NBA Kingdom, Pt. 1: Lay of the Land

Once the clock hit zeros in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, it was finally clear the league didn’t belong to LeBron James for the first time since 2010, at least not solely. But James didn’t lose the league to another player or a single rival opponent who outgunned him in a one-on-one showdown. No, James lost the league to a collective of individuals who had no chance to dethrone him without the assistance of one another. They jumped him for it.

Still, the Warriors haven’t completely snatched the league from James. With two championships in a three year span, they simply forced him to share it with a worthy opponent. When an individual changes teams, yet stretches his streak of finals appearances to seven straight like James did, it’s hard to draw an end to his reign, regardless of recent results. All it takes are a few calculated moves and the Cavaliers could be right back in position to win their second championship in three years. Even if they don’t make moves, most of us expect them to at least get back to finals.

It’s asking for a lot of any team to knock off the likes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the best supporting cast in the league without injuries playing a factor. This means star players will join near-forces to have at least a fighting chance at sniffing a championship. It means Chris Paul will consider joining the Spurs, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward will consider the Celtics, Dwyane Wade might team back up with James in Cleveland, and Kyle Lowry might leave a good situation in Toronto for a better one elsewhere. It also means players still under contract like Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony will be brought up in trade speculation.

Before James took hold of the kingdom, it hadn’t belonged to a single player since Michael Jordan. It was shared by teammates on great teams, or fought for every year by new contenders, but it hadn’t been shared by individuals from separate teams since the Celtics/Lakers rivalry of the 1980s. In order for that type of shared kingdom to continue to exist today however, James will need to win another ring soon. Because if Golden State wins another championship or two, he’ll simply be a footnote in what we look back on in the future as the Golden State dynasty.

Draymond is the bad guy, and that’s a good thing

Are you not entertained? I have to ask, because everyone’s complaining about Draymond Green’s intensity as if they’re a Cleveland or Golden State fan.

Unless you root for the Warriors, you should probably look down – you’re sitting on a high horse that’s not in the race. The thoroughbreds left awhile ago. Get down and enjoy the show. This shit is getting good.

Green is providing all you pundits the talking points necessary to bash the bad guy, but without him you wouldn’t have anything interesting to talk about – just the mundane chemistry issues of a 35-6 team. Poor Warriors, with their best record in the NBA, how will they ever get it together? Let’s face it, Green’s the most interesting thing about this team right now.

His 2nd-quarter flagrant-1 foul on LeBron James Monday night was probably unnecessary and uncalled for, but it was also run-of-the-mill. This is the type of stuff rivalries are made of. People complain about the new, “softened” NBA, but when someone infuses some old-school toughness, it’s a problem?

Maybe it’s the antagonistic nature of the person at fault that turns you off, but beggars can’t be choosers. Personally, I can’t think of anyone better to get this party started. I didn’t like the foul. I loved it.

James denied the validity of this Warriors-Cavaliers thing as a rivalry, attempting to downplay the reality of what it is to ease his own psyche more than fool any of us. We, however, know exactly what this is. It’s more than Heat vs Spurs. It’s even better than Bulls vs Jazz. No two teams have met in the finals three years in a row in NBA history, and these two teams are heavily favored to become the first. Green embraces what this is all the way, and he plays like it.

“A team that you beat, beat you, it’s definitely fun,” Green said. “If you look at the last two years and this year, we’ve been the top two teams in the league each year, and so I look at it as a rivalry, and it’s definitely a fun game to play in.”

Is he over the top sometimes? Sure, but why strip down the thing that makes him such a good player at risk of minimizing the pure enjoyment and entertainment of this wonderful rivalry. Green is just as integral to this series as James, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, or Andre Iguodala are – and more so than the Kevins, with Love missing the first finals and Durant just coming around this season.

Rather than complain about Green picking up flagrant fouls that don’t affect anyone outside of potentially himself and his team, let’s embrace the fact that as himself, Green makes this thing interesting. He’s the wild card.

Without Green on the court last summer, Cleveland picked up a pivotal Game 5  victory necessary to spark a rally from being down 3-1. Had Green kept his cool, the Warriors may have clinched a second ring – but Durant doesn’t enter the fold. This season (and rivalry – maybe still?) wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the latter happened. Green is what makes this thing fun. We need start embracing him finally and stop resisting the urge to enjoy the bad guy.

