Kevin Love, picking up the offensive slack with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving out, scored 25 points and Dion Waiters added 23, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 106-100 exhibition win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night.
CLEVELAND - It could have been a ticker-tape parade through downtown. Fans hungry for a title jubilant in bars on East 4th and the Warehouse District. Hundreds of Cavaliers jerseys painting Cleveland and northeast Ohio wine and gold. It could have been Cleveland's night - and it still can be.
It won't be fans lining the streets celebrating in James' Cavaliers jerseys - most of those are burnt to a crisp - but it could be 'Irving' on their backs as they do.
There won't be a coronation for a local boy who became a city's sports savior than pariah in the matter of minutes. James' No. 23 will never hang in the rafters of 'The Q.'
However, that doesn't mean all hope is gone.
It doesn't mean the thirst of a championship desire won't be quenched, that the euphoria of being on top of the sports world can't still one day be felt.
As James hoisted the trophy Thursday night you couldn't help but wonder what could have been, if that same "destiny" could have been fulfilled in Cleveland.
Did James need to go to Miami and play with two other superstars to win a title? Could he have been a champion in this city?
We'll never know the answers to those questions.
What we do know - Kyrie Irving was the NBA's Rookie of the Year, Joe Haden is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and the Indians are in first place in the AL Central.
As sports fans, you're allowed to dream, even though it can be a heart-wrenching process full of angst.
Many dreams don't come to fruition. The winning ones of Cleveland fans haven't for decades, so it's no wonder there's built up frustration.
But there's no victory in spite - not true victory at least. An 'OKCLE' banner would have not been hung in 'The Q' had the Thunder beaten the Heat. 'Cavs for Mavs' didn't have a ring presentation in Cleveland on the opening night of the 2012 season.
Rooting against can only get you so far. It's a dark place in which to reside, one where satisfaction is never quite pure.
It may be fun watching the Steelers lose a Super Bowl or James fail in his title quests. But seeing your "enemies" wilt on the cusp of greatness gets you no closer to it.
It's empty satisfaction.
The animosity toward James is no doubt understandable and very reasonable. But his barren championship resume never propagated Cleveland's.
You can be mad but being vengeful toward James doesn't erase 'The Drive' or 'The Fumble' or 'The Decision.'
Negativity never spawns triumph. James said it himself on the podium Thursday night.
"Last year, I tried to prove something to everybody and I played with a lot of hate," James said. "That's not the way I play the game of basketball. I play it with a lot of love, with a lot of passion and that's what I got back to this year."
Those words from James - love and passion - are what should always shine through in fanhood.
One day Cleveland will have its time - it has to, right?
Maybe it will be Irving who can conquer the years of fallen hopes. Maybe Brandon Weeden really will be the Browns' franchise quarterback.
It may be another face who hasn't yet set foot here.
There is hope though for Cleveland. Every dog has its day. Just ask the Red Sox when they broke their 'curse' or the Kings in the NHL this year.
Put the right pieces in place and it's possible. The next step is next Thursday's NBA Draft, a chance to land a talent with a top five pick. Then, there's the rest of baseball season and the start of a new NFL campaign.
Every season, there's new hope. Yes, hope is overrated when it often goes unfulfilled. It's made fun of by fans of perennial winners. But when there's no other option, what else can you have?
Enjoy the games, be the most passionate fan you can be - and believe.
Believe that one day you can tell the world you are a Cleveland fan and you root for a champion.
They don't call it 'Believeland' for nothing.
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