Jun 9, 2023 - Sports

10 biggest Cleveland sports moments since 2000

LeBron James holds up the NBA Championship trophy.

"Cleveland, this is for you!" Photo: MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Cleveland will forever be a sports town, where the mood of the people is defined by the special moments the city's teams create.

Here are our rankings of the 10 biggest Cleveland sports moments of the 21st century:

10. Rajai Davis' Game 7 homer

Cleveland hitter Rajai Davis rounds the bases after a homerun.
Rajai comes through in the clutch. Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

With the Indians down three runs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, Davis blasted a home run to left field to tie the game at 6 in the eighth inning.

  • The home run ignited the Progressive Field crowd, which included an amped-up LeBron James.
  • The Indians lost to the Chicago Cubs in extra innings, but Davis' homer stands as one of the most thrilling sports moments of the past decade.

9. The King holds court

LeBron James shoots a layup against the Detroit Pistons.
LeBron puts the Cavs on his back in 2007. Photo: Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James single-handedly beat the Detroit Pistons during the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals.

  • During a pivotal Game 5, James scored Cleveland's final 25 points to win in overtime.
  • The Cavs took a 3-2 series lead before finishing off the Pistons in Game 6 and heading to the franchise's first NBA Finals.

8. Comeback for the ages

Cleveland's Kenny Lofton beats the catcher by sliding into home plate.
Lofton slides in for the win. Photo: David Maxwell/AFP via Getty Images

On Aug. 5, 2001, the Indians were behind the Seattle Mariners, 14-2, through six innings at Progressive Field.

  • Cleveland scored 12 runs over the next three innings to force extra time.
  • In the 11th, Cleveland's Jolbert Cabrera hit a walk-off single for the win, tying the record for the biggest comeback in Major League Baseball history.

7. Stipe Miocic wins UFC gold

UFC fighter Stipe Miocic's hand is raised in victory.
Stipe Miocic aka the "Baddest Man on the Planet." Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In May 2016, homegrown fighter Stipe Miocic shocked the world by winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship against MMA standout Fabricio Werdum in Brazil.

  • Miocic's first successful title defense came that September at UFC 203 in front of a sold-out crowd at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
  • Miocic would go on to set the record for most title defenses in UFC heavyweight history.

6. Return of the King

A giant banner of LeBron James is unfurled across a building.
The King is back in town. Photo: Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Clevelanders will never forget where they were on July 11, 2014, when LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland.

  • In 2010, James left the Cavs by announcing he was taking his talents to South Beach during an ESPN television special.
  • For his return, James wrote in a letter on Sports Illustrated's website: "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home."

5. Browns' first playoff win in 27 years

Browns players Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield celebrate a win.
Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield celebrate the Browns' first playoff win since 1995. Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Browns haven't had the best 21st century, but the team's 48-37 playoff win over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 10, 2021, was something to behold.

  • With Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski forced to stay home after testing positive for COVID-19, the team thwarted Pittsburgh's comeback on the road.
  • It was the Browns' first playoff win since 1995.

4. The Streak

Cleveland player Jay Bruce celebrates after winning a game.
22 in a row! Photo: Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

In summer 2017, the Indians set the record for the longest win streak in American League history at 22 in a row.

  • During the final game of the streak on Sept. 14, Francisco Lindor hit a two-out RBI double in the ninth inning to tie the game at 2 against the Kansas City Royals.
  • In the 10th, Jay Bruce hit an RBI double to give the Indians a 3-2 win, capping one of the most magical runs in franchise history.
  • The streak ended during the next game against the Royals.

3. Cavs draft LeBron

The Cavs land the No. 1. Photo: Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images
Winning the LeBron sweepstakes. Photo: Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Cavs won the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, the No. 1 pick was a foregone conclusion.

  • On June 26, 2003, the team drafted Akron native and high school phenom LeBron James.
  • James' arrival in Cleveland energized the fanbase and brought an estimated $200 million in annual spending to the city's economy.

2. Indians become Guardians

A worker installs the new "Guardians" team store sign in Cleveland.
Sign of a new era. Photo: Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

In late 2020, Cleveland's baseball franchise announced it was dropping its Indians name, which team owner Larry Dolan attributed to "the national reckoning on racist names and symbols."

  • Two years prior, the team did away with its controversial Chief Wahoo logo, angering many longtime fans.
  • In November 2021, the franchise officially became the Guardians, beginning a new chapter for Cleveland baseball.

1. Cavs win 2016 NBA Championship

The Cavs end Cleveland's 52-year drought. Photo: Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

What else could it be? LeBron James' return to Cleveland culminated with the Cavs ending the city's 52-year championship drought.

  • "Cleveland, this is for you," James shouted after the Cavs became the first team in NBA Finals history to overcome a 3-1 deficit, besting the Golden State Warriors.
  • Two days later, 1.3 million people attended the team's championship parade in downtown Cleveland.

Honorable mentions

You can't make a list like this without several moments that just missed the cut.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Cleveland.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Cleveland stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Cleveland.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more