I woke up yesterday morning with a sick feeling in my stomach and a knot in my chest. This feeling was not borne of any of the real stresses in my life but because I was concerned that the Cleveland Cavaliers, after coming back from 3-1 deficit, would not be able to win a third game in Oakland’s dreaded Oracle Arena to, for the first time in the team’s history, become champions. I am aware that the level of stress I was feeling, a real sense of dread that roused me from my bed at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday, hours before my intended wake-up time, was not appropriate for the event inspiring it. The outcome of the 2016 NBA finals is unlikely to alter the course of my life in any way, and I would never describe myself as a Cavaliers fan, but the Cavs are the team for whom LeBron James, my favorite basketball player (second- favorite of all time after Hakeem Olajuwon), plays, and I wanted the win for LeBron, and for the city of Cleveland, so badly it hurt. It all worked out and was a great example of why we love sports.
It is hard to imagine a championship series playing out in a more dramatic fashion. The underdog Cavaliers (only against this Warriors team could this Cavaliers team be considered underdogs), came back from 3-1 deficit, an NBA finals first, to beat a Warriors team that had set a single-season record for wins and who had themselves come back from 3-1 against the Thunder in the semi-finals. The Cavaliers won an intolerably close game seven, delivering the city of Cleveland its first NBA title and its first championship in a major professional sports league of any kind in so long that ESPN recently produced a 30 for 30 doc about how long it’s been since Cleveland last won a championship. Importantly, this long yearned-for title was largely delivered by James, who last season returned to Cleveland, the prodigal son, raised in Akron, who had broken Clevelanders’ hearts four years earlier by departing for Miami. As hurt as Cleveland sports fans were by LeBron’s stint in Miami, I don’t think anyone can say that this victory isn’t made more sweet by it.
The Warriors were not exactly “The Evil Empire.” If there was anything “Evil Empire-y” about them it was the uncanny ease with which dominated the league, how Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would routinely nail shots from well beyond the perimeter. For the most part, The Warriors have seemed like the NBA’s most cuddly incredibly-dominant team. I write “for the most part” because Draymond Green ceased to seem cuddly when he swatted LeBron in the balls, making his two “accidental” kicks to Steven Adams’ balls during the semi-finals seem less accidental. Despite Green’s penchant for assaulting opponents’ genitals, The Warriors are an incredibly likeable team. Really, for basketball fans in general, this was a win-win situation. If the Cavs won, the romantic “underdog” story would come to fruition and one of the NBA’s all-time greats (the greatest, in my opinion) would secure his legacy; if the Warriors won, it would be the consummation of their greatness, securing their place as one of the great NBA teams of all time. As it happens, my joy at The Cavs’ victory is tinged with sympathy for the very likeable Warriors who will be remembered as an history-making team who could not finish, the “2007 Patriots” of the NBA.
It was a great game and a great series. Game 7 saw 20 lead changes and 11 ties, truly nerve-wracking for anyone at all invested in the game. Nobody likes a close game while it’s happening but afterward it’s pretty sweet if your team has won. This time, Cleveland, it is finally your team who has prevailed. Sleep well.