“I don’t think we have a rival in our game today,” James said after Cavs practice Sunday, a day before Cleveland would meet Golden State again for the second of two regular-season meetings. “We’ve had two great Finals appearances the last two years, but I had the same with San Antonio when I was in Miami. We weren’t rivals. And I think I played those guys more, so I wouldn’t look at it as rivals.”
–LeBron James on the current “relationship” between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors
I was never a huge LeBron James guy. But I’m rapidly becoming one now.
Let’s go back to the above comment, which James made before the Cavs went out and got schwacked by the Warriors on Monday night in the Bay Area. Of course, the Cavs and Warriors have met in the last two NBA Finals. Each team has won once. Golden State and Cleveland are now having what amounts to a nuclear arms race when it comes to acquiring more talent, which sure as sugar makes it look we have two clear NBA superpowers.
Which is precisely why James is thumbing his nose at the Warriors like some snarky boss on a power trip.
Rivalry? What rivalry? You work for me. Now get me my coffee.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but for some of us, the roles have flipped. The Warriors, once fun and likable and, well, new, have now become the NBA version of the superstore. Golden State won a title in 2015 and set an NBA record for wins in 2016, then went out and added Kevin Durant. At some point, the Warriors should represent everything that is wrong with the NBA, great players conspiring to load up their side so they never have to leave the floor at the local YMCA.
Winners stay. Next victims?
Here’s the bigger problem: James beat them last year, and this time he had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with him on the floor, precisely in that order. He wasn’t the one-man show he was required to be in 2015, when Irving and Love were both lost to injuries. Even then, Cleveland still jumped to a 2-1 lead against the Warriors while LeBron relied on relentless rug rats like Matthew Dellavedova against Golden State’s high-powered, high-octane offense.
In retrospect, if Golden State hadn’t won that series, now that would be a story.
So the Warriors came back to the playground last year, with their chests puffed out. Only this time, LeBron had all of his boys with him. The result was a Cleveland comeback that erased a 3-1 Golden State series lead, elevating James to three career championships and cementing his place, still, as king of the hoop hierarchy.
Lest there be any doubt, that last thing means a great deal to him. During the 2015 postseason, remember, James was asked why he was so confident, and he replied, in no uncertain terms, that he was “the best player in the world.” That was a direct shot at Stephen Curry, then at his peak as flavor of the month, which is hardly a shot at Curry. It just means that he is a passing fad relative to James, who has been to an astonishing six straight NBA Finals with two different teams.
Know who James sounded like when he made that remark? Like Tiger Woods being asked about a rivalry with Phil Mickelson or David Duval or anyone else. They all have their runs, Tiger effectively told us, but the guy they’re aiming at is me.
And so it is with LeBron.
Are the Warriors better than the Cavs this season? Time will tell. Maybe Durant will be a piece too big to overcome. But the truth is that Cleveland won Games 5 and 7 at Golden State last summer when both rosters were effectively healthy, which leaves a rather large-sized hole in Golden State’s resume.
If you look at it from James’ perspective, the Warriors really haven’t beaten him yet.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.