 

crowned

you remember that clingy person that you couldn’t get rid of? the one that no matter how many hints you dropped, they didn’t get it? they wouldn’t go away! you remember how aggravating and annoying that person was, right? well, you should because that person is you.

you hold your public figures in high regard, your favorite actors, musicians, comedians, maybe politicians, and most of all athletes. when anyone is even mentioned in the same breath as whomever your favorite athlete is, you shun the notion and proceed to lambaste the person being compared as though he/she made the comparison. with the cleveland cavaliers winning the first championship in franchise history last week, i think you can guess where i’m going with this: lebron james.

i’m not here to compare james to some of your favorite players, not michael jordan, kobe bryant, larry bird, magic johnson, dwyane wade? but for some reason you are. when people mention how great james is, your first response is, “but he’s not jordan,” or “kobe was better than him.” maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong, but the truth is, james’ greatness stands on its own. it doesn’t need to be confirmed or affirmed in comparison to what others accomplished. bryant wasn’t great in the way that jordan was great, and james isn’t great in the way that they were great. but he is without question an all-time great player.

if you don’t trust your eyes, or if the haterade is blinding you, i’ll provide a little bit of proof of his greatness. since james entered the league in 2003, with the loftiest of expectations (which he lived up to), he has won four regular-season mvp awards. that’s more than any other player over that time. but since you like comparisons so much, that’s one short of jordan’s five, and three more than the one kobe won. he has three nba championships and won the nba finals mvp each time. and by the way, he’s 31. jordan also had three championships at 31. sure, james joined the miami heat with the likes of wade and chris bosh to get the first two, but he was still the best player on those teams. and they didn’t win a title until wade relinquished the reigns of the team to james after losing in the 2011 finals.

changing teams shouldn’t have skewed your vision of what james can do and has done on the basketball court, but if it did, let me ask you this: if charles barkley would’ve won a ring in phoenix or houston after leaving philly, would anyone have cared that he changed teams? not only would his accomplishment not be seen as less, he would’ve been considered an even greater player than we regard him now. would you have thought less of allen iverson if he left those trash 76ers teams and won a ring on a better squad? i wouldn’t. if james stayed in cleveland and never won a ring (he didn’t have any help) why would that have made him any more of a player in your eyes? karl malone never got a ring and is still regarded by many people as one of the best power forwards to ever play the game. and by the way, nobody cried when he went to the lakers to try to get a ring with bryant.

this latest championship doesn’t cement james as an all-time great, he was already there. now, he’s just jockeying for position among that list. he’s adding things to his resume that other players don’t have. he’s defining his own greatness, aside from what other players have accomplished. no one in the king james era has reached six straight finals. sure, he went to miami, but then he came back to cleveland and went to two more, and he’ll probably reach another one next season. james is the common denominator. a player hasn’t led his team to as many consecutive finals since bill russell in the 60’s. james led his team to the title after going down 3-1 in the series, something that had never been done in the history of the nba – in 32 tries before this year. oh, and he did it against the greatest regular season team of all-time.

just to be clear, i still think mj is the greatest player ever, but mj also played on the greatest team i ever seen, for one of the greatest coaches, with one of the greatest sidekicks. we never seen jordan carry an inferior team the way james did. and yes, james did carry the cavs. he led every single player on either team of the nba finals in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. that is another feat that had never been accomplished. he might not have the same shooting ability as some of our other favorite players, especially in late-game situations, but that block on andre iguodala (see above) was one of the most clutch plays i’ve ever witnessed.

no doubt, i once clung to my favorites too. i rode for jay-z as the greatest rapper so hard and for so long that it made it hard for me to realize how great other rappers were, because i was comparing them to him too much. before you know it, a person’s prime is over, and someone else steps in. eventually, i got to a place where i could appreciate other rappers and what they offered, rather than what they didn’t. if you hate lebron james, i would encourage you to start appreciating the greatness that we are witnessing. before you know it, someone else will step up as the game’s best player, and you’ll have to hate someone new.

dmv collapse

i hurt for kevin durant. i can sympathize with the entire oklahoma city thunder team, but i hurt especially for kd. on the same day the maryland lacrosse team lost the national championship in heartbreaking fashion to north carolina, the dmv’s biggest sports star became the biggest player on the losing side of arguably the nba’s worst postseason collapse, ever. a lot is made about cleveland’s suffering sports fanbase, but it isn’t much better in dc.

from what i could tell of the post game press conference, kd handled the loss well. he put a good public face on. but i can’t imagine he’s taking it well in private. for three games, the thunder were a win away from another nba finals appearance, the second appearance for that core group, and they choked it away. kd put up admirable numbers in game 7, but this series failure falls on him as much as it falls on anyone. he came up small in game 6, when okc should’ve finished golden state off.

now, kd is set to become a free agent, where a loss of that magnitude could  force anyone to make an irrational decision – like sign with your hometown’s washington wizards. hopefully kd makes the right move, however, and resigns with okc, at least for one more year. he and russell westbrook have unfinished business, not to mention an inflated cap next season means he can make more money by signing a long term deal next year. i root for most things dmv, especially pg county, which kevin durant represents through and through. but i don’t need him to be in the dmv to appreciate his greatness. there are people disappointed in what durant has yet to accomplish so far, and this collapse is just another thing for them to point to. and when he doesn’t come home, even more people will turn on him. i, instead, choose to appreciate the greatness of a dmv legend and continue to root for him until he gets the ring he deserves.