Hello people of all genders, it’s that time of the year again, it’s the annual match-up between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. No it’s not 2015, and 2016 is a year behind us, the year is 2017 and we are living in the NBA Twilight Zone!
The Cavs are hoping to defend The Land and the title and have reloaded their roster with…uh…Kyle Korver? Meanwhile the Warriors are attempting to erase the meme that was created after they blew a 3-1 lead by bringing in some guy named Kevin Durant who’s mother was once da real MVP.
This is an epic end to a trilogy of championships for the NBA. We all know the third one is always the best (like uh…Revenge of the Sith?) and we all fully expect the NBA to reboot this series next year (they might even make their own universe, I would love a JR Smith origin story). So Jesse and I are here to get you ready for this epic showdown by walking you through what LeBron James means to the city of Cleveland and to the game of basketball.
Jesse: So Kevin, you’re living in Cleveland right now. The Cavs are coming off of their first NBA Championship and are primed for their third straight finals appearance. LeBron is at the peak of his powers and is seemingly unstoppable. Is Cleveland ready to handle the prospect of back-to-back titles? And how many newborn babies do you know that are named LeBron?
Kevin: Well Jesse, everything you just stated is true. Except I must inquire about LeBron’s so called “peak” you mention. To me peak is the very height of one’s ability. The absolute top. But with a peak comes a downside. Literally. So my question to you is, are we really seeing LeBron’s peak? Because I don’t see him coming down any time soon (Game 3 against the Celtics not withstanding). Besides that, hasn’t he been at his peak since his first Finals victory in 2012? That’s one long-ass peak. Maybe a more apt metaphor is a plateau? But not in a negative way. It’s a plateau of greatness. A plateau so large and grand that LeBron saw the plateau and was like, “Jordan was in a movie with the Looney Toons? Let’s one-up him and build a LeBron James theme park on this plateau.” And no one questioned the man because, damn have you seen that plateau?
Peaks, plateaus and other ‘P’ words aside, let’s move onto your question. Is Cleveland ready for the prospect of back-to-back titles? Wait is that a real question? Is this really happening? What freaky Twilight Zone are we living in? The 1950’s?
All jokes aside, the Land which is best known for the Factory of Sadness and the Mistake on the Lake is booming right now. It’s an exciting time to be living in this city. The people have collectively shed the stench of their past failures and are embracing their city in a totally non ironic way. The Land has somewhat matured since the Cavs topped the Warriors in last season’s NBA finals. Meanwhile they have learned to take things in stride thanks to the Indians blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cubs in the World Series. It wasn’t the end of the world when that happened. It wasn’t back to business of being a punchline (a meme maybe but one that’s mostly owned by the Warriors). No, the Land shrugged their shoulders and said, “that was a hell of a run, can’t wait for next year.”
So that’s where we are at right now. Cleveland has poise and confidence. They no longer have to live and die by each sports moment. They no longer have to dread the cruel defeats or moments that have yet to occur. They are feeling good.
What I want to know is, assuming the Cavs and Warriors continue their nearly perfect path to the Finals, do these people really believe they have a shot against the Warriors? Does this city full of sports heartbreak really think they can defend a title (something they haven’t had the chance to do in, what, 50 years?). Or is everyone just thrilled to have won one and are further thrilled to have a chance at another? I’m not quite sure yet.
And why am I not sure? Because this NBA season has had a certain fast forward feel to it. Once Kevin Durant joined da real MVP in Golden State and once the Cavs re-upped everyone not named Mozgov and Dellavedova, it felt like the entire season was just running through the motions. The Warriors weren’t chasing the greatest regular season record, the Cavs weren’t even chasing a number one seed. It was more of a yadda, yadda season where we were just waiting to get to the good stuff.
Which leads me to ask you, what’s it like from an “outsiders” perspective in the LeBron era of the NBA? Do you watch him in awe at his greatness? Or do you yawn as you switch the channel to watch Better Call Saul?
Jesse: I’ve tuned in to far less playoff basketball this year than I have in a long time. I’m also still watching Better Call Saul (despite my lukewarm opinion of that show), but that’s only on once a week. So what’s my excuse? I certainly can’t blame my awesome girlfriend, who likes watching sports almost as much as I do. And it’s definitely not because I don’t like the NBA. I spend far more than a healthy amount of time wondering how the Nuggets can turn themselves into a contender, which may or may not have culminated in me googling things like, “Jimmy Butler Nuggets Trade” and “Gordon Hayward Nuggets Interest” and “Why are the Basketball Gods Such Dicks” at 3:00 am last Saturday. None of those are made up.
