by Diego Escutia
Two long suffering fan bases. Two eager franchises. Two iconic superstars. Only one winner. For the cities of Cleveland and Oakland, there is more at stakes than the Larry O’Brien trophy. Winning heals all, and for two organizations whose recent history has been marred by draft busts, losing seasons, and disappointment, winning has never felt so good.
For Golden State Warrior fans, the past fifteen years have been overshadowed by a multitude of draft blunders and questionable personnel decisions. It’s difficult to find a team that had a draft history worse than the Warriors did from 1995 up until the ’09 draft when they scored on Steph Curry. Warrior fans have long been haunted by the legacy of Danny Fortson, Erick Dampier, and Adonal Foyle; the “what could have been” of Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, and Larry Hughes; the agony of the Mike Dunleavy Jr., Troy Murphy, and Jason Richardson era. For nostalgic purposes let’s not forget to mention Earl Boykins, Zarko Cabarkapa, Andris Biedrins, Lou Amundson, Ike Diogu, Vladamir Radmanovic, Kelenna Azubuike, Brandan Wright, and Anthony Randolph. All is forgiven if the Warriors can bring an NBA championship to the Bay Area, a region coddled by championship runs in recent years. Subsequently, I have not seen this much excitement around a Warrior team since the “We Believe” 2006-2007 team that ended the franchise’s twelve-year playoff drought, upset the first-seeded Dallas Mavericks, and inspired the changing of the guard within the organization.
Who ended up in the NBA finals that year? The Cleveland Cavaliers led by a twenty-two year old LeBron James. That team ultimately fell to the San Antonio Spurs in four games. Less than ten years later, LeBron and his Cavs are back in the finals. Now thirty, LeBron returns after four consecutive finals appearances and two championship rings under his belt. Following a dramatic off-season where King James penned a heartfelt letter to the city of Cleveland announcing his return home, LeBron has a chance to fulfill his goal of bringing a trophy to his hometown in his first year. As expected, he faces an uphill challenge, but this is exactly what he has wanted. What better way to prove yourself and cement your legacy than defeating a team that lost only 15 games in the regular season? Oh and by the way he is going to have to do that without Kevin Love, with an injured Kyrie Irving, and a first-year NBA coach. What can you say about LeBron if he pulls this off?
There’s no question in my mind that the Golden State Warriors have the better team and better overall talent, but they are still a young team. No player on the Warriors has ever made it this far. What stands out to me is the finals experience and number of champions on the Cavaliers’ roster. Regardless of playing time or statistical contributions, these players know what it is like to be on a championship roster and a championship environment. Unlike Cleveland’s 2006 team which only had one player on the roster to reach the finals (Eric Snow, Philadelphia 76ers appearance 2001), this Cavs team is loaded with championship experience.
Cleveland Cavaliers Finals Experience
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers appearance 2006; Miami Heat champion 2012, 2013, appearance 2011, 2014)
James Jones (Miami Heat champion 2012, 2013, appearance 2011, 2014)
Mike Miller (Miami Heat champion 2012, 2013, appearance 2011)
Shawn Marion (Dallas Mavericks champion 2011)
Brenden Haywood (Dallas Mavericks champion 2011)
Kendrick Perkins (Boston Celtics champion 2008, appearance 2010)
Anderson Varejão, injured reserve (Cleveland Cavaliers appearance 2006)
Tyronn Lue, associate head coach (Los Angeles Lakers champion 2000, 2001)
James Posey, assistant coach (Boston Celtics champion 2008)
Damon Jones, shooting consultant (Cleveland Cavaliers appearance 2006)
Golden State Warriors Finals Experience
Steve Kerr, head coach (Chicago Bulls champion 1996-1998; San Antonio Spurs 1999, 2003)
Luke Walton, assistant coach (Los Angeles Lakers champion 2009, 2010).
What the Warriors have done this season as a team is remarkable, but the NBA Finals is a whole different animal. The big time players are going to make plays. What will determine the outcome of the series will be the role players and bench play. Frankly, I favor the Cavaliers bench in partbecause of their veteran leadership. My heart says Golden State, but my gut says Cleveland. Ultimately, I believe the Cavaliers will win this series in 6 games as LeBron fulfills his goal and celebrates his third championship on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena. Cavs in Six.