CLEVELAND -- After holding its collective breath for 52 years, Cleveland finally exhaled Sunday night. It followed, of course, a roar of celebration that had been pent up for those same years.
But once the celebration paused -- because it has not ended and will not for some time -- the entire city took the deepest of breaths. Young, old, babies, retirees -- and, yes, every other athlete and front-office type in the city -- sat back and realized that the cloud has been lifted.
When it comes to the Cleveland Browns, the cynical way to look at the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA championship -- the first title for Cleveland in a major sport since 1964 -- is that all the Browns need to do is fill 20 percent of their roster with superstar, once-in-a-lifetime free-agent players.
That's what the Cavs did, after all, when LeBron James returned home to the team he had left. Suddenly, the Cavs' starting lineup had a superstar. Put four of those players on the Browns -- say Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown in their prime -- and their chances would increase.
But this is not a time for cynicism in Cleveland.
Not merely because the Cavs won, but because there are real lessons for the Browns in what happened with the Cavs.
Luck played a part, certainly. Ping-pong balls falling their way three times for the draft's first overall pick after James departed was simple good fortune. The Browns are overdue for some luck.
The Cavs, though, made something of those picks, which is what the Browns are working to do now. The Cavs drafted the guy who made the "new shot" in Cleveland, Kyrie Irving's game-winner for a championship. They drafted the guys (Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett) who were able to bring Kevin Love, who for all the criticism he receives is a major contributor. Another first-rounder (fourth overall) brought Tristan Thompson, and another fourth-overall pick (Dion Waiters) led to a trade that brought J.R. Smith.
The pieces fit.
The Cavs made use of their opportunities -- buttressed of course, by the presence of a generational player.
The Browns are trying to build with the draft, trying to make smarter decisions with smart people. Fourteen draft picks this year, plus extra-high picks the next two years, should form the core of a team that could and should improve with each season.
The right coach should be able to put it together the way Ty Lue did with the Cavs, and the Browns believe they have that guy in Hue Jackson. Lue's guidance helped; the Browns believe Jackson's will as well.
The Cavs show the importance of drafting well, maximizing opportunity and meshing.
The other thing the Cavs did for the Browns was remove the mantle, the burden, the weight -- whatever you want to call it. Flash-back to former 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who when he finally won a Super Bowl after following Joe Montana, told teammates to take the symbolic weight off his shoulders.
That weight is off the Browns.
No longer when they compete will the questions be asked about how long it's been in the city. Players say it doesn't matter, but living with the reality is stifling, paralyzing. To the point that it constricts what a team is trying to do.
The Browns will have their individual questions, as will the Indians. But the sense of relief and release in the city is palpable.
With this win, the narrative changes -- and if it's just for a short time, then so be it.
The Cavs are champions, the Indians are competing to win their division and could be headed to a playoff spot, and the Browns are building a team for the future.
That is the sense of optimism that the Cavs have imbued in the city.
It is especially what James has imbued. As he said on his return, he is a kid from the streets of Akron. He understands Cleveland sports. He understands the feelings. He understood the pain when he left. His emotions on the court showed he understands what it means to return and win.
Winning does not resolve a city's issues. It will not erase future struggle or disappointment.
But this drought-ending title could do much for the Browns -- if they let the feelings seep in.
Because the burden has been swatted away as thoroughly and completely as James swatted away Andre Iguodala's layup near the end of the game.
That block was as stunning as coming back from a 3-1 deficit, as stunning as James' return, as stunning as the emotion and elation that swept over the city as it realized the Cavs would win.
The Browns can grasp that moment. They may not win a lot this season, but they can build for the time when it can be their moment. Because they can believe in their deepest souls that that moment is out there for them. If the Cavs found theirs, the Browns (and Indians) can find one as well.
The yoke has been lifted.