Ohio, the Bay Area, and a few basketball junkies anxiously await tonight’s Game 1 Final’s matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. While avid NBA fans see the value in allowing 8 days for players like Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson to recover from injuries, ABC may have their work cut out for them in gaining back the casual fan.
Undoubtedly, they will be counting on the world’s most recognizable and arguably most popular athlete, LeBron James to draw viewers to the screen. This year’s MVP and Splash Brother Steph Curry is also pulling in a fresh and younger demographic who have no attachment to seeing the ball pounded inside, but are instead content to watch jumpers rain from beyond the perimeter.
I myself am eagerly awaiting tonight’s 9pm tipoff, and find myself in a surprising position: rooting for an Ohio team and rooting for LeBron James. It doesn’t seem necessary to explore the evolution of my hatred turned fondness for The King as it does not differ from many around the world. A Midwestern girl myself, I’ve got a soft spot for anyone working to bring joy and excellence into a part of the country that’s been rather bleak- not just sports-wise but also economically.
Truth: I’m not confident the Cavaliers can pull it off. I’m not a Golden State fan; I prefer the old school inside-out approach to the game. Also, I’m just not drawn to a shiny jump shooting team that hasn’t had much adversity. Still, you know that ridiculous number of 3-pointers the Warriors shoot? A ridiculous number of them go in. Also, they play defense, which is not something that can usually be credited to such an offensive team.
My big fear—this series will reveal just how awful the Eastern Conference is. Yes, it is certainly impressive that LeBron has made it to the finals with this “rag-tag” group of guys, injuries abound; but the competition on his way there has unquestionably been the weakest he has seen in his five consecutive journeys to the championship round. My hope is that The King and a couple of old Knicks that I hold dear to my heart will be hoisting up that gold trophy after a compelling, nail-biting 7-game series. However I worry that instead, the Warriors will become champions in 5, the dust will settle, and it will become very clear: The Cavaliers need Kevin Love.
A solid rebounder, passer, and outside shooter, 3-time All Star Kevin Love has been devalued the entire year. While his season ending injury in the playoffs vs. the Celtics received a great deal of attention, the media was more focused on the play that caused the injury and not the effect Love’s absence would have on the Cav’s championship prospects.
Players have stepped up. Tristan Thompson has proven his worth and solidified his bargaining power in his next contract negotiations. The Cavs will need him to continue and even surpass his excellent offensive rebounding, which he has shown throughout the playoffs. They will need every second chance opportunity they can get, especially with LeBron’s current jump shooting percentage.
As a Knicks fan, I know J.R. Smith is capable of making a significant contribution to this championship run. His bi-polar nature can drive you crazy, and you’ll often times have to rein him in. Still, the highs can be very high. If he’s feeling it, he’ll drain seven or eight 3’s, hand in his face; no one can stop him. J.R.’s waves of delirium in which he believes he is the best player on the floor are actually when he is of the most value to the Cavaliers.
Still, Love brings something to the table that these two don’t. Like Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love is an elite player. Moving to Cleveland, his role changed, but it did not diminish. Love could be counted on to be consistent in his contributions, averaging 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. And, he could be looked to, when needed, to have a BIG game. Logically, this ability to break out and be the star when called upon might be valuable to a team like Cleveland, who has the best player in the world. A best player who is aging, is playing in his 5th consecutive Finals, and who has at several times during his career had to carry a team almost all by himself.
All season, Kevin Love has been criticized for not posting the same big numbers he did in Minnesota.Has anyone stopped to think that perhaps Kevin Love desires a Championship more than he covets a scoring title? Yes, there are those players out there. Here in New York, we have been saddled with Carmelo Anthony for the past several years. He’ll never win a title. He’ll always score a lot of points. He’ll never be remembered.
No one seems ready to give Kevin Love that benefit of the doubt. This was clear when his announcement a few days ago that he expects to be starting next season in a Cav’s uniform was met with nothing but surprise and skepticism. Perhaps those skeptics are right, we won’t know until we see what moves are made during the post season. However, it is clear that the media has wanted and even created the divisiveness between Kevin Love and LeBron James from the start.
All year long, both players have been inundated with contentious questions, pitting one at odds against the other. As smart of a person and player as LeBron is, it seems he’s been manipulated–the media has been a Slugworth, whispering into the ears of unsuspecting candy-craving kiddies-err, ring-seeking ball players, manufacturing controversy where none need be.
The reason for this is as old as Jack Johnson and James Jeffries. It is no secret that both the media and the NBA are always looking for that next great white player. In a sport dominated by blacks, its not surprising that the powers that be are constantly seeking a star with whom white fans with spending power can relate to and root for.
While Kevin Love might possess the true heart of a champion–one that knows that to win often requires some sacrifice of self, his head is often being pushed in the other direction with schemes propagating the allure of bigger stats and prettier cities. Many would prefer him in a primary role, scoring lots of points for a popular team that may never go anywhere. Instead, he’s considering a secondary role, with the best player in the world, on a team he has the potential to win multiple championships with.
If Love is smart, he’ll think twice before he listens to those who might consider him to be in a subjugated position at Cleveland. Pippen would not be cemented in history the way he is if he had not stayed and perfectly supplemented Jordan’s brilliance. He has a unique opportunity with possibly the greatest player of all time, and a point guard with inarguable promise.
LeBron too would be wise to stop rising to the ego inflating questions being served to him, and instead show some humility. In the end, his legacy will only be served by having stronger players around him who can help bring multiple championships to his hometown. Lord knows he could use that outlet pass!
Of course if he wins this one, without Love, and with a diminished Kyrie, it will be his greatest accomplishment to date and perhaps ever. I won’t lie, I’m dying for it to happen. If he can take this bunch of injury ridden castaways on his back and defeat this incredibly young and talented Golden State team, Long Live the King. If not, perhaps next year…Long Love the King?