San Francisco Chronicle

Cleveland celebrates title


CLEVELAND — Following a parade choked to a crawl by a massive crowd, after proclamati­ons, speeches and fanfare, Cleveland watched a symbolic passing of the trophy — and the torch.

When Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown handed the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Cavaliers forward LeBron James, the city’s long wait was over.

After 52 years, this was a title town again.

Cheered for hours by a sea of adoring fans who first engulfed the downtown streets and then the Cavs, James and the newly crowned NBA champions were honored Wednesday with a parade and a once-in-a-generation party.

The Cavs chased down history by overcoming a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors in a seven-game NBA Finals, a comeback that ended the city’s 52year championsh­ip drought stretching to Brown leading the Browns to a win over the Baltimore Colts in the NFL championsh­ip game in 1964.

“It still hasn’t hit me that this has happened,” said James, who delivered on his promise to bring a championsh­ip to his home state with a magnificen­t playoff performanc­e. He said he’ll be back with the Cavs next season. “It’s so surreal. For some crazy reason, I feel like I’m gonna wake up and it’s going to be Game 4 again.”

Moments later, James cradled the shiny, golden trophy in his arms like a newborn. This was his baby — and Cleveland’s.

The city’s first championsh­ip parade since the Indians won the World Series in 1948 will be long remembered for a crowd that halted the procession, forcing police to use bicycles and a horseback unit to create enough space for cars, bands and floats to pass. The swarm spilled off the sidewalks, people packed so tightly that fans could reach into the vehicles and high-five their heroes.

Cleveland police did not have an immediate estimate on the crowd’s size, but the team and officials at the rally said more than 1 million people attended. Regardless, fans packed in 50 deep in spots along the 2-mile parade route, and snarled traffic badly enough to delay some outgoing flights at Cleveland’s airport because crews couldn’t make it to their planes.

Some fans camped out Tuesday night to get as close as possible to the parade route, which began near Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs’ home.

There were other raucous moments along the way with Kyrie Irving and a shirtless J.R. Smith hopping out of their vehicles to slap hands with fans and even take selfies. Some of the loudest ovations were for former St. Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedov­a, who couldn’t wipe off his smile while soaking in the ride. Kevin Love wore an “Ohio Against The World” ball cap and two pro wrestling belts strapped across his body.

During his remarks, owner Dan Gilbert revealed that general manager David Griffin had written to players after Game 4, telling them not to give up. “He said, ‘This is going to happen,’ ” Gilbert said.

As he watched the Cavs celebrate, former Browns running back Earnest Byner, who has been haunted by his fumble in the 1987 AFC Championsh­ip Game against Denver, felt relief and joy.

“It’s a championsh­ip for the Cavs, but it’s a championsh­ip for the people,” said Byner, wearing his No. 44 Browns jersey. “All of us can claim this.”

 ?? Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press ?? Forward LeBron James acknowledg­es a crowd of hundreds of thousands as his Rolls Royce ride crawls through the streets of Cleveland.
Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press Forward LeBron James acknowledg­es a crowd of hundreds of thousands as his Rolls Royce ride crawls through the streets of Cleveland.

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