Cleveland the center of the sports universe on its biggest night ever

CLEVELAND — The stragglers idled on the Gateway Plaza sidewalks between the shadows of Quicken Loans Arena and the illumination from Progressive Field,

accompanied only by the howl of cleaning equipment picking up everything left on the ground.  That was the early-morning scene after Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 16. LeBron James dumped 41 points to even the series and send it back to Golden State. The Indians opened a home series with the White Sox the next day, and Trevor Bauer was pitching.   MORE: Corey Kluber sets K record in Game 1That’s when this started. The Indians opened a 14-game win streak behind Carlos Santana’s walk-off homer. The Cavs broke the city’s 52-year championship drought two nights later. This, of course, was Cleveland’s biggest, brightest, best sports night ever. The Cavs back home for the first time since that night, ready to raise a banner against the New York Knicks. The Indians were back in the World Series for the first time since 1997, ready to add a banner against the Chicago Cubs.Bryan Thomas, 27, lived in Cleveland his whole life. He attended Glenville High School. He knows Cleveland sports. He loves Cleveland sports. He wore Cleveland sports on his head with the Cavaliers logo shaved next to Chief Wahoo. (Bill Bender Photo) Cleveland fan Bryan Thomas (Bender)What does this moment mean to him?“Everything,” Thomas said. “To see this city come together like this is everything. It hasn’t stopped since Game 7.”Cleveland. City of light, city of magic, city of champions? How could it be? This city endured that half-century-and-change drought after the Browns won the 1964 NFL championship. Now, Cleveland is the center of the sports universe with a new-found bravado to back that up.“The Cavs are going to win, the Indians are going to win, 2-0,” Thomas declared. “It’s God’s way of saying it’s meant to be.”Thomas stopped for a second, looked and repeated that one more time with emphasis.“It’s God’s way of saying it’s meant to be.”*****Fans inhabited the Gateway Plaza at 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon; several of them already lined up clutching the gates at Progressive Field. They were ready.Other fans lined up outside Quicken Loans Arena on a wine-colored carpet and posed for selfies with a gold cutout of the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. They were ready, too.MORE: Cavs raise their banner, J.R. Smith criesWithin an hour thousands invaded the square. Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” rang out. Almost everybody had a permanent smile plastered on their face. Ted Siller, a 70-year old from nearby Oberlin, was one of those people. He made the trip with his wife, Kathy, who wore the same jacket they gave their son Ted before the 1997 World Series. Ted smiled while he talked.“This and this all in one night?” he said pointing in both directions. “We don’t have tickets. We just wanted to see stuff that was happening. We just wanted to be a part of it.”Siller remembers 1995 and 1997, but he’s had a hunch about this Indians team since June.“I’ve been watching these all guys all season,” Siller said. “Whatever magic dust Tito Francona throws on them continues to work.”Isn’t that The King’s thing?*****“Gold on the Ceiling” by the Black Keys blared through the arena at 6:21 p.m., fitting background music considering black shirts with that gold championship trophy awaited every fan at their seat. The anticipation built with each montage, the last one accompanied by “Can’t Stop the Feeling” one more time.The lights dimmed at 7:02 p.m., and that’s when a full house stood at attention with iPhones and Androids loaded. The Cavaliers emerged, dressed in white jackets with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy and “Cleveland NBA Champions 2016” stitched on the back.They watched the highlight-reel on the scoreboard again — the three-part harmony that reversed Cleveland’s fortunes, maybe forever. LeBron James blocked Andre Igoudala. Kyrie Irving hit the go-ahead 3-pointer. The celebration at the buzzer.MORE: Cavs get strange visitor before getting championship ringsNBA commissioner Adam Silver then opened the ring ceremony with ease. “There’s been a lot of talk about the past lately,” he said, “but tonight is about the present, and it’s time to give out the rings to the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers.”Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert followed and slipped in a Jake Taylor reference from “Major League.”“When all this is over, and the banner goes up, there’s only one thing left to do,” Gilbert stopped before adding a personal touch. “Repeat.”James received his ring last, of course, and he had the last word, too. James continued the campaign with the same message he delivered to the crowd at Progressive Field before Game 2 of the ALDS. (Getty Images) LeBron James gets his championship ring from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. (Getty)"At this point, if you're not from here, live here, play here, dedicate yourself to Cleveland, then it makes no sense to even live at this point,” James said. “Cleveland against the world."A wine banner with gold trim that said “2016” complemented with white letters that forever say “NBA Champions” drifted toward the rafters. J.R. Smith cried. The same cheers that enveloped the arena during Game 6 returned, and with more force.Gold touched the ceiling.*****Fans scattered into Gateway Plaza again afterward, some opting to change out of their Cavs T-shirts into an Indians T-shirt. Temperatures dropped into the low 50s, and the dash was on toward Progressive Field, where the anticipation for first pitch had built.It’s the Indians against the Cubs in this World Series, but it might as well be Cleveland against the world. Never mind that the Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. The Cubs haven’t won since 1908.Inside, it doesn’t feel like a Fall Classic. It feels like the Fall Classic. An old-time trumpet band belted out “Happy Days are Here Again.” The aroma of  popcorn, beer and grilled everything bit into that chilly air.  MORE: Rating every player in Game 1 of the World SeriesThe Heartland’s charm collided in the elevator, where fans wearing Corey Kluber and Kris Bryant jerseys tried to exchange pleasantries. It’s rustic yet ruthless.