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The Comeback: LeBron, the Cavs & Cleveland – New book by Terry Pluto

comebackRelive one of the greatest sports stories in Cleveland history … In this epic homecoming tale, LeBron James and the Cavaliers take fans on a roller coaster ride from despair to hope to the brink of disaster and, finally, to glory as the 2016 NBA champions.

Award-winning Cleveland sportswriter Terry Pluto tells how it all happened — with insightful analysis, front-office details, and great stories — in his new book.

The Comeback: LeBron, the Cavs & Cleveland (paperback, $15.95, 251 pages, 30 color photos) has just been published — in time for the hanging of the championship banner at Quicken Loans Arena.

You can read a book excerpt here.

AUTOGRAPHED COPIES are available here (while supplies last).

Paperback edition is available at Northeast Ohio bookstores, Amazon.com, BN.com. Coming soon to Discount Drug Mart.

Ebook editions are available for Kindle, iBooks, Nook.

See Terry Pluto’s upcoming book signing events on our Events Calendar.

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Waiting for LeBron (From “The Comeback” by Terry Pluto)

Book Excerpt

From The Comeback: LeBron, the Cavs & Cleveland, © Terry Pluto. All rights reserved.

This excerpt describes the tense time while Cavs owner Dan Gilbert waits to learn whether LeBron will choose to return to Cleveland or go elsewhere.


Dan Gilbert was worried.

The man who started a mortgage company called Quicken Loans hates to wait. And he hates to feel that everything is not in control.

But it can be argued that Gilbert had been waiting for four years for a chance to bring LeBron James back to Cleveland, four years to “make this right,” as the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers characterized his relationship with LeBron between 2010 and 2014.

It was the morning of Thursday, July 10, 2014. This was four days after Gilbert had talked with LeBron in what I called the “Kitchen Table Meeting.” That’s because it took place at the kitchen table of a home in the Miami area. It was the first time Gilbert and LeBron had spoken since The Decision.

“I really thought it went well,” said Gilbert.

The meeting was on a Sunday, July 6.

Monday came, no decision.

Tuesday came, no decision.

The days, the hours, even the minutes seemed to crawl by for Gilbert and the Cavs.

They kept wondering, “What does LeBron have to think about? It’s Cleveland or Miami, he knows both situations very well.”

But anyone who knows LeBron knows something else. LeBron is careful. LeBron does his homework. LeBron takes time to consider every angle. LeBron wanted to make sure that wherever he played in 2014–15, he had a chance to win a title.

Now, it was four years later. Now, LeBron had been to the NBA Finals four years in a row with Miami, winning two titles. Now, he was 29 bearing down on 30 years old . . . not the 25-year old who had left the Cavs in 2010.

LeBron was still in his prime, still the best player in the game in 2014. But he also knew that he had already played 11 years in the NBA, and more of his career was over than was to come. He wanted more titles. He needed more reasons to return to the Cavs other than that he loved Northeast Ohio.

* * *

The Cavs kept in touch with LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul. They boldly made trades to clear even more salary cap room. Paul was friendly, “but he made no promises,” said Gilbert. As time passed, the Cavs felt very good about their chances with James on some days — and very worried at other times.

After hearing nothing on Monday . . . Tuesday . . .

There was news on Wednesday. LeBron and Paul met with Miami Heat President Pat Riley.

The Cavs became nervous. Very, very nervous. LeBron respected Riley. It was Riley who recruited LeBron to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010.

LeBron left the Wednesday meeting and made no promises to the Cavs or Heat.

Then came Thursday.

LeBron runs a skills camp for young players. He was in Las Vegas for that. Wade showed up. They talked. Then LeBron left with Wade, and they took a flight to Miami.

Why was he going back to Miami with Wade?

LeBron had left Las Vegas with Wade. But Rich Paul was staying in Las Vegas. The Cavs were in Las Vegas because they had a team in the Las Vegas Summer League.

That Thursday evening, they had a meeting with Paul. LeBron was not there. He was with Wade.

“Rich spent about two hours in our suite,” said Gilbert. “I was almost interrogating him, wanting at least a hint about what they would do. He wouldn’t show us any of their cards. He kept saying they were ‘in the decision bunker.’ So I tried to at least find out when they’d make the decision — and he would not say when, either.”

