If this is truly the beginning of the end of the NBA Finals -- and you’re not a fool to notice the trending -- then this is going to be a very hard summer for LeBron James and David Blatt.
Blatt, of course, because there is nothing worse in America than finishing second -- even if, as in Blatt’s case, he came in with the second-best hand which only got worse as the cards were dealt. He will take a hammering for not having won with the world’s best player working at his optimum; he will be not up to the task, too not-NBA for the approval of the cognoscenti, too, well, too David Blatt and not enough Steve Kerr.
But James will get it far worse because there actually is something worse than finishing second after all, and that’s finishing second when you are indisputably, as you say you are, the best player on the planet. And with all due respect to the growing legion of Curry-O-Philes, James is still where all thinking people start their lists.
James could not play all five positions well enough to beat a well-constructed team. He could not muster powers beyond the acquisition of mortal men to beat Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala and all the other Warriors singlehandedly.
And you know what that gets him? Six NBA Finals appearances and only two titles. He’s 2-4. He has a losing record in a game only winners can play. He is not yet Michael Jordan.
It is the tyranny of narratives gone mad.
None of this should fret the Warriors or their fans. Winners get to brush aside all the caveats, like “Cleveland was playing with both hands and one leg tied behind its back,” and “Every team in the league except the Warriors had a significant injury,” and “It’s easy to win when you go nine-deep.”
As though that last one is somehow a condemnation. In fact, none of them are really condemnations at all. Champions win because they are healthy, occasionally lucky, and in this case deeper than everyone else by as few as one and as many as three players. This is called “roster construction,” and it’s how, assuming the Warriors hold on to their 3-2 lead in games, they ended up beating the other team 83 times out of 103 tries.
But the Warriors will get a parade, and they will get to give speeches and sell things on television and be compared favorably to all the Warrior teams ever and be fitted for dynasty slippers and be the new Face Of The League.
The Cavs get to eat the stale grilled cheese of not-good-enough, and James gets to be called a superstar beginning his dotage.
The first is unavoidable because that’s how things play. The second is nonsense, because James really did do everything to help the second-best team not be second-best. He dominated the ball. He shared the ball. He was the point guard and the center. He was the consummate teammate and the single-minded hero sacrificed at the Thermopylae of Quicken Loans Arena. Hell, he nearly broke “effective shooting percentage” as a fail-safe metric, and turned “usage rate” into a household term.
And his reward was to discover that he now has to share the FOTL stage with Curry, and with the added disadvantage of not being the new thing on the menu when America is always about the new.
He deserves better than this, but barring a massive upset that would make him bigger than merely biggest and make Jordan's Army shriek with rage, this is what he is going to get. In what many people can rightly call his finest hour, his reward will be a swift kick in the sensitives from the nation’s punditocracy, with the electrified, laughing, disembodied face of Riley Curry blinking maniacally from the skylight.
If that’s your idea of fun.
Tuesday will tell us what we need to know on this subject. If the Warriors close out the Cavs on their home floor, all that and more will come true, because the city of Cleveland will not have weighed in yet about the ephemeral titles they didn’t win while James was on his Florida holiday. And if Cleveland wins Game 6 but not 7, James may salvage a different narrative.
Specifically, “Nobody could have done more.” That’s closer to the truth, of course, but narratives don’t need truth. They just need light, heat, and of course vast tons of compost from a million shovels.
And we’re just the shovels to do it.