The truth is that, as you said, this whole season has been on autopilot since Kevin Durant
turned into a babyback bitch joined forces with the Warriors so that he could finally win a title. I could barely bring myself to watch any of the Western Conference playoffs and I even chose the Houston Rockets as my bandwagon team for this year, mainly out of admiration for James Harden’s beard. It’s like the whole season was scripted so that we could have Cavs-Warriors III in the finals.
And you might ask, “But Jesse, you love pro wrestling, so what do you have against scripted events?!!” To which I would say that wrestling sucks when you can see the outcome coming from a mile away. Long story short, my answer to your question is that while I’m always in awe of LeBron’s greatness, the stranglehold that he and the Warriors have on the rest of the NBA has made it pretty hard for me to not turn the channel to something else. I’m confident that most other outsiders feel the same.
Speaking of LeBron’s greatness, it seems that all anyone wants to do is compare him to Jordan. Or get mad when someone else compares him to Jordan. I’ve yet to hear or participate in a productive conversation about that topic, so why can’t everyone just enjoy LeBron while he’s around and worry about his legacy when he finally hangs it up?Because I’ll tell you this, people are going to miss watching him play when he’s gone.
Kevin: Why can’t anyone enjoy any of the greats of our generation? Tom Brady is loathed outside of Boston, Sidney Crosby is accused of deserving more Academy Awards than Leonardo DiCaprio, and everyone seems to forget Mike Trout exists because the Angels are barely average.
Perhaps it is always this way. People refuse to appreciate greatness until the whole story is told. You and I might’ve missed similar talk about Michael Jordan because we were ages 1-8 during his six championships. Maybe people refused to call him the greatest until it was too late to really appreciate him in person.
And to be fair to the LeBron haters, he did have a rough start to figuring out his greatness and his public relations. He was proclaimed the King practically in high school when SI featured him. He skipped college and was drafted to his hometown team right away. Then this self-proclaimed King starts throwing chalk in the air while struggling to get a poorly built Cavs team far into the playoffs. And once they found enough success to get to the Finals, they were swept.
So you have this cocky kid who has been sold as the next MJ showing greatness but grating on people’s nerves because he was a cocky kid who wasn’t the next MJ fast enough.
Follow that up with a few more disappointing postseason exits and top it off with him pulling his Cavs jersey off before leaving the camera’s sight after losing to the Celtics in the second round of 2010.
And that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was when a short sighted PR team decided it would be a good decision to go on TV and announce his, well, his decision to leave the city he hails from for the sunny beaches of Miami while teaming up with two fellow All-Stars.
Add all of that up and LeBron gave us fans not one, not two, not three, not four reasons to hate his guts.
So the reason question we should be asking ourselves is, how the hell has LeBron turned this around to become the underdog of the NBA? Or at least the underdog of the NBA Finals?
Jesse: He can thank the Warriors for that. When you have a team that makes it to the finals two years in a row, wins a record amount of games and features one of the greatest shooters of all-time, and THEN adds another one of the top five players in the league to its roster… well, it becomes easy to hate that team. And if you’re not on that bandwagon, then you hate the Warriors. There’s no middle ground.
The ironic thing is that there’s so much animosity aimed at Durant when really he just adopted the same formula for winning a championship that LeBron started. And maybe it’s because the Warriors were already great without him. Maybe it’s because Durant signing there crippled the rest of the Western Conference and eliminated any chance at parity. Or maybe it’s because he couldn’t beat them when he was with the Thunder, and so joining the other side made him seem like a chickenshit. Regardless, he got raked over the coals for that.
And I don’t think it’s so much that people want to see LeBron succeed. More likely, they want to see the Warriors fail. And if that team doesn’t win the finals with the roster that they have, then it is an epic failure. I guess what I’m saying is that the perception of LeBron has improved and his status has morphed into that of an underdog because the hatred for him has shifted elsewhere. Considering the Warriors just went 12-0 as they rolled to the finals, I’m pretty confident that’s not changing anytime soon.
We often talk about who would be on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore. And we decided that with all the great players over the years, there needs to be an old school one (Bird, Magic, Russell and Kareem) and a new school one (Shaq, Duncan, Kobe and LeBron), with Jordan getting his own mountain. So my question to you is, what does LeBron need to do to get his own mountain too?
Kevin: Well according to LeBron himself, chasing MJ’s legacy is what drives his motivation these days. And for a man who has a wikipedia page of his accomplishments, it’s difficult to argue he isn’t at least well on his way towards achieving his own mountain.
Look, this is a guy who changed the NBA landscape for years to come when he left Cleveland to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. And someone who again changed the NBA landscape when he left his two all-star friends to go back to Cleveland. But the most amazing part of those two decisions? He’s made the Finals for seven straight years. Seven years despite starting over with two different franchises, three different coaches and dozens of different teammates.