Gilbert thought it could “go on a few more days.”

But on Friday, July 11 — about 12 hours after his meeting with Paul — Gilbert’s phone rang.

“LeBron’s coming home,” Paul told the Cavs owner.

Gilbert asked about how to announce it. Paul said, “It will be on the Internet in about 30 seconds.”

That’s when James revealed his decision in a Sports Illustrated letter written with Lee Jenkins.

Right then, everything changed for the Cavs.

[End of excerpt.]

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A Seventh Game for the Ages (From “The Comeback” by Terry Pluto)

Book Excerpt

From The Comeback: LeBron, the Cavs & Cleveland, © Terry Pluto. All rights reserved.

This excerpt starts 48 hours before Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The Cavs are down three games to one, on the brink of elimination, yet unintimidated and ready for the pressure. 


It’s a long story how it happened, but I ended up talking to Cavaliers general manager David Griffin for about 30 minutes just 48 hours before the Cavaliers faced Golden State in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

“Our guys needed this,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“Getting down 3-1,” he said. “Having a chance to do something no team has ever done before. I can’t explain why, but these guys respond to extreme adversity. I wish it wasn’t like that, but it is with this team.”

What I didn’t know at the time was Griffin had spoken to the team after the Cavs were down 3-1. He talked about how the Cavs were not done, that this was exactly the type of situation where they thrive.

I mentioned how Golden State coach Steve Kerr sounded a bit shaky about his team’s chances. Kerr and Griffin are close friends. They had worked together in the Phoenix Suns front office for a few years.

“All the pressure is on them,” said Griffin. “It really is, and they know it. Think about what they’ve done this year . . . and how they never expected to be in a game like this.”

I also thought about how no one on the Warriors — among their key players — had been in a Game 7 quite like this.

LeBron had. He scored 37 points and snared 12 rebounds when his Miami Heat beat San Antonio 95-88 in a Game 7. That was in 2013.

Griffin talked about how LeBron was “in great shape, really fresh.” He praised LeBron for his training techniques, and also working with the Cavs’ sports science people to have his body ready for huge, pressure minutes in June.

“We are coming together,” Griffin said. “A lot of the garbage from the regular season is gone. Adversity galvanizes us. We’re very together right now. I expect us to win. LeBron doesn’t care where the game is played. He won’t be intimidated, and the rest of the guys won’t, either.”

* * *

A member of the Cavs told me this story.

The team was flying from Cleveland to San Francisco after Game 4. The Cavs had lost and were down, 3-1.

The person was watching the reaction of the players. Most media people and fans believed the series was over. History pressed down hard, the Cavs’ chance to emerge as champions was barely above zero.

Would the players be looking at their phones and computers, thinking about where they’d vacation after the season?

LeBron and James Jones were looking at a tablet, staring at video of the game. Soon, a few players came around. Then more players.

The coaches realized LeBron and Jones had their heads into the next game. They were pointing out ways the Cavs could win, how the series was not even close to being over.

As this member of the Cavs told me, “That’s when I realized something very special could happen.”

It’s also when the power of LeBron and his influence on the team was never greater or more important.

The Cavs won that Game 5 in Oakland. And Game 6 in Cleveland. And they flew back to San Francisco (where the team stayed) believing they could win Game 7, too.

But the start of that confidence began on that flight after Game 4.

* * *

About three hours before Game 7, I arrived at Oracle Arena.

I was thinking about being a full-time sportswriter for 40 years. And I was thinking about how in all those decades, I covered only one other Game 7 like this. Cleveland sports fans know it well . . .

World Series . . . 1997 . . . Game 7 . . . Indians vs. Florida Marlins.

A loss . . . extra innings . . . so close to a title.

I had written a column under the headline: WHEN THE CAVALIERS WIN, THERE SHOULD BE NO EXCUSES FROM THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS.

It was my story, but I admit — it was hard to stick to it.

But something Cavs veteran Richard Jefferson said before Game 7 stuck with me. He was talking about LeBron.

