All hail the King (of Cleveland)

By David Mullen

When used as a noun, by definition a king is “the male ruler of an independent state, especially one who inherits the position by right of birth like King Henry VII, or the most important chess piece, which the opponent has to checkmate in order to win. The king can move in any direction, including diagonally, to any adjacent square that is not attacked by an opponent’s piece or pawn.”

The anointing of Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA superstar LeBron “King” James may not exactly be true to the letter of the meaning, but he is the most important piece in the NBA chess game. He was born in Akron, Ohio and hardly to royalty, but he can move in any direction and is always in attack mode. The problem with the Cavaliers, and for James, is that most of his pawns have been taken off the board.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Golden State Warriors will face the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. This has never happened before. In fact, only 12 times did teams meet in the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons. If they win the NBA title over “King” James and his band of court jesters, the Warriors will have to be in the same conversation with other NBA dynasties like the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. 

Most suggest that this will be James’ biggest test, as he is not surrounded by the talent he has had in previous years and he should know. This is an unprecedented eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance for James with two different teams (the Miami Heat was the other.) It is hard to believe that it was in 2011 that the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA championship over the James-led Heat. How the mighty have fallen.

James is 33, and has played in all 100 Cavaliers games this season. He had to reach back for every ounce of talent, energy and guile to get his fourth-seeded team past the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Celtics. But the Warriors are far superior to any of those teams.

The Warriors are the best offensive team in the league. And their defense, always a strength, actually improved during their playoff run over the San Antonio Spurs, the New Orleans Pelicans and the team with the NBA’s best record this season — the Houston Rockets. Led by Coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors don’t have to rely on one player like the Cavs do. They have All-Star quality players in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

The Warriors also have the home court advantage at Oracle Arena in Oakland. The only concern is the health of Andre Iguodala, who would be asked to defend “King” James. The Cavs hope to have Kevin Love back from concussion protocol to take some of the scoring onus off of James, but three of Golden State’s non-starters could probably make Cleveland’s starting five. That’s how deep they are.

James keeps people in awe, including NBA officials. He regularly takes one, two, three and four steps when going to the hoop. That is not “driving the lane.” That is doing the “Electric Slide.” I am reminded that traveling in the NBA is unenforced. That doesn’t make it right. But being a king has its privileges. In this space in Oct. 2017, I wrote: “The NBA championship will, once again, come down to the Warriors and Cavaliers with this season, Cleveland winning the crown. That is the idea of competitive balance in the NBA. Have the same two teams in the championship every season.”

Well, I was right on the finals matchup, but I am now convinced the Warriors will win the championship in five games. They have too much firepower and will oust the King (pictured below with the ball). “Checkmate” and a third crown in four years for this great Warriors team.

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