“In reality, I’ll be happy if we win and I’ll be happy for you if you win,” one said. “But we’re going to win.” “We’ll see,” said the other. “We’re damn good this year.”    By 8:06 p.m., “Let’s go Tribe! Let’s go Tribe!” ripped across Progressive before the first pitch. That mirrored the atmosphere at the NBA Finals. Those chants were quickly replaced by “Kluber! Kluber! Kluber!” as Corey Kluber dealt eight of his nine strikeouts in the first three innings.  (Getty Photo) Indians fans celebrate another Corey Kluber strikeout. (Getty)He was damn good in this one.“I don’t know if there’s one thing you can put your finger on,” Kluber said. “I think that’s it’s obviously there’s more riding on each game.”The Cavaliers took a 46-42 halftime lead behind James’ 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Two minutes later, Jose Ramirez nubbed a grounder down the third-base line to give the Indians the first run of the World Series. Brandon Guyer was hit by a Jon Lester pitch with the bases loaded. Cleveland led 2-0.  *****Andrej Mejak, 28, lived in Cleveland his whole life, too. He attended Villa-Angela St. Joseph High School. He knows Cleveland sports. He loves Cleveland sports. He wore Cleveland sports all over, with a “Rally Together” towel tucked in his jeans and a Kenny Lofton jersey to honor the former outfielder who threw out the first pitch in Game 1.Mejak hovered around the 300 section. The Indians are staked to a 3-0 lead by then. He has that same can’t-go-away smile on his face.“Super surreal,” Mejak said. “We have gone from the curse of Cleveland to … I’ve seen banners going down I-77 on the highway saying ‘Championship City.’ There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s super surreal.”MORE: Three takeaways from Game 1Super surreal, like James dropping 19 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists for the Cavs in a 117-88 blowout against the Knicks, which ended around 10:18 p.m.Super surreal, like the rise of reliever Andrew Miller, who entered 10 minutes later in the seventh inning. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam to strike out David Ross with two outs.Right field turned into a mosh pit of beer, rally towels and high fives. In the eighth inning, same result. Miller struck out Kyle Schwarber to end the inning. Same mosh pit of beer, rally towels and high gives. The 6-foot-7 lefty still hasn’t allowed a run in 13.2 postseason innings. Miller has emerged as the postseason hero for the Indians because of his freakish strikeout rate.All the script needed was an unlikely hero.*****The Cavs’ NBA Finals run featured the rise of J.R. Smith, a 3-point shooting machine who helped take the pressure off James, Irving and Kevin Love. A shirtless Smith will always be the inescapable image of the victory parade.  Catcher Roberto Perez hit three homers in 153 at-bats during the regular season. He hit his fourth homer off the left field wall in the fourth inning to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead, then added the celebration topper with a three-run smash in the eighth for the final margin of 6-0.  (Getty Images) Roberto Perez (Getty)“What he did at the plate tonight, my goodness that was fun to watch,” Francona  said.Closer Cody Allen came on for the save. He cut down Miguel Montero in the ninth inning on a 2-2 count at 11:47 p.m. The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the World Series 19 years to the day they won Game 6 against the Florida Marlins.The Cavs won. The Indians won, too. It was 2-0, just like Thomas predicted. Slider, the team mascot, waved a flag furiously in right field.*****Perez channeled Jake Taylor, too. He wore a red shirt that said, “There’s only one thing left to do” in the postgame press conference, where he sat next to Kluber, who wound down in the locker room beforehand by texting with his cell phone with his hat perched over his forehead. Kluber watched Miller get smothered by a throng of microphones before moving on to the interview room.The battery mates were so calm despite the high emotions from the fans.  “First World Series experience, and just trying to go out there and compete and get some good ABs up there and try to get on base and make something happen,” Perez said.MORE: Perez joins list of unlikely World Series heroesKluber, meanwhile, might be called upon twice more if it comes to that. He’s 3-1 with an 0.74 ERA in this postseason. It’s not LeBron-Kyrie-Kevin, but the combination of Kluber, Miller and Allen combined for 15 Ks in Game 1. “I think everybody, Kluber, the bullpen guys, Miller, Cody, they did an outstanding job tonight,” Perez said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”*****The stragglers idled once again on the Gateway Plaza sidewalks between the shadows of Quicken Loans Arena and the illumination from Progressive Field, accompanied only by the howl of cleaning equipment picking up everything left on the ground. That was the aftermath of the greatest night in Cleveland sports history.James is still doing his thing. The Cavaliers will spend the next eight months building toward Act III against Golden State.The Indians are doing theirs, too. They’ll try to build on Tuesday’s win and take another step toward that long-awaited championship.If the Browns could ever figure it out, then Cleveland really would be the “City of Champions.”“There’s work to do,” Mejak said.  There’s also a new wrinkle. Game 2 on Wednesday was moved up to 7:08 p.m. because of the threat of rain. What kind of magic dust does Francona have for that?“Shoot, that just means we start an hour earlier,” Francona said. “We can handle that. I don’t care what time they tell us to play. I’m sure they have a good reason.”Francona said he’ll be back at 10 a.m. either way, and we know the rest. The Gateway Plaza will fill up again, and there’s the same opportunity for the Indians that the Cavs had after winning Game 6 on June 16.Cleveland can take control of another series and start planning another parade, which would generate just as much, if not more, interest. The Indians continue that series Wednesday against the Cubs, and Trevor Bauer is pitching.We’ll see if it’s meant to be.

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