Unless an allegiance already exists, it’s difficult to decide which team to cheer for in the NBA Finals, a best-of-7 feast so tantalizing that true basketball fans wish they could take a bite.
Cleveland Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors?
It’s a rematch made in hardwood heaven.
LeBron James or Steph Curry?
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It’s a contrast in star power laced with intriguing possibilities.
The supporting casts — Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala.
It’s likely the championship will hinge on their contributions.
Cleveland or Oakland?
It’s a choice between the city by the river that hasn’t won a major sports title since 1964 or the city by the bay that wants a repeat of the 2015 triumph.
Who do you like?
It’s agonizing to pick one over the other, although the Warriors — with their deeper roster, tougher preparation in the Western Conference and record 73-win regular-season record — are favored.
James, who led the Heat to four consecutive Finals and two championships during his unforgettable sojourn here, needs more titles to put him up on the top shelf with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Can he get another ring or three before his hairline recedes completely or his skills erode? He’s 2-4 in Finals appearances, including that meltdown against Dallas in 2011. But he’s also single-handedly taken weak teams to the brink.
James redefined the game with the supernatural quickness and agility that accompanies his size, with his passing, with his versatility as a ball-handler or dunk artist.
James is on a noble quest. He wants to bring pride to the long-suffering people of Cleveland, the U.S. city with the longest title drought. It’s been 52 years and a combined 156 seasons for Cleveland’s three pro teams since the Browns won the NFL title. Nothing is impossible with LeBron on your side.
James, an Akron native, left behind the glam of Miami to return home to a place that’s been the subject of Rust Belt jokes, where the Cuyahoga River was once so polluted that it caught on fire. There’s something virtuous in James’ motivation. He’s so good and such a good guy that he deserves to win.
But then there’s Curry, the baby-faced sprite, Peter Pan with a basketball, the sharpshooter who shattered his own NBA record with 402 three-pointers in the regular season.
He, too, is an innovator. He’s re-imagined the game with his swishes from preposterous locations. He’s about pace and space. He could sink a shot from the ferry to the hoop on Alcatraz Island. Is it time to create the four-point line in Curry’s honor?
The Warriors’ concept of small ball has been copied by other teams, as has Curry’s footwork to create marginal elbow room for his quick release. He picks up his dribble in the blink of an eye, then shoots from in front of his face instead of above his head. Fans love his theatrical scoring surges, especially since they can relate to a little player who “looks like he’s 12,” coach Steve Kerr said. Curry is so good and such a good guy that he deserves to win.
On the one hand, you have Cleveland’s Love and Irving, who didn’t get a chance to play for the title last year. Love wrecked his shoulder earlier in the season and Irving broke his kneecap in Game 1 — while matching up superbly with Curry. This is a much better, more unified Cavs team than the one that lost in six games in 2015.
On the other hand, you have Thompson, Curry’s “Splash Brother” and the main reason Golden State overcame its 3-1 deficit against Oklahoma City, and Green, the opinionated motormouth who talks “to us, himself, the coach and the other bench,” Thompson said. Green grew up in a basketball family in Saginaw, Michigan, where he learned how to be an all-around player who can set perfect picks and defend bigger opponents, such as Love. Kerr likes the “brashness” Green brings to a mostly quiet group.
The W’s also have secret weapon Anderson Varejao, the first NBA player to play for both finalists in the same season. He played 11 years for Cleveland, where fans wore floppy-haired wigs to show their love, and he loved them back. He got traded in February and is now in the awkward position of snitching on and trying to beat his Cavs friends.
Who do you like?
It’s fun to be a member of Dub Nation and embrace a team that looks like it’s having so much fun, and proved that it is more than a bunch of pretty jump shooters with those fourth-quarter comebacks against OKC.
But Cleveland merits support and sympathy. Cleveland doesn’t have the Golden Gate Bridge, hipsters galore and Silicon Valley billionaires. Cleveland has genuinely nice, hard-working Midwesterners, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a losing streak that sags its psyche. Cleveland has LeBron.
Let’s hope this one goes seven.
Warriors or Cavs: Take your pick, if you can.
Contrary to what the oddsmakers say, it’s a tossup.