Culture of Hoops

NBA Finals Fallout: LeBron’s Legacy Takes the Worst Hit

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

The Golden State Warriors completed the 2014-15 NBA season as the best team from wire to wire, finishing the year with the best regular season record and the Larry O’Brien trophy. Every year a team finishes as the champion of the league, but this season’s champions are far different from any other. An undersized, jump-shooting team won it all for the first time in the history of this tested league.

It’s nearly completely unprecedented. Most champion teams are built in the traditional fashion – a main scorer with big men down low for rebounding and defense. Sharp shooters on the wing and a point guard who is good for 20 points and ten dimes every game. None of those rules apply to the Golden State Warriors.

This championship team is built on speed, passing, and team defense. Although they have a dynamic scorer in MVP Stephen Curry, and an explosion of points waiting to happen in Klay Thompson, their offense revolves around team play. A number of players run point on any given set for the Warriors. Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes carrie the ball up court from time to time which creates impossible mismatches.

The team is a treat to watch and they also may mark the beginning of a league wide philosophy change on how championship teams are built. Defensive anchor Andrew Bogut saw zero minutes of court time in the last game of the Finals. The Warriors still held the Cleveland Cavaliers under 100 points. Festus Ezeli was the only player over 6’9″ to even smell the court in Game 6. Amazingly, they played superb team defense against a much bigger Cavs lineup while battling post players such as Timofey Mozgov (who scored 28 points in Game 4) and Tristan Thompson. All of that basketball genius and guts belongs solely to Warriors rookie head coach Steve Kerr.

Kerr became a champion himself with Michael Jordan early in his career, and again with Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. If anyone has benefited from coaching he had received as a player it’s Kerr. A spot-up shooter who played his role perfectly throughout his career, now using the things he learned from two Hall of Fame coaches in Phil Jackson and Popovich to lead his group of young players to basketball greatness. They also broke a ton of records in the process.

Golden State finished the season with the best home record in the franchise’s history, most wins in franchise history, and most points scored in franchise history. Along with the insane shooting percentages, they had the best defensive efficiency of any team in the league. Kerr did wonders with this team in one year. Draymond Green became a max-contract player. Also, making career starter Iguodala a sixth man proved to be the best move of Kerr’s young coaching career, although Iguodala would eventually become NBA Finals MVP as a starter.

All of this is excellent news for the Warriors and Kerr, but what about the losing team? Well it means a few things for the Cleveland Cavaliers. First and most obviously, the city of Cleveland is still without an NBA championship. I’m from Boston so I have no idea what that’s like… must be painful. Secondly, and more favorably, a team that just came together this season, got themselves into the playoffs, and took the Warriors to six games in the Finals. Definitely a sign of things to come for a team that is fresh off three-straight losing seasons. Not to mention the invaluable experience of playing on the highest stage.

All signs of good things to come.

The third, and most significant, truth is that LeBron James has officially lost all chances of ever being included in the same tier as those such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell. He is now 2-4 in the NBA Finals. Those greats I listed won five or more (Russell had 11 in 13 seasons). While being unable to measure up to those legends may be discouraging to James, he has put himself into a different category of second tier elite players. Guys who had the physical ability to take their teams far, but were never able to win a handful of championships such as the players I mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph – this list would include Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and “The King” himself. All the talent in the world, but only a couple of championships to show for it. Not due to their ability, but mentality. Jordan never called himself, “The best player in the world.” We just knew he has. We didn’t need to hear him say it, and he didn’t need to hear himself say it. His 6-0 Finals record speaks for itself.

The Warriors winning it all this year is surely going to shake the league up and possibly change it forever. Think of it as an atomic bomb going off. The initial “boom” of winning was felt but the majority of the NBA’s fans will see it as a permanent blast to LeBron’s legacy. The championship “fallout” has begun and this year’s draft will show us how teams will start to take an unfamiliar shape, resembling this year’s championship team.

Pay attention NBA fans. Chef Curry is whipping up a menu change!

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