I was very happy to see LeBron win the title (with apologies to my friends who are Warriors fans). I have nothing against the Warriors, a historically good team that is really fun to watch.
I’ve always been a fan. Yes, I thought the “decision” was dopey and embarrassing. But it has always struck me as bizarre that a guy as good as he is – a no-brainer all-time great – and as accomplished as he is, has had to deal with so many ridiculous questions about his toughness, “character” and value. Sure, there will still be arguments about LeBron vs. Michael (I’d really like to know what people think would happen if James were playing alongside the likes of Pippen and Rodman. 75 wins anyone?). But anyone who still questions his all-time stature and chops as a winning player is just going to sound foolish from now on.
A few notes:
- Dre has a set of notes about LeBron and the finals at Box Score Geeks. One is that this was the biggest upset in NBA finals history, as measured by the Simple Rating System (SRS), which adjusts won-loss records for strength of schedule and margin of victory. Golden State won 16 more games than Cleveland, playing in the Western Conference (though the East was competitive this year) and blowing teams out on a nightly basis). Notably, LeBron has been involved in three of the top five biggest finals upsets, per SRS. He was on the winning end of an upset when the Heat beat the Spurs in 2013 and the losing end when the Heat lost to the Mavs in 2011. Neither series featured nearly as large a gap between the teams as this one, though.
- Golden State’s loss created an interesting anomaly – the winningest single season team in all four major sports has now failed to win a championship in that season. The 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings tallied the most wins in NHL history, obliterating the competition throughout the regular season before losing in the Conference finals of the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs. In baseball, two teams have won 116 games – the 1906 Cubs (who only lost 36) and the 2001 Mariners (who lost 46). Neither team won the World Series. And 2007 Patriots, who went 16-0 during the regular season, lost the Super Bowl to the upstart New York Giants. Add the 2015-16 Golden State squad to the list. I don’t know if there’s something to this, but..
- LeBron was, of course, awesome in this series. His performances in games 5 and 6 were astonishing. He led both teams in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals throughout the finals, marking the first time in NBA history that any player has led both teams in all those categories in any playoff series. And he did it while shooting a vastly better percentage than he did last year. King James’ play on the defensive end this year was also extraordinary. Both the better shooting and the all-world defense suggest that his legs were stronger this year than last. I don’t know whether that’s true, or what that is attributable to. He did play four fewer minutes per game in these NBA finals, no doubt a function of the fact that Love and Irving were available these finals. Perhaps that difference explained his better play.
- Fatigue plays a bigger role in basketball than commentators generally acknowledge. For all the countless hours they spend talking about chemistry and “confidence” and all that jazz, it’d be nice if they devoted one-tenth of all that yammering to the consequences of players not getting enough oxygen to their lungs and limbs. Both teams were absolutely gassed late in Game 7. We take this part of the game for granted because the athletes who play this sport are so crazy good. It deserves more attention.
- Here’s what I wrote about LeBron after the Heat lost to the Mavs in the 2011 NBA finals, fyi.
- That this son of Akron brought a title to a championship-starved city is storybook stuff. That he did so by leading an unprecedented comeback is Red Sox-esque, minus the added twist entailed in vanquishing one’s most hated foe to summit the mountain. That he fell hard in the final seconds of Game 7, landed on his right wrist, and needed to make a free throw after squirming on the floor in agony was almost too much drama to bear.
All in all, a truly unexpected outcome, thanks to the greatness of James (with major assists from Kyrie and the drastically underrated Tristan Thompson).