“Not many people have said, ‘Everyone get on my back,’ ” said Jefferson. “ ‘The city, the state, the organization, the team . . . get on my back. If we win or fail, I’ll take the blame, but I’m going to lead you.’ ”

Those weren’t LeBron’s exact words, but it was the message the Cavs were feeling.

“I can’t think of too many players who have put that type of pressure on themselves and then delivered more times than not,” said Jefferson. “He embraces it. That shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s something that should be recognized by the fans.”

LeBron kept talking about “one more game.”

The season was down to one last game.

One more game.

“Like I told you the other day, it’s two of the greatest words — Game 7,” LeBron said before Game 7. “So I’ll play it anywhere.”

* * *

Sitting in that arena before the game, I thought the Cavs would win.

But the closer the game came, the more reluctant I was to say so. I kept thinking, “If they come this close . . . and don’t win . . .”

I didn’t want to finish that sentence.

But you know what happened — the Cavaliers did win.

It’s over.

That’s what I thought when Stephen Curry’s awkward 3-point shot from the top of the key banged off the rim and the clock ran down.

It’s over.

I took a deep breath and thought about two things:

1. No longer will Cleveland sports fans have to hear about how it’s been 52 years since a major Cleveland sports franchise won a championship.

2. I had 10 minutes to write a story for the paper . . . perhaps the biggest story of my 40-year career . . . and people were going to want to really read this story.

So I started that story with the obvious — lots of us were crying.

* * *

I began to think about what happened.

When LeBron held the championship trophy and wept, he represented all of the Cleveland sports fans who had waited so long for this to happen. Game 7 was when fans watched the Cavaliers put up a stop sign to a streak of 143 seasons in which no major Cleveland sports franchise had won a title — the last being the 1964 Cleveland Browns.

I kept thinking . . .

We don’t have to hear it any more . . .

All the gnashing of the teeth and all the talk of Cleveland curses . . .

And all the twisted delight some in the national media would take when a Cleveland sports team would fail . . . once again . . . to win a title.

It ended in Oakland’s Oracle Arena, where the Golden State Warriors almost never, ever lose.

Only they did.

It ended when LeBron brought the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit, something no team ever was supposed to do.

Only they did.

It didn’t happen in some strange way. No asterisk can be slapped on the Cavaliers being the NBA champions.

As LeBron wrote in his essay announcing his return to the Cavs in July of 2014: “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.”

They earned it.

Every point in that pressure-packed, gut-twisting, sweat-oozing 93-89 victory was earned.

Yes, this is why he came back . . . to bring a title home.

As he said on the court after the game, “Cleveland, this is for you.”

[End of excerpt.]

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“Major League” and the Real-World Tribe

The Making of Major League, a book by Jonathan Knight: A Juuuust a Bit Inside Look at the Classic Baseball ComedyBook Excerpt

From The Making of Major League, © Jonathan Knight. All rights reserved.

This excerpt from the chapter “Major League Strikes Back” (about the movie’s first sequel, Major League II), looks at how the Cleveland Indians’ real-world success in the 1990s reflected both movies’ onscreen action.


At the dawn of the 1990s, whenever the Indians did anything of note, local and national reporters couldn’t resist drawing parallels with Major League.

In 1990, to promote the first full Indians season since the release of the film, the team introduced a new marketing slogan, which would be printed on pocket schedules and incorporated into a radio jingle: “A Major League Good Time.” The word choice was subtle, but not coincidental.

“We were having fun with it,” [Indians vice president] Bob DiBiasio says with a smile.

There was more allegorical fun that summer. A comically optimistic prediction for Indians success in 1990 by columnist Mike Downey in The Sporting News provided 90 reasons why the Tribe would make the playoffs. Number 11 was: “Cleveland’s pennant success already has been recorded for posterity on film, which saves the club a lot of time and money. Trust me, by the year 1991, they’ll be listing the movie Major League as a documentary.”

That sentiment was reflected in mid-June when the Milwaukee Brewers came to town. Before the opening game of the series, Bob Uecker walked up to the cage to watch batting practice, and Indians rookie catcher Sandy Alomar spotted him.

“Hey,” Alomar said, pointing at Uecker, “Harry Doyle.”