That achievement itself could be worthy of a mountain. Don’t believe me? Try to think of any other player who could accomplish such a feat in any of the sports. Michael Jordan tried to replicate his success in Washington, sure older, but nonetheless a failure. You think Tom Brady could leave New England, go to four straight championships, come back to New England and do it three more times? No, this isn’t something that should have happened. It’s inconceivable and only believable because LeBron has proven that anything is possible.
At this point it might be apparent but allow me to clear up any confusion. I wouldn’t hate giving LeBron his own mountain right now. Jordan can represent the old school with his mountain and LeBron can represent his era with his mountain. Both stars revolutionized their eras in ways that are impossible to determine. And I believe both should be held up as the greatest of all time.
But I know most people don’t feel this way. And I know you want me to throw something out there for LeBron to accomplish to prove his greatness. I don’t think that’s fair to do because those kind of narratives can hurt player’s legacies. And I believe we are at a point where we can’t question LeBron’s legacy and impact on this game.
I don’t want to disappoint you though so how about this. If LeBron somehow leads this Cavs team to victory over the Golden State Warriors in this year’s NBA Finals then we start construction on LeBron’s mountain immediately. Does that sound fair? Because ever since LeBron has balled out and proven to be one of the greatest of all time in this playoff run I think we are all forgetting that the greatest regular season team of all time, a team that was one basket away from winning back-to-back championships, added one of the best players in the NBA in Kevin Durant. There is absolutely no logical reason the Cavs should beat the Warriors in the Finals. In fact there is no reason this series should go past six games. The only possible way for the Cavs to accomplish this feat is a big Warriors injury (possibly two) or if LeBron continues his dominate play from the last two Finals and doesn’t let up for a second.
There is no margin for error for LeBron and the Cavs. They need to play perfect basketball for four games against what may go down as the most talented roster of all time. So while I say start building that mountain, I believe that if LeBron accomplishes this feat, everyone should share my opinion.
With that in mind Jesse, grab your copy of NBA 2k17, or whatever you use for your predictions, and break down the upcoming Finals match for me. Am I crazy to think the Cavs have no shot? And how many games will the Warriors take to claim the trophy?
Jesse: The Cavs were overmatched two years ago in the finals and somehow stretched that series out to six games, so I think you hit the nail on the head. Warriors in six seems like a pretty damn likely outcome.
And of course the Cavs have a shot. If this article has proven anything, it’s that the greatness of LeBron can not (and should not) be underestimated. He’s a once in a generation talent and will one day be looked back on with as much reverence as Jordan is (whether people like to admit it or not). However, the deck has never been more stacked against him and it will take an unbelievable amount of willpower to even get this series to six games. We’re talking about a team that just made mincemeat out of an ENTIRE conference. They haven’t been challenged once during the postseason. Sure, the Spurs probably put up more of a fight if Kawhi doesn’t get hurt, but I doubt that changes the outcome too much.
I’m sure Cavs fans would point out that their team went 12-1 en route to blowing through the Eastern Conference, which is almost as dominating as the Warriors have been. But I would counter by saying that the LeBron-led Cavs, with Kyrie and Love backing him up, trailed 3-1 to the Warriors last year before coming up with a miraculous rally. To point out the obvious, that was WITHOUT Durant. I just think it will be too much to overcome and although LeBron will make a valiant effort, in the end there will be no stopping this team of all-stars masquerading as a normal squad.
And I suppose that was the appeal for Durant. To go somewhere that practically guaranteed him a championship ring, and King James is the only force in the universe that can prevent that from happening. As we’ve already mentioned in this post, it’s like the season is finally starting.
So Kevin, why don’t you bring us home and let us know what your plans are if the Cavs do the unthinkable and bring down the mighty Warriors. I mean, Cleveland is never going to let you leave after that point, so you may as well start laying out your long-term goals. Maybe one day you’ll be rich enough to buy part of the Cavs from Dan Gilbert!
Kevin: Actually funny you should mention that. LeBron and I have been chatting and I think we are going to work together to buy the Cavs after all.
In all honesty I’m not even allowing myself to fathom the thought of a CLE-peat (trademark pending). I’m just going to go out with my friends for the 4-7 games and enjoy living down the street from where the King of Akron plays.
One of my favorite Cleveland memories is celebrating the championship in the streets in the hours after The Block finished off the Warriors. People were high-fiving, hugging, yelling, crying, and even climbing on a fire truck. It felt like a weight was lifted off the city’s shoulders.
I really hope that it happens again. This city has given me so much and they totally deserve to take down this stacked Warriors team. And if by some miracle the Cavs actually defend their title? Well, you can find me on the top of that fire truck screaming like I was born in The Land.