On Sunday night I witnessed the conclusion to one of the greatest NBA playoff stories in my living memory. Down 3-1, with a game 5 on the road it looked certain that the Cleveland Cavaliers would lose out to the team newly crowned as having the best regular season record of all time. And then Draymond Green’s questionable conduct through the playoffs caught up with him. And then LeBron James happened. The result? The Cavs became the first team in NBA Finals history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the Championships – beating a team that going into Game 7 had a 92.5% home win percentage in their own back yard over the last 2 regular seasons and playoffs… twice. LeBron lead the city of Cleveland to it’s first major sporting victory in over half a century.
I am a massive LeBron James fan who believes that NBA fans worldwide don’t give his talent the respect it deserves. “LeChoke!” they called him when mocking his inability to beat the 2007 or 2014 San Antonio Spurs (overmatched in the first instance, outplayed by a better team in the second) and when he was downed by the Dallas Mavericks. Last year I was rooting for him to overcome the odds with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out injured and win a 3rd ring to cement his legacy. This year I was not. Not because I don’t want him to be remembered as the all-time great he is; but because it was important for the reputation of the league as it is today that the Warriors cemented their record 73-9 season with a ring (after all, it “don’t mean a thing without a ring”). Now I don’t really know how to feel.
On the plus side, LeBron James had a historically good Finals. He averaged 29.7 points, 8.9 assists, 11.3 rebounds 2.6 steals and 2.2 blocks to lead both teams in EVERY one of the major statistical categories. Nobody has achieved such a statistically significant feat before and I daresay it’s likely it won’t happen again for a very long time. He averaged nearly a triple double for the series and scored 41, 41 and 27 in the 3 wins that completed the unlikeliest of comebacks (including actually putting up a triple double in Game 7 with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists). He refused to be beaten in this series; making play after play in a series that looked beyond the Cavs when they lost the first 2 games by 15 and 33 points respectively. He did not turn the series around alone (Kyrie Irving was stellar for all of the series bar Game 2) but make no mistake, the Cavs don’t win if LeBron doesn’t will them to victory. And if you need evidence beyond the numbers then look no further than this crucial block with circa 1:55 left on the clock that prevented Andre Igoudala (last year’s Finals MVP who earned his award for “shutting down” LeBron in late game situations).
— NBA (@NBA) June 20, 2016
This was one of 4 plays that won the game for Cleveland (one being Curry’s temporary insanity moment in throwing a behind the back pass out of bounds, another being Irving’s dagger of a 3 in Curry’s face and the last being Kevin Love being possessed by the spirit of someone who can actually play defense and contesting a Curry 3 to tie). It was the play that told the world that LeBron would not accept defeat and the moment that began the chain of events that sealed the deal. And, as he cradled the trophy with tears of joy streaming down his face, that the naysayers who fail to show respect to a player who has demonstrated arguably the most complete skillset in NBA history would finally be silenced. It was a great moment for the NBA as well as for LeBron.
But I just don’t think it was worth it.
LeBron was the best player on the court for the entire series as he was last year; but the Cavs were not the best team. And sure, there were circumstances that created the slippery slope that ended in capitulation for the Warriors (possibly the best offensive team in league history did not score for the final 4 minutes and 38 seconds of Game 7) but history won’t remember that – and I’m not sure it will care even if it does. They were the architects of their own downfall. If Draymond Green doesn’t punch James in the groin and get suspended for Game 5 they win the series. If Bogut doesn’t get injured, they win the series. If Harrison Barnes doesn’t forget how to make a shot in the last 3 games, they win the series. If Curry and Klay even sort of show up on Sunday night, they win the series. But all of those things transpired the way they transpired and the Golden State Warriors are now the biggest flops in NBA History: the best team to not win a ring.
I guess it’s not entirely obvious why that’s a problem but I guess I’m just fed up. For years we have had to sit there and endure criticism from the Golden Age of basketball about how soft the league is and how no team in this era will ever be as good as the ’96 Bulls. These people ignore the number of expansion teams that entered the league in that time and refuse to make any real comparison between the top teams then and now – the ’96 Bulls won the most games and had MJ so they must be the greatest of all time! (*cough* ’72 Lakers… look them up *cough*). The Warriors winning would have allowed us to open up a dialogue that actually compared the relative strength of the NBA through the years and hopefully allow the great players and teams of today to finally get the props that, at present, comes with a giant asterisk.
I want to believe that people will see the Cavs winning as a signal of how competitive the NBA is today with so much talent and so many exceptional teams but that’s unrealistic. Instead the Warriors are being unfairly belittled and labelled as overrated and overhyped flops and our long overdue wait for a dynasty goes on. Every generation has one but us. The Spurs are probably close to earning that status but are let down by the long gaps between titles 1 and 2 and 4 and 5 (we can hardly say they dominated the league even though they superbly maintained relevance for 16 years). The Warriors were the chosen ones, they were emerging as our offering to the basketball gods as a team that we could proudly offer as a counter to the ’72 Lakers and ’96 Bulls in the argument of which team was the best in history. Now, this season… this historic season that was set to immortalise them will forever be a dark and painful stain – even if they do return to dominate and win more titles while Curry, Thompson and Green are still superstars.
We love you LeBron but even with this win against the odds you’ll never be considered the GOAT. And now the Warriors will probably never be considered the Greatest Team of All-Time ever. For what you deservedly gained, the price appears too high.
And worst of all we have to wait until late October before we can begin the next chapter of this story.