reminisce about a former owner, Ted Stepien, who in the 1980’s, fielded some of the worst teams the Cleveland Cavalier fans have ever seen.
Stepien, God rest his soul, was a friend, albeit an eccentric one. I grew to know him, and like him, after he has sold the Cavaliers to Gordon Gund, and embarked on the task of starting a professional basketball league known as the Global Basketball Association.
I answered an ad in the Wall Street Journal seeking teams to join the league. After meeting with Stepien, and scouting arena locations all over the Midwest, I cut a deal with the Saginaw Civic Center and hired U of M legend Cazzie Russell as my coach.
Being the youngest owner in the new league as well as having the smallest market- other teams were in Nashville, Huntsville, Greenville, Albany GA, Wichita and Louisville, Stepien became my mentor. He taught me a lot about basketball and team ownership. I spent days and nights at his Cleveland mansion, listening to stories about how he and Cleveland were screwed by the NBA.
If Stepien were alive today he would be the Cavalier’s most fervent fan. He loved his city and would have done anything to bring a basketball championship to it. That legacy, however, has now fallen on the current owner, Detroiter Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, who was able to lure the world’s greatest basketball player, Lebron James from Miami, back to his roots in northeast Ohio.
Before the playoffs, many were saying James was washed up. They said two-time regular season MVP Seth Curry of Golden State was the world’s best. James, however, who proclaimed a year ago he would bring a championship to Cleveland, clearly out-played Curry in every facet during the playoffs and finals. Few can dispute now, who is the better player.
For James, and Gilbert who has done so much for Cleveland and Detroit, and the former owner Stepien, who was vilified by the NBA, players and fans, this championship means so much. But even more importantly the fans of the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland so needed to get “the monkey off their back.” It is gone now, and they can look to the Cavaliers and maybe even the Indians, to bring them more championships in the near future.