The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the second straight season. Unlike last year, when injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving effectively dashed the Cavs' title hopes, Cleveland is at full strength for the rematch.
Having a full complement of stars still doesn't make LeBron James & Co. the favorites to raise the Larry O'Brien Trophy, as Vegas is currently pegging Golden State as the overwhelming favorite in the series. One has to figure the Cavs have a better shot with Love and Irving than without, and for the long-suffering fans of Cleveland, any reason for optimism is one worth clinging to.
By now it's no surprise, but it's been more than 50 years since a Cleveland team from one of the four major sports leagues won a championship. The last team to do it was the 1964 Cleveland Browns, who stunned the Baltimore Colts for the NFL championship, and the half-century drought that followed is one of the factors that brought James back to Cleveland in 2014.
"Our city hasn't had that feeling in a long, long, long time," the Akron native said in a Sports Illustrated piece announcing his return, describing the two championships he won with the Miami Heat. "My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."
It remains to be seen whether 2016 is the year the Cleveland sports curse is finally lifted (Game 1 is Thursday at 9 p.m. ET), but while we wait to see whether LeBron can fulfill his promise, let's take a look back at what else was going on in the world in 1964, the last time the city of Cleveland got to celebrate a championship.
Like this year, 1964 was an Olympic year, and the United States were dominant in Tokyo, where the Summer Games were held from Oct. 10-24. (The Winter Olympics had also been held from Jan. 29 through Feb. 9 in Innsbruck, Austria.) That fall, the U.S. led all countries with 36 gold medals, as swimmer Don Schollander led the way with four. In addition, distance runner Billy Mills won gold in the men's 10,000-meter race, becoming the first (and to date only) American to win the event.
Philly fans likely need no reminder of the 1964 "Phold," wherein the Phillies blew a 6½-game lead in the National League standings over their final 12 games, handing the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis went on to win the World Series that October, with series MVP Bob Gibson pitching the Cardinals to wins in Games 5 and 7 against the Yankees. The loss marked the end of an era for New York, which didn't return to the World Series until 1976 after winning the AL in 15 of the previous 18 seasons.
The Cavs can only hope they have as much good fortune against the then-San Francisco Warriors as the Boston Celtics had during the 1964 NBA Finals. The series marked the first time Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain faced each other for a championship, but Wilt's 29.2 points and 27.6 rebounds per game weren't nearly enough, as Boston won the series 4-1. The win marked the sixth of eight straight championships for the Celtics, who appeared in 12 of 13 NBA Finals between 1957 and 1969, winning 11 titles.
As the Celtics' dynasty was in full swing, John Wooden and UCLA basketball were kicking off a dynasty of their own. By 1964, Wooden was already in his 16th season in Westwood, but that was the year the Bruins won the program's first national title, finishing a 30-0 season with a win over Duke in the '64 title game. The victory was the start of a 12-year run during which UCLA won 10 NCAA championships and went undefeated four times.
In order to get to the Finals, Cleveland first had to go through Toronto, a city that's seen plenty of its own hard luck over the past several decades. Save for a pair of Blue Jays World Series wins in the '90s, Toronto hasn't won a championship since 1967, when the Maple Leafs made their most recent Stanley Cup appearance. Prior to that, however, the Leafs were something of a dynasty, and in 1964, Toronto beat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to lift their third consecutive Cup.
The year 1964 was a big one for the most famous boxer of all time, as Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston by TKO to win his first heavyweight title that February in Miami Beach. Shortly after the fight, Clay joined the Nation of Islam and changed his named to Muhammad Ali, and later that year Ali met and married his first wife, Sonji Roi, whom he divorced in 1966.
The 1964 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award went to golfer Ken Venturi, who won that year's U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club outside Washington, D.C. Weeks before he won his only career major, Venturi nearly quit golf altogether, but amid 108-degree temperatures that reportedly left him unable to read his own scorecard, Venturi persevered for a four-shot win over second-place finisher Tommy Jacobs.
There were things going on outside the sports world in 1964, too -- like a presidential election, in which Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater with 486 of 538 possible electoral votes and 61.1 percent of the popular vote. LBJ, the vice president at the time of John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, had also signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law earlier that year. Many will also recall the chilling "Daisy" ad run by the Johnson campaign, a clip that only aired once on TV but is memorable to this day.
It's hard to recall a time when the Rolling Stones weren't among the world's most recognizable bands, but in 1964, the Stones were just finding their footing in the U.S. That June, the band went on its first American concert tour in support of their The Rolling Stones album, closing with two shows at New York's Carnegie Hall. A year later, the band had its first international No. 1 hit with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
Elsewhere in music, 1964 saw the passing of legendary soul singer Sam Cooke, who was shot to death at LA's Hacienda Motel at the age of 33 on Dec. 11, 1964. Meanwhile, Eddie Vedder was born outside Chicago days before the Browns' 1964 championship, and the No. 1 song in the country at the time of Cleveland's win was "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles, who appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February 1964 and also had No. 1 hits that year with "Can't Buy Me Love" and "A Hard Day's Night."
Other notable deaths in 1964 include Peter Lorre, Gracie Allen, Douglas MacArthur and Cole Porter. Among the celebrities born in 1964 are Marisa Tomei, Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, Nicolas Cage, Sandra Bullock, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Stephen Colbert, Lenny Kravitz, Barry Bonds and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The top-grossing movie released in 1964 was the Sean Connery James Bond film "Goldfinger", but at the time of the last Cleveland championship, "My Fair Lady" was atop the box office. The Audrey Hepburn-Rex Harrison flick was one of two highly successful musicals in theaters that year, as "Mary Poppins" was released in August 1964, as well. In addition, Sidney Poitier made history at the 1964 Academy Awards when he became the first African-American to win a best actor Oscar for his role in "Lilies of the Field".
Meanwhile, on TV, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was first aired in December 1964, while "Jeopardy!", "Bewitched", "The Addams Family", "Flipper" and "Gilligan's Island" were among the top shows to debut that year. Other top shows from 1964 included "Bonanza", "The Andy Griffith Show", "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Beverly Hillbillies".
There were also several popular items released for the first time in 1964, a list that includes but is not limited to: Pop Tarts, Buffalo wings, G.I. Joe action figures, Lucky Charms, the 8-track cassette and the Ford Mustang. Also released in 1964? The Surgeon General's 1964 Report on Smoking, which required a warning on cigarette packaging.
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