The relentless excellence of the Golden State Warriors and the unsettling performance of the Cleveland Cavaliers is not the story here. What will be remembered a decade from now, what will be the first line of the first sentence of the chapter titled LeBron James loses to Steph Curry, will have to do with aesthetics: one star who had to do everything, one star who didn’t. It will be followed by the summary of a 4-0 predictable outcome, a Warriors series win, and, Cleveland suffering one more time even as LeBron James did everything he could. It’s the Cleveland story. Great has its limitations.
Every writer knows the arc of a story can change on a dime. But. It is pretty depressing in Cleveland when it used to be paradise on earth.
It was two years ago when the moment Cleveland had been waiting for actually came. That is rare. Usually we wait and wait and wait and the moments pass us by. This time, in Cleveland, because of Kyrie Irving, paradise was here. Found. A reality.
Two years later the reality is as sobering as all those years that have submerged the city of Cleveland into their pessimism that is their birthright. In 2007, they were swept in the Finals. Eleven years later, they were swept. But a loss is still a loss. LeBron James was 22 years old then. He is 33 years old now. A lifetime has happened to Cleveland and you can count on your fingers the ugliness: The Decision, Dan Gilbert’s hurt feelings psychosis, Anthony Bennett, trading Andrew Wiggins, trading Kyrie Irving.
Against the Warriors, the Cavaliers needed Kyrie Irving. They needed one more creator who could make shots and defend. That ship has sailed. This is what is left.
The Cavs reorganized their identity when LeBron returned by becoming a three point shooting team. Except they didn’t count on the Warriors being the best three point shooting defense in the league. You don’t shoot 38% from three against the Warriors. You just don’t. Cleveland didn’t in the NBA Finals, a terrible 29% was one of the reasons why they lost.
The Cleveland identity, which revolves around LeBron James, has come to this fork in the road. It is time to bury the conjecture of the best ever debate about LeBron James. It doesn’t matter in the present tense. The Cavaliers are trying to hold their head above water. How do they keep James?
How do they?
You can put money on LeBron James being LeBron James. But there wasn’t much meat and potatoes once you factored LeBron James in or out; the Cavaliers had nothing to bank on. It was smoke and mirrors and an illusion. Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. were pieces of duct tape covering up holes in the boat. They couldn’t keep the boat from capsizing. The newcomers added more holes. It was an impossible task to beat the Warriors. The Cavs were underdogs for a reason.
And so the 2018 NBA Finals was the mythology of sports intersecting with the mythology of man. Sport lost. Man won. Many were the losers, not to mention the city of Cleveland. The lens will highlight the worst night of the Cavs professional life.
Reputations being what they are, gain and loss is the bottom line here. LeBron James is 3-6 in the Finals, a repetitive loser to the Warriors and Curry and Durant. In the coming weeks, we will be immersed in a nauseating analysis of where James should go to help him reach the Jordan plateau. What Michael Jordan would have done that LeBron didn’t is fascinating I suppose but we conveniently forget that this is LeBron’s 8th Finals in a row and he doesn’t have the advantage of three other All-Star iconic shooters. The Warriors were the better team.
Looking back, game 1 turned the tide so even optimists were glum. The ending, the J.R. brain freeze, the block/charge review, the missed George HIll free throw, was heartbreaking but predictable because the Warriors have so many skilled shooters, not to mention luck and chemistry, and the Cavs had to be perfect. Game 2-4 was the Cavs desperation on display.
But all that is in the rear view mirror now, the pluses and minuses, the mistakes, the not showing up for an elimination game. The defeat. The Cavaliers stand alone, of course, in misery. There is no forgetting a NBA Finals loss. The sorrow of this will last a lifetime while the Warriors will bathe in champagne showers and flaunt their perfection.
It is the final chapter, the last moment of the NBA year. Ecstatic in Oakland. Dark in Cleveland. Darkness because no one knows what happens next, where LeBron takes his future and what Cleveland will look like in October 2018.