It’s been almost 24 hours since the end of the NBA finals. I really have a hard time thinking or writing about what I just saw until I have time to take a step back and think about what I just saw. Reflecting now I have no doubt I saw some of the best basketball in the past month that I have in my entire life. At the beginning of this series both teams seemed to be the exception to every rule, then suddenly everything that was meant to happen happened all at once.
It’s hard to separate emotion from sports, and even harder with a player as polarizing as LeBron James, but try to for a paragraph or two. Remember back to when he was in high school, remember back when Clevland won the LeBron lottery and the home town kid was sent to be a savior for the Cavs. LeBron was never meant to be hated. After carrying the weight of a entire city on his back to the finals in 2007, we all knew his ascent to basketball glory was going to happen. Then things started to fall apart. Maybe the Cavs weren’t good enough, maybe he didn’t want it enough, maybe his personality got in the way. No one will really know, but at one point in time everyone KNEW LeBron was going to be one of the best ever.
To me LeBron’s personality is exactly like Westbrook’s game. Both are exceptional and have unique qualities that make them great, and some make you just want to run head first into a wall. With Westbrook it’s often a pull up jumper or frustration foul. With LeBron? It’s the decision. It’s the statements he made about Cleveland. It’s caring more about his brand than loyalty. Everyone has their faults and some are more visible than other. Even with what Westbrook takes off the court with questionable decision making he brings back so much more. No different than LeBron. Some people chose to dwell on these negatives with both athletes, instead of living in awe of their greatness. All of a sudden LeBron wins a title and it seems all is forgiven. Maybe that is all people really wanted from him? Now it feels like that greatness that we knew was going to happen happened overnight. We knew it was going to happen, just didn’t think it would take this long.
This same theme can be seen in every fiber of the Thunder’s season. No team is supposed to get this good this fast only working through the draft. The Thunder were meant to be a project, not a contender. Just three short years ago no one thought Westbrook could ever become a good point guard. No one thought Harden deserved to be the number three overall pick. No one thought Durant would be able to play physical and play defense against bigger players. No one thought a young coach in Scott Brooks could ever coach on the biggest stages.
After a remarkable season, people forgot everything we knew about the Thunder. After sweeping the defending champs and dismissing the Lakers in five games everyone forgot the doubts about the Thunder personal.
Once again the Thunder faced a mountain no one thought they could climb, the Spurs. No one thought the Thunder would be able to play the style of offense needs to beat the stellar Spurs defense. People said the Thunder role players would crumble under pressure. Then the exact opposite happened. It was the Thunder’s role players stepping up. It was the Thunder flying around on defense forcing the very technical Spurs offense into countless mistakes and fast break opportunities. After the Thunder won four games in a row, everyone forgot what we knew about the Thunder being too young, being too inexperienced.
Going into the finals, majority of people were picking the Thunder. Everyone thought both teams were the exception to the rule. Everyone thought the Thunder didn’t need to go through the growing pains that every championship team goes through. Everyone forgot that LeBron was built for championship basketball and could only remember last year’s blunders. Game one only magnified these thoughts. It seemed as if the torch had been passed by LeBron to Durant without ever being lit.
Then everything that was supposed to happen all happened at once. Suddenly the Thunder role players that had played so well started to freeze up. Scott Brooks was out coached by Spolstra after just out coaching arguably the best coach in the NBA in Gregg Popavich. Thunder’s offense regressed back into the ISO offense everyone thought was a thing of the past. Everything that people thought would happen, only a round later than it was supposed to.
At the same time, everything happened for LeBron. For years everyone said if LeBron stopped taking jumpers he would be unstoppable, then he did. LeBron was able to do everything in the series from scoring to passing to rebounding to defense. This was the total dominance that everyone knew LeBron was capable of. Then people started to remember how they used to view LeBron from five years ago, and how Durant was too skinny to play in the NBA. The heat role players that were brought in to make big shots starting hitting shots at a rate everyone forgot they could. Before we could even catch our breath it was over.
This series seemed to surprise everyone, but if you woke up from a five year coma and this was the only thing you watched on TV you wouldn’t be surprised one bit. A bunch of young kids playing against the best player of his generation came up short and played scared? What is surprising about that? Everything that happened in this series was meant to happen. Thunder are meant to be a finals team, just not near this soon. LeBron was meant to win MVP’s and championships, just not this late in his career. In a few years we will all look back and remember how everything we thought we happen in the NBA happened, just not when we expected it to.