A month later, few, if any, Indians fans noticed when the team traded for an obscure minor-league outfielder named Alex Cole. But when he stole five bases in his eighth big-league game and led the Tribe to a victory over Kansas City, the rail-thin, goggles-wearing Cole became the talk of Cleveland, not only for tying a team record that had stood for 59 years, but for becoming the real-life personification of one of their fictional heroes, right down to the out-of-nowhere, “we-don’t-know-where-he-played-last-year” detail.

When Cole returned to his locker after the game, he saw that his teammates had taped “Willie Mays Hayes” across his nameplate and attached five sliding gloves beside it, just as Hayes had done with his own gloves after each successful stolen base.

“Yeah, I saw the movie,” Cole replied when reporters asked the obvious question. “I can identify with him.”

Although Cole turned out to be a solid player in his seven-year career in the majors, his sudden, explosive debut—and perhaps his conspicuous connection to the movie that had cemented so many fans’ allegiance to the team—did more harm than good.

After Cole batted .300 and stole 40 bases in 63 games to round out the 1990 season, the Indians’ front office decided to build the team philosophy around Cole’s speed. They moved the Cleveland Stadium outfield fences back for 1991 and vowed to win with pitching and speed, rather than power (not that they had all that much of any of the three).

The plan backfired. Despite playing in nearly twice as many games as in his debut season, Cole managed only 27 steals, and the Indians hit a mere 22 home runs at home in a franchise-worst 105-loss season.

It was a great example of why David Ward becomes a bit nervous whenever parallels are drawn between his team and his movie. “It’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “It’s fun, but if it goes south, does it give people a negative association with the movie? Sometimes you want the movie to stay in the movie realm and the baseball to stay in the baseball realm.”

But the year of the disastrous Alex Cole experiment also marked the arrival of the primary core of players who would lead the long-awaited resurgence.

Up-and-coming sluggers Carlos Baerga and Albert Belle became full-time starters. Scrawny third baseman Jim Thome made his big-league debut. Charles Nagy evolved from a minor-league prospect to the most promising young pitcher on the staff. In June, the team used its first-round draft pick to select promising slugger Manny Ramirez, and in the next few months, the Indians would trade for athletic center fielder Kenny Lofton and pitcher Jose Mesa, soon to become the most dominating closer in franchise history.

With a new ballpark on the horizon, the team had the financial security to lock down all of these players to long-term contracts, and the Indians showed flashes of promise over the next two seasons. The team was poised to take off in 1994.

* * *

After a slow start, the ’94 Indians caught fire in May and surged into first place with a 10-game winning streak in mid-June. They won a franchise-record 18 straight in their new home, which was now rocking with 40,000-plus in the stands for every game. The lonely nights at Cleveland Stadium were quickly becoming a distant memory. The Tribe was neck-and-neck in a tight division race with the White Sox as a new rivalry emerged, giving Major League II credit for a prescient glimpse into the future.

Then the players went on strike in mid-August, wiping out the remainder of the season. It was heartbreaking and difficult to get over. But 1995 made up for it.

The Indians picked up where they had left off, then found another gear, cruising to a 100-44 record and their first postseason appearance in 41 years. No longer were the Indians the plucky overachievers comparable to their Major League counterparts. They were a behemoth out to avenge four decades of abuse.

“It was nice to see the Indians get good and to feel that, in a way, we were a good-luck charm for them,” Ward says.

The weekend after they clinched the division title, Chris Chesser came to Cleveland to visit Sister Mary Assumpta. As they strolled around town, Chesser was amazed by how many people were proudly wearing Indians gear.

“I can’t believe it,” he said, astonished. “It’s just like the movie.”

Sister Mary smiled. “No, Chris,” she replied, “the movie was so popular because people knew that this is what it would be like if we ever got there.”

Still, the allusions were impossible to miss. Once the playoffs began, Tribe fans couldn’t help but smile when switching on the NBC television broadcasts of the games to see Harry Doyle himself calling the action. Technically, it was Bob Uecker serving as the color commentator alongside play-by-play man Bob Costas, but Uecker’s presence only helped to fuel the imagination and fantastical landscape of this golden turn of events.

