By Jason Keidel
No one wonders why the Warriors made the NBA Finals this year. Golden State had the most sublime season and its most divine player.
It’s not news to assert that Stephen Curry, for all his wizardry, is borrowing the MVP award from the sport’s true exemplar, LeBron James. But that doesn’t take anything away from Curry or his colleagues. Indeed, it only adds cachet to a series that had plenty before the Warriors finally vanquished the Houston Rockets.
So now we have two teams, two styles, two sexy narratives, and a lot of firsts.
LeBron is looking to bring Cleveland its first pro sports title since 1964. The Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years – the widest chasm between appearances in NBA history. And two rookie coaches are stalking the sidelines for the first time in league history.
Which coronation is more compelling?
It depends on your loyalties, of course. But if you don’t have an allegiance, it’s hard to ignore LeBron’s public pledge to bring sunshine to a dark corner of American commerce. It’s no secret that Northeast Ohio, LeBron’s native soil, has been gutted, with shuttered mill towns and abandoned homes scattered like fallen dominoes.
It’s not the only place that has been pummeled by our nation’s new penchant for farming out industry. But not even someone with LeBron’s wingspan can cover the continent.
LeBron went from prince to king to pariah back to messiah with one stroke of Sports Illustrated‘s pen. Having left the very area he so adored for palm trees and Pat Riley, for his form of a frat party, where he bagged two rings, he came home, and is four wins from being an immortal where it matters most.
We can all hopscotch the nation, or the world, seeking whatever fills our respective souls. But we’re only from one place. And despite all the physical spoils of South Beach, only Ohio has the metaphysical heft to bring LeBron personal and professional fulfillment.
The Warriors are favored. They have a home-court advantage, a deeper team, and a devoted town that fills the building no matter how tattered their beloved club. When you go 67-15, and mop the floor with the Western Conference, you should get the nod from Vegas.
But don’t underestimate the trappings outside the arena, beyond hardwood hardihood. LeBron James is on a mission. And for all of Curry’s splendor no one can win a game in more ways than King James.
And no one is more motivated. Despite losing Kevin Love and, to a lesser extent, Kyrie Irving, LeBron has the Cavs humming. No doubt the Eastern Conference was a few rungs below the Western Conference, but that was true when LeBron led the Miami Heat to two titles.
Is the NBA Finals a referendum on karma or talent? The Warriors have no shortage of feel-good themes. The renowned “Splash Brothers” of Curry and Klay Thompson are both sons of former NBA players. And both brothers took serious blows to the brain in their last series.
Despite his stats, Curry wasn’t his normal, resplendent self in the series-clinching game against Houston. And Thompson took a jackhammer of a knee to his head, ducked into the locker room, and reemerged with blood spilling from his right ear.
But all eyes are on LeBron. He’s not just trying to bring a trophy to Cleveland. He’s adding jewels to his crown, which he will one day try to match with Michael Jordan. Or at least we will do it for him.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.