The best sentence I read this week came from Shea Serrano’s Tuesday newsletter Basketball (And Other Things), which featured Kawhi Leonard erotica and a section called CATCH THESE BLESSINGS or HANDS, from which this short snippet was taken.
I like this sentence, the last one in the paragraph, not just because it contextualizes LeBron James’s absurd success, but because it lays the groundwork for the Finals series to come.
For as much praise as the King deserves, people aren’t really talking about him right now. They’re talking about Steph Curry and the Warriors, who, just a week ago, completed a comeback that would have seemed impossible for any other team. Steph Curry, one half of the Splash Brothers, who somehow managed to win a title before the dynamic Russ and KD, once considered perennial-title-contenders-slash-LeBron-foes-in-waiting. Now the Oklahoma City Thunder are one or two playoff exits away from being mentioned in the same breath as the Steve Nash “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns, the Chris Webber-led Sacramento Kings--great teams unable to make it through the NBA's brutal Western Conference gauntlet.
Everyone wants to talk about Steph Curry, who ruined LeBron’s homecoming once already and will gladly do it again.
I’m not a fan of either the Cavaliers or the Warriors, but I love the narratives at work in this rematch. Let’s not talk about LeBron winning one for The Land or Steph Curry turning basketball scoring on its head. Let’s talk instead about how the Warriors emerged so unexpectedly, how they’ve come so far, fueled by impossible excellence and drama and glee, and how they leave nothing but heartbreak in their wake. How every Steph bomb is impossible, a bullet point on a resume for a career that was supposed be only about potential, flashes of brilliance between catastrophic failures of the body. A strong will wedded to a faulty machine.
When the Clippers are beaten handily by their rivals, and Chris Paul is left stomping and whining in disbelief, as if he’s saying, “This should be mine,” we can't help but agree. In the moments LeBron is hit by the impossibility of it all, the unfairness that such a great player should be repeatedly beaten by such great teams, we can't help but empathize. The Warriors are party crashers, mood spoilers, the show no one expected. And they're poised to once again ruin LeBron's fun.
I thought I was over my resentment of LeBron. Since 2009, the year Cleveland put an end to the Goin’ to Work era of Detroit basketball, I’d grown at first resigned and then attached to watching him dominate the East--first in a Heat jersey, a change of color that helped ease my anger, then back with the Cavs. But watching him run through a much different Pistons team in the first round of this year's playoffs brought it all back: I couldn't stand his smug game face, his faux nobility, the comical outrage that a referee should dare call him for a charge.
It's easy to resent the man for his consistent all-around brilliance. It's easy to hate him. But with the Warriors set to wrap up Year 2 of NBA domination, it feels like the dynamics are starting to change. Steph's cockiness is beginning to grate; Draymond's flailing limbs are branding him dirty. And meeting them on the other side is a man they're making look less like the villain we're accustomed to, more like the hero we didn't think we'd need.
That last Detroit playoff run, in 2009--it broke the Pistons’ own run of six straight conference finals, a streak that only seems more ridiculous as the years go on. After beating Detroit, LeBron lost to Boston. Cue the decision, the move to South Beach. The Pistons were broken up completely, and my interest in them waned. Instead, I watched LeBron. I watched him reinvent himself to the effect of both success and failure. It wasn’t until this past year I grew interested in a young Pistons team again. From 2010 to 2015, a long period of absence from an otherwise strong life of fandom. LeBron was in the Finals the entire time I was gone.
I skipped writing a blog post last week because I was busy moving into a new place, and one of things moving makes you do--besides recoil in disgust at the amount of dust and grime you've accumulated--is reflect. True, my last place held memories much more important than basketball, but, much like I'll remember watching Game 6 of Heat/Spurs in my best friend's bedroom, I'll always remember sitting on the living room floor with my back against the couch in that Enoree duplex, watching LeBron take the Warriors to six games almost singlehandedly in 2015. I'll remember marveling at that moment, baffled that one player could make such an impact on a game.
I have no interest in a Michael Jordan/LeBron James debate, but I do understand the attachment old heads have to MJ. What he is to them, what Steph Curry is for today's tweens, LeBron is for me. I grew up with the guy. We transformed together. Basically the only difference between us is that he's a supremely gifted athlete with a billion-dollar Nike deal and I'm blogging for free, wearing a tie-dye sweatband indoors because I can't afford to crank the AC.
These Finals, and the ones to follow, feel especially rife with Legacy Questions: How will we remember LeBron if his Finals record is 2-7, 2-8, 2-9, a loss for every year of continued Golden State dominance? Will it be in disappointment that his quest to Win One For The Land was thwarted so many times? Or amazement that he had so many chances, that he led so many different teammates to the brink of greatness?
Here are some other dope sentences I read this week: