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This could be the year for Cavaliers

October 29, 2006|From the Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Brownstown has disappeared. It's Bron's-town now.

The NFL had been king in these parts. Generations of families in northeast Ohio spent Sunday mornings at church and afternoons huddled around the TV watching their beloved football team.

Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Jim Brown, the Kardiac Kids, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar and the Dawg Pound.

Those days are over. The Browns stink again, and the kid from down the road in Akron and his Cavaliers own the place like never before.

Bigger than the giant downtown billboard bearing witness to his greatness, Cavaliers forward LeBron James towers over this championship-starved, self-loathing city whose fans believe the 21-year-old superstar will deliver them a title -- maybe as soon this season.

James believes it too.

"Of course I believe it," he said. "I don't say nothing I don't believe. We've really got a great shot at winning a championship -- that's the way I feel."

And that feeling has spread. Nowhere is losing more a part of the cultural fabric than in Cleveland, which has waited longer than any other city with three major sports franchises to win a title.

The last time a Cleveland team finished on top was 1964, when the Browns won the NFL championship. That was before the Super Bowl, which has yet to include the Browns and probably won't any time soon.

The Indians haven't won the World Series since 1948, a 58-year-old drought surpassed only by the Chicago Cubs (108 years).

The Cavaliers have never made the NBA Finals in their 36 years.

"I think we can get to the finals, I think we can win it all," James said. "That's what's on my mind right now, trying to win the whole thing. You shouldn't be in the NBA if you don't want to."

There's little doubt about his drive. In his third season as a pro, James pulled the Cavaliers as far as his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame would allow.

He was chosen the All-Star Game's MVP, first-team All-NBA and became only the fourth player -- Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan are the others -- in league history to average at least 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a season. He finished second to Steve Nash in MVP voting.

Without sidekick guard Larry Hughes, the club's top free agent signing who sat out 46 games after having two finger surgeries, James carried the Cavaliers to 50 regular-season wins and their first playoff berth since 1998.

He then recorded a triple-double in his first postseason game, became the first player to score more than 40 in his first playoff road game and led the Cavaliers past Washington in the first round -- Cleveland's first series win since 1993.

James wasn't done, either. After the Cavaliers lost two games in Detroit, he carried them to three straight victories over the Pistons, and Cleveland was an offensive rebound away in Game 6 of eliminating Detroit, which who won the series at home in seven.

If he hadn't done so already, James proved he belonged. The next step is to solidify his status as one of the game's elite players. There's only one way to do that: bringing home a championship.

James, who signed a three-year contract extension this summer, has a chance to separate himself from the other greats before him. Jordan won six NBA titles but none for a team 40 miles away from where he grew up. Same goes for Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or good friend, Dwyane Wade.

Although hand delivering a shiny Larry O'Brien Trophy to Cleveland would complete James' homegrown, movie-of-the-week story, not surprisingly, he's more concerned about what it would mean to those around him.

"I don't care about my individual legacy or my individual accolades," said James, picked by the league's general managers to win MVP honors this season. "For myself and for my teammates to be fulfilled, it's about winning championships."

Notice the plurality. One championship crown won't be enough for King James.

All this title talk is new for the Cavaliers and pessimistic Cleveland fans, who before James' arrival viewed pro hoops as little more than a way to pass the time between football seasons.

Round ball has the town bouncing these days.

Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown says the club isn't shying away from expectations as tall as Terminal Tower.

"Our goal is a championship, no doubt about it," said Brown, an assistant with San Antonio when the Spurs won it all in 2003. "But we have short-term and long-term goals. At the end of the year, our goal is a championship, but in the short term, we've got to get better every day.

"We're not Dallas, San Antonio, Detroit or Miami. We're not them. We can't afford to take a day or a practice off. If we don't, we'll set ourselves up to make a run at that final goal."

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