NBA magnetism: No hate required
Disdain for James recedes as the pull of two cities thirsty for a title elevates Finals.
OAKLAND — There’s something notably missing from this year’s NBA Finals — a villain.
LeBron James made nice with the people of Cleveland, casually f licking away four years of ill will from his hometown team and scads of NBA followers who detested the way he arrived in Miami.
Dwight Howard haters had to lay down their resentment after Golden State eliminated Houston.
Matt Barnes, enemy of the state? Hardly. The Clippers couldn’t even make it past the second round (yet again).
No one can boo and hiss at Kobe Bryant, who handed the villain torch to James a few years back and, let’s be direct, hasn’t appeared in an NBA Finals since 2010.
Celtics cynics? Sorry, nothing for ya. Lakers doubters? Check back again in a couple of years.
When Cleveland opens the NBA Finals at Golden State on Thursday, there
will be fascination derived from angst more than anger, two franchises largely devoid of proud moments finally getting the chance at one.
The Cavaliers haven’t been here since an inexperienced James got overwhelmed by San Antonio in a 2007 sweep. The Warriors haven’t been this far in a longer period of time, 40 years, though at least they won the championship when they had their shot. What to do? Who to hate? One of the nicest coaches of all time, a guy who couldn’t say a cruel word about anybody, pretty much summed it up.
“Two refreshing stories and there’s no sort of negativity. They’re both the good guys,” said former Lakers and Houston Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, currently touting an NBA TV documentary about the Rockets called “Clutch City.”
Really? The Finals drama will be only within the games themselves? As in, who makes the last-second shot, who has the better night between James and Stephen Curry, and which franchise’s thirst is finally rewarded? How unusual. The Warriors are a delight to watch, hoisting three-point attempts as if they’re playing Pop-A-Shot at the local tavern. They’ve already made 173 threepointers in 15 games and will surely hammer the playoff record of 203 set by last year’s Spurs. They’ve been scary accurate too, 38% from afar.
Curry can do no wrong as a person (charming and introspective) and player (winning his first MVP). And his podium-embracing daughter, Riley, can probably get her own reality show at this point.
Warriors forward Draymond Green is a quote machine, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr is as solid on the bench as he was on the air ,and Klay Thompson might be the most overlooked guard in the game simply because he shares the backcourt with Curry.
“With their speed, their change of pace, their ballhandling, and then their ability to shoot the ball . . . they can absolutely just shoot the rock,” James said in mild wonderment Wednesday, and it could be his words that carry the greatest weight the next two weeks.
He is the only rotation player on either team with championship experience (Kendrick Perkins won with Boston in 2008 but sees time only as an enforcer for Cleveland these days). James will be in his fifth consecutive Finals, the first marquee play- er to do it since Bill Russell with Boston in the 1960s.
There are still James haters out there — Green might become one after being forced to guard him this series — but there are plenty of people who just want to see Cleveland win a championship. In any sport. Please.
“I understand the drought our city has been in as far as a major championship, so it’s a huge motivation inside of me,” James said. “And it’s helped me get to this point, but I’m not done. I’ve still got a lot left in me in this season, and I’m going to command a lot out of my guys.”
James, 30, couldn’t have done much more the last six weeks, meshing a sore knee and aching back with playoff averages of 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists.
Kyrie Irving missed two games in the East finals because of knee tendinitis and Kevin Love was declared out for the season in April because of shoulder surgery, so James has had to help elevate role players Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
Only 22 years old when the Cavaliers were last in the Finals, James fell f lat with largely unimpressive fellow starters Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic.
The four-time MVP winner will be compared throughout the series to Curry, who hated James so much that he practically thanked him for past guidance Wednesday.
Curry was a rookie when the Warriors lost a regularseason game in Cleveland. James took him aside afterward and, in Curry’s words, told him how to be a leader.
“I was trying to find my way as a player, and he basically just said the one thing you control is your preparation every single game. . . . No matter what’s going on around you, you can control your effort every game, your professionalism and just what you do day in and day out to get yourself ready,” Curry said. “There is going to be a time when it’s all going to work out because you’ll be ready for that moment.”
No animosity in the Finals? No off-court drama? Fun, high-caliber games predicted by all? How refreshing.
STEPHEN CURRY, right, is an NBA star with an upside in personal charm, too, as he keeps practice lighthearted with Golden State teammate Draymond Green.