By Jason Keidel
Now that we’ve had a few moments to metabolize the NBA Finals, what does it all mean?
Unfortunately, for the new NBA champions, the story split into a twin-treatise on the losers and ideal of the team, or how Golden State had one and Cleveland didn’t. Suffice it to say that LeBron James did more with less than anyone in NBA Finals history.
Instead of being flanked by two All-Stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, LeBron was relegated to J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, the Beavis and Butthead of June. The game Cleveland was forced to play – give the rock to LeBron and duck – set Dr. Naismith’s game back to the set shot. No one can or will look poorly on King James for falling two games short.
But history doesn’t smile on bridesmaids. The wholly American mantra is that second place is the first loser. Not that anyone thinks of LeBron James as a loser, but with each winter working on his hulking frame, he won’t get many more chances to make good on his public and poignant pledge to his homeland to deliver its first title since Jim Brown carried the Browns to the NFL championship in 1964.
At times it looked like the Warriors were skating past a Cleveland team trudging across a beach, or perhaps the muck of old Municipal Stadium, where the Browns have broken many native hearts over the last five decades.
Nothing against Steve Kerr, who made two of the most brilliant business decisions since the iPhone – taking the gig in Golden State rejecting the overtures of Phil Jackson and his historically wretched Knicks – but it would have been nice to see two teams with robust rosters.
Tim Duncan just asked Steve Kerr if it were really this easy. It’s not, of course, as fledgling coaches don’t often complete their maiden campaigns with the Larry O’Brien Trophy. But they also don’t normally walk into a loaded lineup the way Kerr did in Oakland. Generally, a new coach inherits the very vulnerable team that got the prior coach fired.
Which is why, aside from LeBron, the most viscerally defeated or deflated man in the building on Tuesday had to be Mark Jackson, who took the Warriors to the prom but was not allowed to take them home afterward, or even get a goodnight kiss.
Jackson spent three years with the Warriors, each season ending with a better record than the last. But he was booted before he got a chance to shower in champagne and confetti. Reports were that he was overly ornery or obdurate with management. And unless you’re Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, or someone else with a Liberace set of rings, you’ll find your way next to Jeff Van Gundy in the broadcast booth. But it would have been nice to see the iconic point guard get a chance to finish what he started.
One nice narrative spawned by this season is that the glamor jobs are no longer relegated to the big cities. It seems success is no longer tethered to the most monstrous skyline. Los Angeles didn’t get a whiff of the playoffs, New York has its mail forwarded to the lottery, and Boston was far more pretender than contender.
Cleveland. Memphis. Oakland. Oklahoma City. Not exactly big dots on the American map. But with local cable deals, epic sneaker deals, and the myth of big city money trumping the same, smaller market money, it seems like flyover country feels like home to many athletic luminaries. It seems they can shoot commercials well west of Madison Avenue.
And even to this native New Yorker, who always thought that God began building the Universe at Times Square, it’s nice to know that the world doesn’t begin or end on either coast.
A shame one New Yorker got the shaft. Would have been nice to see what Mark Jackson could have done with one more year on the bench he warmed so well for Steve Kerr.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.