LeBron James, the local boy who made good: Ah yes potential; as opposed to the actual, also capable of being or becoming. We’re all born with potential, an impending promise of what we could become if we live up to expectations and explore all the possibilities which are presented by our God given abilities. So what do you do with an individual who has lived up to their perceived potential? Do you celebrate them for achieving all of what society had projected that they would become or do you move the metaphorical goalposts? Do you crown the conquering young man who you’ve watched develop since he was a fledgling novice or do you skewer him for any slight misstep on his path to glory? What do you do when you accomplish your ultimate goal and it’s still not enough? When an individual ascends to the top of the mountain in sports, one of the last few true meritocracies still left in our society, how can you deny them? We fans, the crowd at the Roman Coliseum, project our value system onto our modern day gladiators and get upset if they cannot live up to the ideals that we ourselves couldn’t aspire to. We never respect the gentle or moderate king, we want our athletes and coaches to act like people that we ourselves would never want to be around or work for. We romanticize the Apex predator, glamorize the cutthroat assassin, and celebrate the leaders who act like dictators or tyrants. Pusha T was correct when he surmised that “being humble gets no respect.”
Stephen Curry, the wolf in sheep’s clothing: When a new warrior enters the arena, the crowd has no choice but to be enthralled. We haven’t witnessed the failures; we haven’t been able to point out the new competitor’s flaws or warts just yet. Steph Curry is different. In a league full of monsters he looks like an altar boy, but he has a Desert Eagle under his robe, and even if you knew that, it’s already too late because he’s already 5 or 6 steps ahead of you. NO matter where he gets the ball on the floor he already has his defender figured out and all that’s left to ascertain is where to put the chalk outline of the latest opponent on his dance card. It’s beautiful to watch, poetry in motion, seeing someone so small devastate men twice his size, with a smile on his face. But not the type of smile you and your drunk friends make on your Instagram posts. It’s the kind of smile that a ruthless competitor makes after years of being overlooked. The kind of smile that only a kid who’s been small all of his life makes as he finally gets big enough to topple the bully who’s tormented him. It’s the kind of smile a hunter makes when he’s stalked his prey for a long while and now he’s mounting the grizzly bears’ stuffed head on his wall. It’s fascinating that in a league full of players who have been told how great they were since middle school we have an MVP who was overlooked until his junior year of college. Imagine how it felt to be the son of an NBA player and still be told that you weren’t good enough? Imagine how hot the cauldron of determination that must burn deep inside the heart of Steph Curry? If we don’t know, it seems like the Cavs are about to find out.
The Set Up
And then there were two. This NBA season has been a true battle of attrition and the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have both stood tall against the shrapnel of a daunting NBA season. The Warriors have had great luck until recently with injuries and the Cavs have LeBron, who covers up flaws like no other, while also playing in a decimated and diluted Eastern Conference. The Warriors have been in pole position wire to wire this season, while the Cavs got out of the blocks slowly but thanks to a few mid-season trades they were able to vault themselves to the forefront of the east. These two clubs are true examples of a rising tide lifts all boats; Golden State is chuck full of chess pieces who all benefit from playing with extremely deadly shooters Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. While in Cleveland, castoffs JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov have been empowered and emboldened by LeBron, who’s playmaking has trumped a myriad of injuries. We’re all excited about LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry, but the “others” will determine the outcome of this series.
The Nuts And Bolts
The Cleveland Cavs were 20th in the NBA in defense during the regular season(104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions), however during the playoffs they are 3rd(98.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). So we will soon see if the Cavs have been feasting on very poor competition in the Eastern Conference or have they truly found a rugged defensive identity with the insertion of Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup. The Warriors were the best defensive team in the NBA all year long and have continued to play stingy defense against a difficult Western Conference(98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). Another big revelation in this postseason has been Tristan Thompson’s ability to offensive rebound, but what good will it do the Cavs against a team that loves to get out in transition?
The Cavs are at their best when LeBron is in the high or low post area where he can score with ease or find cutting teammates or open shooters. The video above illustrates why coaches and commentators are always clamoring for James to get in the post. He makes things a lot harder for himself when he settles for operating strictly on the perimeter, where defenses can load up on whatever side he is on. It’s easy for those watching to say he should post up all the time because we don’t have to endure the physical pounding that he does while in the post.
Steve Kerr has turned the Warriors into an offensive juggernaut this season, where as last year they were 12th in the NBA in offense, and they’re 2nd this year. The offense is freer flowing and open. Gone are the post ups from a “clogged toilet offense” and inserted are zipper cuts, UCLA cuts and floppy action to get shooters open and get their guys on the move so the offense never stagnates. With a power forward like Draymond Green in the starting 5, it allows the Warriors to space the floor with dynamic shooting, but also opens up driving lanes.
Success is fleeting. It’s never meant to be permanent or everlasting. All things eventually come to an end. Empires are created only to one day crumble into the rock of which they were first formed, and even we humans with our grand design, all must return to the primordial soup of which we were created. No living organism, creation or enterprise will ever stand the test of time. The only things that live forever cannot be touched or seen, your reputation, your legend, your impact, these are the only things that can truly last forever. With that being said, LeBron James is the greatest player of his era, the best Small Forward ever and a top 10 NBA player ever, but his time has come to end.