Title drought over, Cleveland thirsts for more championships


CLEVELAND (AP) — The confetti has been cleaned up. The party hasn’t stopped. Always rocking, Cleveland’s rolling like never before.

Since superstar LeBron James and the Cavaliers clinched the NBA championship with a historic comeback to quench the city’s 52-year major title drought, Cleveland has been celebrating — and winning — at a startling rate.

Picking up where the Cavs left off, the Indians have reeled off 12 straight victories and are threatening to run away with the AL Central. They’ve also motivated some skeptical fans to buy tickets so they don’t miss out on the summer fun.

Suddenly, a city accustomed to losing can’t lose.

Between the Cavs, the Indians and the Arena League Gladiators, Cleveland teams are a combined 17-0 since June 15. Toss in the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters winning the Calder Cup and Cleveland’s Stipe Miocic recently becoming the UFC heavyweight champion and it’s easy to see why everyone’s in a good mood.

Take a walk around downtown, where things continue to be spruced up for the upcoming Republican National Convention, and everything looks and feels different.

Clevelanders are holding their heads high and puffing out their chests in a way they never could. There’s been a noticeable attitude adjustment for fans no longer wondering if they’ll ever witness one of their teams win it all.

It’s happened, and now they believe it can happen again.

“It’s kind of like the weight of the world has been taken off everybody’s shoulders,” Andrew Rivera of Cleveland said as he hustled back to his office following a lunch break. “They are a lot more relaxed, relieved.”

This hangover isn’t hurting anyone’s head.

Last week’s parade for the Cavaliers drew nearly one million spectators, who joyfully swallowed James and his teammates during a procession through the streets of a city whose downtrodden image is undergoing a massive makeover.

But beyond superficial changes to roads, buildings and parks, a much deeper transformation is happening.

In northeast Ohio, where cynics and fatalists have shared church pews, bar rails and work rooms for generations, there’s a feeling that anything is possible.

The Akron-born James and the Cavaliers not only overcame a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in seven games, they’ve sparked a change in the collective mindset of fans who felt their teams were cursed or incapable of winning.

Now, one championship won’t suffice.

“We’re starving for more,” John Sopczyk of Streetsboro, Ohio, said after he and his wife bought Indians tickets.

“We’ve been starving for 52 years, and now the Indians are on their way,” he said. “I foresee them going all the way.”

OK, let’s not get too crazy. But after seeing cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and others quickly stack up trophies, Cleveland wants more.

“If everyone else can do it,” Marge Sopczyk said. “Why can’t we?”

The Indians are on deck for a title push.

They extended their longest winning streak since 1922 — and one shy of matching the team record — on Wednesday night with a 3-0 shutout over Atlanta. Although they haven’t won the World Series since 1948, these Indians, boasting one of baseball’s best starting staffs and a roster blossoming with young stars such as shortstop Francisco Lindor, just might have enough to make Octobers interesting again on the shores of Lake Erie.

The Indians have the lowest average attendance in the major leagues so far this season, but are now seeing a surge in ticket sales since Cleveland’s fairytale ending to the title drought. They drew nearly 90,000 fans — many of them chanting “Let’s Go Cavs!” — during the last weekend of the NBA Finals, and team officials expect crowds in excess of 30,000 at Progressive Field for several games next week leading into the All-Star break.

“As a lifelong Clevelander, I think the woe-is-me attitude has finally been lifted,” said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ vice president of public affairs. “That mentality is gone and people are ready to invest themselves into things they didn’t want to fully commit to before. We’re getting some of that Cavs energy.”

Indians manager Terry Francona has seen this domino effect before. In 2004, he guided the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years, and three years later, they did it again.

“I’m thrilled for the city,” Francona said this week while the club was in Atlanta. “I’m not from there, but I’ve been there long enough to care and I know what it meant to some of the businesses. I guess the hope is that people want to come now to watch us.”

Count the Sopczyks in.

Before heading to the Cavs’ team shop inside Quicken Loans Arena, where there continues to be long lines of customers stocking up on championship gear, they scored tickets to the Indians-Tigers game on July 4. They had one more stop.

“We’re going to the casino,” John said.

Roll on, Cleveland.

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AP freelancer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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