“Every time there was a pitch that was way outside,” Uecker says, “Bob would say, ‘Uke?’ And I’d say, ‘Juuuust a bit outside.’ It went on through the whole series.”

Even on the field, there were similarities. In the first game of the Division Series with Boston, the Indians were on the brink of defeat in the 11th inning before Albert Belle smashed a Pedro Cerrano-esque tying homer. Citing Belle’s suspension for using a corked bat the year before, the Red Sox asked that the umpires examine Belle’s bat, and it was eventually sawed in half by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and found to be cork-free. In the heat of the moment during the game, the irascible (and, this time at least, justified) Belle responded by glaring into the Boston dugout while flexing his right biceps and pointing to it—all of it feeling like a deleted scene from Major League.

After sweeping the Red Sox, the Indians stumbled to a two-games-to-one deficit to upstart Seattle in the ALCS, and Belle was out of the lineup with an ankle injury. With the dream season on the verge of collapse, the nervous crowd—wondering whether the ’95 Indians were following the same course as their 1954 predecessors—began to perk up when scenes from Major League were flashed on Jacobs Field’s giant scoreboard prior to Game Four. Then, moments before the first pitch, the Indians’ bullpen door popped open and, as X’s “Wild Thing” exploded over the speakers, Rick Vaughn came marching out, wearing a vintage 1989 Indians jersey with his name on the back and a fresh chopper haircut.

The remaining tension in the ballpark vanished in a heartbeat as the sellout crowd roared to life in a realistic depiction of the ending of Major League. Although technically it was neither Rick Vaughn nor Charlie Sheen—rather, a Sheen impersonator from Dallas—it was exactly what was needed. Tipping his hat and acknowledging the adoring audience as red and blue streamers were blasted into the air, “Vaughn” took the mound and fired a hard ceremonial first pitch that again sent the fans into a state of delirium. Nobody was going to beat the Indians in this kind of an atmosphere. The signature scene Bob DiBiasio had read on that memorable winter day almost eight years earlier had been brought to life.

“It was just awesome,” DiBiasio says. “I never would have thought we’d be recreating this someday before a playoff game with 43,000 people.”

With Jacobs Field electrified, the Indians crushed the Mariners 7-0 that night.

Ironically, Sheen himself made an unscheduled appearance at the Jake the following evening when he adapted his trip to see his beloved Cincinnati Reds after they were swept in the National League Championship Series. “The amount of love and Wild Thing shouts and all the stuff on the scoreboard,” he recalls. “I just couldn’t believe it.” With the real Rick Vaughn on hand, the Tribe won Game Five to take a three-games-to-two lead back to Seattle.

Facing intimidating pitcher Randy Johnson in Game Six, the Indians took a wafer-thin 1-0 lead into the seventh, then clinched the game and the pennant on one of the most memorable plays in franchise history. With runners on second and third, a wild pitch by Johnson allowed a run to score, but to the surprise of everyone in the ballpark, speedy Kenny Lofton motored home from second, sliding just beneath the tag of Johnson to make it 3-0 and put the Indians in the clear. In that moment, and in all the replays that followed in the years to come, some would equate Lofton’s daring baserunning and evasive slide with Willie Mays Hayes’s streak across the plate in Major League’s climax.

Although the Indians lost the subsequent World Series to the Atlanta Braves, the most memorable period in team history had begun. Throughout it all, Major League hovered in the background like a friendly specter, coming to the forefront again when the Indians and Yankees met in the postseason for the first time two years later.

[End of excerpt.]

Click here to buy the book.

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“Speaking of Murder” ebook editions now available

Cleveland’s favorite private eye is back! Speaking of Murder, the latest in the “Milan Jacovich” mystery series by Les Roberts is about to be released in hardcover. If you’re an ebook reader, though, you can get it right away, from:

Amazon.com (Kindle)
iBooks store
BN.com (Nook)

When a celebrity-packed motivational event turns deadly, Milan finds himself caught up in a mess. The high-profile, big-ego speakers he’s hired to help protect can’t stand each other, and when one winds up murdered, Milan is asked to help another prove his innocence by finding the real killer.

You can read a sample here or download the ebook preview from Amazon, iBooks, or Nook.