What we’ve more or less known for several years spanning multiple presidential administrations is that a person, currently in his thirties and born in Ohio, is the most important and influential men’s basketball player of the past twenty years, at least. While it’s contentious to suggest that the state is the birthplace of aviation, as the state itself does, instead of aviators, which is what it is, its place as a basketball haven is beyond question.
The antecedent, however, lies in the heart of the beholder: LeBron James is, by most credible accounts, at least the second- or third-greatest basketball player ever to walk the earth. His performance in the 2015 NBA Finals, nevermind the following year, won many people over following his period of Heat villainy.
Then again, well, the guy who spearheaded the Finals win over him, as well as two more later on, put on a 37-point performance Tuesday night against a former teammate’s would-be superteam when the Golden State Warriors beat the Brooklyn Nets 117-99. That guy, Steph Curry, was (and, the hope goes, always will be) cooking.
Long before it was the juice that fueled your disappointing Zoom meetings, coffee was a delight of the Arabian Peninsula. It might delight people to know that the word “coffee” is itself derived from a word originally given to a type of wine, at least in many common interpretations; what somebody saw in both was appetite suppression. Fair enough.
It might be curious, then, to learn that the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler started selling homespun coffee in the NBA bubble under the moniker Big Face Coffee. For $20 a pop, any resident of the bubble could have a taste, courtesy of a five-time NBA All-Star. Butler is one of the most notoriously hard workers in the league, and, as such, his appetite has never come into question. On Sunday night, and with a stupendous amount of help from Bam Adebayo – who, it’s worth noting, hates Butler’s pricing strategy – and company, he pushed the Miami Heat into the NBA Finals, ready to stand up to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
It all seemed so futile, right up until it didn’t. When the Golden State Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, well-below-market value contract in the summer of 2018, it was as if the embarrassment of riches had itself become embarrassed. It is nice to have nice things; it is rude to flaunt those nice things so rabidly that the idea of not having any of it becomes offensive.
When Kawhi Leonard, the Board Man, decided it was his time to fell another dynastic squad, however, there was little that Golden State could do about it. Through an unreplicable series of transactions, the Toronto Raptors were able to beat the Warriors at their own game. On Thursday night, in the final NBA game ever at Oracle Arena, the Raptors became the world champions, bringing a title to the homeland of the sport’s inventor.
Here, more or less in his own words, is a play-by-play account of Game 3 of the NBA Finals from Kawhi Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to a 123-109 victory over a severely shorthanded Golden State Warriors squad. What follows is in chronological order of plays in which Leonard was directly involved and successful, courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
You’re talking yourself into this, huh? You listened to Drake’s entire discography (again) after the Eastern Conference Finals, and now you think the Raptors could do this thing, the thing only LeBron James and co. have accomplished over the past five years – and even then, only once in four tries. It will take a distinctly 2016 Cavs-esque effort, and perhaps some of the similar circumstances, for the Toronto Raptors to fell the Golden State Warriors.
Finally, after months of three-game road trips, Kia commercials and the proliferation of the phrase “load management,” we have arrived. The NBA Finals begin tonight, pitting two teams on different trajectories in a truly international showdown.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Spanish Armada, that enduring example of royalist hubris in which King Philip II of Spain attempted to brandish the world’s greatest navy in 1588 before his ex-sister-in-law, England’s Queen Elizabeth I, in an invasion of her country but wound up embarrassing himself when that navy failed to defeat its opponents as it wound a curious route around the British Isles. England readily disposed of Spain, and a family feud had turned into an international conflict. Habsburgs, amirite?
Except, well, that’s not quite how that went. More central to the collapse of the Spanish navy seems to have been the weather, especially in the Bay of Biscay. It had essentially dilly-dallied its way into misfortune, the Grande y Felicísima Armada, and England had been prepared enough to take advantage of a weakened fleet at that time.
What you don’t often hear about is the English counter-Armada of 1589, a more catastrophic defeat for the aggressors. The original Armada, while a shocking defeat and failure for Spain, did not noticeably loosen Philip’s grasp on the Spanish crown, nor did the counter-Armada force Elizabeth into ceding control of the English Channel or her advantageous trade relations with the Netherlands. Eventually, there was a peace treaty, and that was that.
Somewhere between Chris Paul’s hamstring injury in Game 5 and their dubious, NBA playoff-record streak of 27 consecutive missed three-pointers in the second half of Game 7, the Houston Rockets lost the best chance any team was going to have of felling the Golden State Warriors. It was foolish for any of us to doubt them – not thatallof usdid, mindyou, but some did – and now, the team which stands to define a generation sits four wins away from its second straight title and third championship in four years.
The proposition was always thus: beat the Warriors, a team with four current All-Stars, five probably Hall of Famers and a wealth of role players to fill in the gaps, four times in seven tries. Even after the Rockets won 65 games, grabbing the top seed and home court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, it was never a real possibility that Golden State would lose until and unless such a catastrophe actually happened.
After going down 3-2 and entering halftime of both Games 6 and 7 down by double-digits, Golden State calmly and mechanically worked its way back, outscoring Houston 64-25 and 58-38 over each game’s second half, respectively. As always, the Warriors were able to turn to all of their other stars if one didn’t shine so brightly. That didn’t turn out to be a problem.
At what point, if at all, did you dare to dream? You knew the circumstances, the insurmountable odds, the fact that a championship team followed up its title by winning 73 games only to lose in Internet-infamous fashion, perhaps spurring the acquisition of the second (which, he loves that, and don’t let his championship and Finals MVP tell you otherwise)-best basketball player on the planet. You knew this.
And yet, you dared to think, if only for a moment, what calamity it would be, what a catastrophic occurrence for the foundation of the game of basketball it would be if the Golden State Warriors, featuring three of perhaps the five best shooters in NBA history, lost in the Finals after leading 3-0. I know you did, because I did too. We both knew better but wanted to stave off the anger of Durant joining this team and ending any reasonable expectation of the all-important “parity” in the NBA for the next 3-5 years. As it is, it shall be.
Is he the Greatest Of All-Time? To answer that question in the affirmative, some folks believe that LeBron James must defeat these Golden State Warriors, after requiring he defeat them last year and the year before that. By having any spots, his Finals record already pales in comparison to Michael Jordan’s, albeit in a vastly different basketball landscape.
This fact alone seems to power most of the counterarguments against James, whose shadow grows with every impossibility realized. And yet, it is never enough. What would silence the criticism?