Looking Back: First-time winners after a long time - Cavs and Cubs

Looking Back: 'Tortured' fans' decades of pain end at long last

Left: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy, after his team defeated the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 to win the NBA Finals in Oakland, California. Below: The Chicago Cubs celebrating after squeezing past
The Chicago Cubs celebrating after squeezing past the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7 of the World Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio, to win their first World Series in 108 years. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy, after his team defeated the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 to win the NBA Finals in Oakland, California. Below: The Chicago Cubs celebrating after squeezing past
Left: Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy, after his team defeated the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 to win the NBA Finals in Oakland, California. Below: The Chicago Cubs celebrating after squeezing past the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7 of the World Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio, to win their first World Series in 108 years.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Cavs' NBA triumph particularly special in giving Cleveland first sports title in 52 years

NEW YORK • With the battle lines of professional sports largely drawn among cities or states, there are bound to be some regions that enjoy more success than others.

For instance, football fans who reside in Manchester in Britain have enjoyed near-constant success in the past 25 years, with Manchester United and later Manchester City being able to clinch the English Premier League consistently.

In the United States, Boston is a prime example of a successful sports city, with the Celtics (2008), the Red Sox (2004, 2007, 2013), the Bruins (2011) and the New England Patroits (2001, 2003, 2004, 2014) winning the four major US sports since the 2000s.

While there are many happy fans who have enjoyed the successes of their teams in recent times, there are also the so-called "tortured fan bases" who have endured decades of near-misses and heartaches, without even tasting a morsel of success.

Yet, 2016 has proven to be a sweet year for a couple of famous tortured fan bases in the US - and none more so than the city of Cleveland.

WE'VE WAITED A LONG TIME

The city of Cleveland needed this... Harvard Business School can do a study in a few years and really delve into the economic and psychological impact of that win, what it did to a city and a region.

'' TONY GODSICK, the Cleveland-based agent who has long represented tennis star Roger Federer, on what the NBA title means to the city.

For a city with three of the four major American sports, Cleveland's track record is dreadful to say the least. In baseball, the Indians were founded in 1901, and won the World Series just twice (1920, 1948). In American football, the Browns won the National Football League only four times (1950, 1954, 1955, 1964).

And, since they were formed in 1970, the Cavaliers had yet to taste success in the National Basketball Association - until this year.

They came close several times in their 46 years of operation. In the late 1980s, they crossed paths with the Chicago Bulls and fell to Michael Jordan in his prime. Then in 2007, they had a young and hungry LeBron James but faced battle-savvy San Antonio Spurs, who swept them 4-0.

Then James left for the Miami Heat, and fans were left in bitterness, wondering if they would ever enjoy their moment of glory with any of their star-crossed teams.

Their agony was finally put to rest on June 19 - in exhilarating fashion.

James had returned to the Cavs in 2014, and dragged them to another NBA Finals appearance. Still they lost to a formidable foe - a free-scoring, relentless Golden State Warriors, who won the 2015 Finals 4-2.

The same teams met again in this year's Finals, but the Warriors raised the bar by going through the regular NBA season nearly invincible - a 73-9 win-loss record.

To make it even more improbable: No team had rallied from a 1-3 deficit in the Finals to win the title, and yet that was what James and the Cavs faced midway through the series.

The Cavs duly fought off defeat in Games Five and Six, and against all odds in the decider, edged out the shell-shocked Warriors.

There were memorable moments aplenty in that game - James' spectacular block of Andre Iguodala's lay-up and Kyrie Irving's nerveless three-pointer to seal the game - to name a few.

But it was the massive outpouring of joy and relief in the city of Cleveland, which flowed into the streets amid parties and parades after the Finals win, that warmed the hearts of most sports fans.

Finally, they could enjoy their moment in the sun - just like most other sports fan bases.

In a thoroughly mercantile, increasingly globalised sports world, players are still the sum of their actions, and James - born in Akron, an hour from Cleveland - was honouring not only his roots with his old-school loyalty and hunger-pang hustle, but others' roots, too.

"The city of Cleveland needed this," said Tony Godsick, the Cleveland-based agent who has long represented tennis star Roger Federer.

"It's been the butt of so many jokes for so long, all unnecessary, to be honest.

"A lot of the things people make fun of were years ago. But LeBron was able - and he was not alone with that great supporting cast - to find a way to change the direction of the series and probably a lot more.

"Harvard Business School can do a study in a few years and really delve into the economic and psychological impact of that win, what it did to a city and a region."

Barely four months after the Cavaliers' historic triumph, American sports said goodbye to another famous tortured fan base.

Famous, because of its longevity - before this year, the Chicago Cubs had won the World Series twice, way back in 1907 and 1908.

For the next 108 years, fans winced and grimaced through each Major League Baseball season, cursing and swearing at every painful defeat and wondering if they would live long enough to see their next World Series triumph.

Then this season began, and the Cubs were by far the best Major League team, reaching the 100-win mark in the 162-game season for the first time since 1935, and winning 103 total games, the most wins for the franchise since 1910.

Yet like the Cavs, they found themselves 1-3 down in the World Series - against another tortured team, the Indians - before somehow launching their own memorable comeback to seal their third World Series win in seven games.

Again, the main emotion felt by their "lovable losers" fan base is relief after decades of agony.

No longer are they a punchline to jokes - at least for the next decade or so.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline ''Tortured' fans' decades of pain end at long last'. Print Edition | Subscribe