Basketball devotees in and around Oakland wouldn’t agree, of course. Neither would the many folks in South Florida who with martyrs’ pride bear the grudge of animus for having been jilted by LeBron James.
Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat followers are the outliers here, though. The Flat Earthers. Those two fandoms couldn’t be much farther apart geographically or more separated from the rest of America in the way they see the NBA Finals now hurtling to a magical Game 7 on Sunday night. To most of the rest of us, surely it is has become clear beyond argument or doubt:
We will be cheering for history to be made, for the underdog to beat the impossible odds.
We will be cheering for the best story, the kind where sports plays out like a fairy tale, astonishes us, wrenches emotion.
We will be cheering for LeBron James to fulfill his promise and deliver Cleveland its first major-sport championship since the Browns wore the NFL crown in pre-Super Bowl 1964.
Miami fans might hate that I’m writing this. It might sound treasonous. But I wish those who think that would choose to appreciate the four years, four consecutive Finals appearances and two championships LeBron helped give us, rather than hang on to the anger over the admittedly shabby way he left us.
I mean, if you aren’t a Warriors fan or a card-carrying LeBron Hater, how can you not root for the Cavaliers to do what has never been done even once in the NBA’s 70-year history? It’s a bona fide feel-good story. So let yourself feel good.
No team has been down 3-1 in the Finals and won the championship. Count to 32 — it will take a while. That’s how many times a team has trailed 3-1 and failed to overcome the odds against it.
Now all the the Cavs must do to break that forever spell and make history is beat the reigning champions on their own floor Sunday. Beat the league MVP. Beat the team they lost to in last year’s Finals. Beat a team that had the best regular season (73-9) of all time. And beat a team whose record at home including this postseason is 50-4.
That it has never been done, that it would be LeBron doing it, that it would be champion MVP Stephen Curry on the other end, that it would be title-starved Cleveland celebrating — this would be one of the greatest stories in the history of sports if the Cavaliers could somehow pull it off. Of course few outside of northeast Ohio probably think it has more than a prayer of actually happening. All the better!
The feeling might be different had Golden State not won it all last season, the franchise’s first championship since Rick Barry’s in 1975. Had that drought continued it’s hard to say who would hold the underdog card or be the sentimental favorite Sunday. But now? Cleveland is that underdog in every connotation of the word, and Golden State suddenly has become the easy-to-dislike favorite — especially after Thursday night.
Curry, who looks like he’s 17 and rarely is caught in any controversy, fouled out with 4 minutes 22 seconds left in Game 6 and in frustration threw his plastic mouthguard. His wife, Ayesha, then went all Miko Grimes on Twitter, blasting the officiating with conspiracy-theory tweets she quickly deleted. Later, Warriors coach Steve Kerr invited a league fine in saying Curry was upset with good reason.
“He should be upset,” an angry Kerr said. “If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.”
That is the look and sound of a coach, an MVP and a team feeling all of the pressure now. Since leading these Finals 2-0, the Warriors have lost three of the past four games to the Cavs — and by a combined 59 points. And, in the delicious duel atop this series’ marquee, LeBron has plainly outperformed Curry, as if staking his claim to win back the best-player honorarium given by gradual consensus to the smaller man. LeBron has outscored Curry in five of the six games and, fueled by back-to-back 41-point games, is averaging 30.2 points in the Finals to Curry’s 23.5.
This has been an odd postseason for the NBA, lopsided, with 62.4 percent of all playoff games this year (53 of 85) decided by double-digit margins. That includes all six Finals games, which, defying logic and explanation, have been have been decided by an average margin of 19.7 points. It has been sort of a lousy playoffs, in other words.
Cleveland fighting back to unexpectedly force a winner-take-all Game 7 — ratcheting the stakes as high as stakes can go — erases two months of bad postseason. Makes everything better.
Sports fans regard Game 7s as a special gift with reason. They are not common. This will be the 19th Finals Game 7 in the 70-year history of the NBA and the first since the Heat went the distance to beat the Spurs in 2013. This will be only the seventh since 1978, an incidence of 18.4 percent since then, or fewer than one every five years. There have not been more than three Finals Game 7s in any one decade since the 1960s.
So they all seem special, these ultimate games. Like the biggest and the best.
Except this one actually could be. If LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers can do what no NBA team ever has — if they can leave fans in Oakland stunned silent and those in Miami shaking their heads in disbelief — it will be a historic comeback that makes Sunday a Game 7 for the ages.