When you’ve waited 54 years for a major sports championship, what is seven games? Surely that was the mindset that pervaded the city of Cleveland in June, as LeBron James and the beloved Cavaliers needed to go the distance against Golden State to make real the city’s greatest sports fantasy.
Because the Cavs were forced to rally from a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals, Game 6 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland became mandatory, and the Cavs won that game on June 16 to force the climactic Game 7 back in Oakland.
But much to the dismay of another set of players preparing to call Quicken Loans their home court in 2016, the staging of basketball games before sellout crowds at such a late date caused them to cast their wary eyes on their own ticking clock.
Starting tonight, the Republican Party will begin its quadrennial nominating convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where Donald Trump will formally be anointed as the party’s candidate for President of the United States.
But like so many elements of Trump’s rise to political prominence, a sense of chaos overtook convention planning as the Cavaliers, unlike so many of Trump’s primary rivals, simply would not go away.
Because the Cavs played that final NBA Finals game at home on June 16, it left convention planners a scant 4½ weeks to convert Quicken Loans Arena from hoops hotbed to a den of delegates. The normal preparation timetable for a national party convention, from seating to security to balloon procurement and placement, takes at least six weeks under ideal conditions.
“Six hours after the last game, the Cavs will hand over the keys,” Audrey Scagnelli, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee’s arrangements committee, told The Washington Examiner prior to the NBA Finals. “We’ll literally have our trucks coming and their trucks going out — literally. It’s a choreographed dance.”
It was not the first time a convention had an unconventional set-up schedule, thanks to an NBA team seeking to be crowned victorious. Three times previous, in 1964, 1996 and 2000, the occupants of the host convention site reached the Finals, cutting into political prep time.
In two of those previous three occasions, the result was not good for the candidate. In 2000, the Democratic Party Convention was held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, just weeks after the Lakers won its first NBA championship with by a player named Kobe (and a teammate named Shaq) and a coach named Phil. The Lakers closed out the Finals at the Staples Center in Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers, but Al Gore could not close out George W. Bush. Kobe had hang time, and Gore had hanging chads.
Gore had better luck as the incumbent Vice President in 1996, when the Democratic Convention was held at the United Center in Chicago. Bill Clinton was nominated for his second term not long after that guy Phil won his fourth title with the Bulls – with a little help from Michael Jordan. Clinton was Like Mike that November with his own repeat victory.
The San Francisco Warriors were on the wrong end of a dynasty in 1964, losing in the Finals to Red Auerbach, Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. The Warriors played their home games in the fabled Cow Palace, which also opened its doors that year to Barry Goldwater and the Republican convention. Barry didn’t have much luck in ‘64, either, losing to LBJ in a November landslide.
But no political convention and sports team had a greater shared impact than the Republicans and the Houston Astros in 1992.
That year, the elder Bush, George Herbert Walker, was seeking re-election against Mr. Clinton, and Houston, the city that would later name its international airport after the 42nd president, was selected to host the Republican convention that August at the Astrodome.
And while the NBA Finals merely created a time crunch for other conventions, having the event take place at a major league park during baseball season created an entirely different set of logistical challenges. The Astros, who still called the Astrodome home in 1992, found this out in a very hard way.
Because of the schedule for preparations, not to mention the convention itself, which ran from, Aug. 17-20, the 1992 Astros were forced to leave home for a nearly unprecedented 26-game road trip, from July 27-Aug. 23.
“They don’t make a suitcase big enough for 30 days,” former Astros outfielder Eric Anthony told the Chicago Tribune in 1994, when, incredibly, he became part of another epic road trip with the Seattle Mariners, when the Kingdome closed for emergency repairs during the season. “It wasn’t all bad. We pulled together as a team. Of course, we were forewarned.”
Forewarned, yes, but not welcomed. In February, 1991, Astros owner John McMullen, who was already looking to sell the team (and would do so to Drayton McLane after the 1992 season), committed the Astrodome for the 1992 Republican Convention – and the team’s mandated month-long exile — without previously consulting Major League Baseball or the Players Association.
Understandably miffed, the MLBPA filed a grievance to prevent the 26-game road trip from becoming a precedent, which was eventually settled.
“This was done because it was what Houston city officials wanted,” McMullen later told the Houston Chronicle. “I was under a lot of pressure to do this. It wasn’t my idea. Looking back, I wish I had told them to go to hell.”
The Republicans might have wished the same thing. While the Astros, which had endured a 65-win season in 1991, actually emerged from the 26-game road trip with a respectable 12-14 record, ending the trip with a three-game sweep of the Phillies to start a season-closing 28-13 run to finish at 81-81, Bush went on to lose the 1992 election to Clinton.
Take that as a warning, Mr. Trump. When sports and conventions collide, the Republicans are 0-2. The Clintons are 2-0.