You’d be hard pressed to find two more unlikely cities to host the NBA Finals. There will be no glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, no parquet-floor tradition of Boston and no Tex-Mex flavour of San Antonio.
Instead we’ve got a Rust Belt city known for having a river that caught on fire against a town in the shadow of one of the world’s great cities, a place about which the writer Gertrude Stein said, “There’s no ‘there’ there.”
Yes it’s Cleveland against Oakland, and while it sounds dull, the truth is that both teams are highly entertaining, whether it’s the Splash Brothers draining threes, LeBron James doing his thing or Matthew Dellavedova riling up the opposition.
This year’s finals could be one to tell the children and grandchildren about someday. “Gather ’round kids, I want to talk to you about a guy named LeBron.”
In all seriousness, watching LBJ reminds me of seeing Nirvana in 1991. There’s greatness there and the only question is just how great that greatness is going to be.
LeBron has been doing a bit of everything. Scoring, rebounding, passing and defending, both on the court and in media conferences protecting his man Delly.
He’s winning without Kevin Love and winning without Kyrie Irving. He’s even making JR Smith look like a solid basketball citizen.
LeBron’s just made it into his fifth consecutive NBA Finals, something that hasn’t been done since Bill Russell in the 1960’s. Magic never did it, Bird never did it, MJ never did it, though to be fair he took that year off to discover that he couldn’t hit a curve ball.
Golden State of course, has Stephen Curry, a skinny 6’3” kid who couldn’t even get a scholarship offer from his NBA star Dad’s alma mater, Virginia Tech. Instead he chose Davidson, a small religious school that is half the size of St. Mary’s in California, where Dellavedova went.
Curry has turned into arguably the most exciting player in the NBA, and has captured a new demographic of fans: those who like to see adorable kids in press conferences with their fathers.
From an Australian media standpoint, this match-up is a dream come true, since one way or another, an Aussie will get to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. And an Aussie may even get to run behind Fox Sports’ reporter Julian De Stoop and get called an ‘idiot’ like Patty Mills and Aron Baynes last season.
Dellavedova and Warriors’ center Andrew Bogut have far more in common than you might think. Although Bogut is 7’1” and has been highly touted for much of his career – let’s not forget he was the #1 overall draft pick in 2005 – he has a blue-collar work ethic much like Delly.
Bogut’s Game 5 line was indicative of this: 0 for 1 from the field for zero points, 14 rebounds, two blocked shots and an assist. He knows he’s not there for his scoring. Curry and Klay Thompson and even Harrison Barnes can do plenty of that.
Wacky but respected basketball commentator Dick Vitale summed it up best in this tweet:
Talk about a guy that knows his role / Bogut of Warriors/Rebounds baby/has 14 tonight in 3 quarters/0 pts leaves scoring to @StephenCurry30
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) May 28, 2015
Dellavedova, of course, is public enemy #1 in Atlanta and Chicago after tussling with less aggressive opponents, but is beloved in Cleveland for his passion and fearlessness. Depending on Irving’s health, Delly’s role could be limited, but you can expect nothing but 100 per cent from the kid from rural Victoria, whatever he’s asked to do.
There’s synergy between the coaches too. Not only are they both in their first seasons, they have an unlikely connection. Steve Kerr of Golden State actually offered Dave Blatt of Cleveland a spot on his Warriors’ coaching staff. But when the Cavaliers’ offer came through, Blatt took it with Kerr’s blessing.
As for the cities, well, Cleveland has been a down-in-the-dumps sports town for many years. The Browns have been terrible and are one of just four teams to have never been to the Super Bowl. Baseball’s Indians last won a World Series in 1948 and the Cavs – who entered the league in 1970 – have never won the NBA title.
Golden State, despite the romantic sounding name that conjures up images of sunshine and the Pacific Ocean, is actually based in the city of Oakland. And while Oakland has had some success with the NFL’s Raiders and baseball’s Athletics, the city itself has taken some hard knocks.
To alter a line from my old comedy-writing pal Bob Nelson, Oakland is a smoky, industrial Sparta to San Francisco’s shiny, high-tech Athens. I had a college girlfriend from Oakland and I can tell you that a few minutes in the city’s Greyhound bus terminal is enough to send most people hightailing it back to the ‘normality’ of San Francisco.
After starting life as the Philadelphia Warriors, the franchise moved west in 1962 and set up shop in the famous City by the Bay (cue the corny Journey song ‘Lights’). This team did have some of the best uniforms in NBA history, ith the cable car on the back and the famous ‘The City’ on the front.
For those who don’t know, ‘The City’ is what locals call San Francisco. They never say ‘San Fran’ and you could probably end up in jail for saying ‘Frisco.’
In 1975, the Golden State Warriors won their one and only NBA title since the move west. This team was badass and could have easily starred in a Quentin Tarantino film. Check out head coach Al Atttles and then look at this team photo.
Ironically their best player was the dorky looking Rick Barry, who used to shoot his free throws underhanded.
By the way, this was the first time in US major sports history that teams with African-American head coaches played for the championship.
Ironically that 1974-75 team played its regular season home games in Oakland, but didn’t during the NBA Finals.
Believe it or not, an ice show was booked for the Oakland Coliseum and the Warriors’ home finals games had to be moved to the descriptively named Cow Palace in Daly City, just south of San Francisco. The Warriors swept the Washington Bullets in four games.
As for Cleveland, this is a franchise full of crazy moments:
(1) ‘The Ted Stepien Rule,’ named for a former Cavaliers’ owner, it prohibits teams from trading first round draft picks two years in a row. The Stepien years were characterised by dreadful trades of future picks for marginal players.
(2) ‘The Shot,’ made by Michael Jordan over Craig Ehlo in 1989, which gave the Bulls a 3-2 series win over the Cavs and became one of the NBA’s most memorable moments.
(3) ‘The Chosen One,’ or the drafting of LeBron with the #1 pick in 2003.
(4) ‘The Decision,’ when James left Cleveland and took his talents to Miami.
(5) ‘The Letter,’ written by current Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, in which he berated LeBron for leaving, but did so in the Comic Sans font and opened himself up to ridicule.
(6) ‘The Return of the King,’ when James decided to leave Miami and go back to Ohio.
So make your choices: King James or Steph and his daughter… Delly or Bogie… Kerr or Blatt… a river on fire or a city on the wrong side of the bridge.
Any way you slice it, this should be a great series.