by Julian Spivey
I’m not a fortune teller. I can’t see the future. So when the Golden State Warriors went up 3-1 on the Cleveland Cavaliers after game four of the NBA Finals I didn’t believe the Cavaliers would come back. I didn’t trust that the Warriors had the 94 percent chance of winning the series that the BPI claimed, but I thought they’d win the series. And, my pre-series prediction was Cavaliers in six games. Not because I think the Cavaliers are a better team than the Warriors – they aren’t – I just don’t trust destiny and am a definite pessimist, especially when it comes to sports and when a team goes 73-9 in the regular season I believe anything will occur to keep them from winning it all. Even that pessimism didn’t stop me from believing the Warriors were on the verge of back-to-back titles.
And then Draymond Green was suspended before game five and I knew that was the boost the Cavaliers needed. This is the point where I say I don’t believe Green should’ve been suspended. I’m not saying the NBA is rigged, but Green’s actions in game four should’ve resulted in a technical foul at most and not a flagrant foul. I’ve never seen such a weak flagrant foul in all my years watching the NBA and here it was in a situation where the league knew one more flagrant would result in a suspension.
So many people underestimate Green’s importance to the Warriors, but I figured it would be the difference maker. It really wasn’t. The way LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played in game five, both scoring 40-plus, it wouldn’t have mattered if Green was in the game or not.
I made the claim after Green’s suspension that the Cavs would become the first team in NBA history to come back to win a title down 3-1. I thought the loss of Green would be too much for the Warriors to overcome, the Cavs would win game six at home and then destiny would step up in game seven – knocking off the greatest season in professional sports history (yes, not just the NBA) and giving Cleveland its first professional title in more than a half century.
But, during the second half of game five in Golden State when James and Irving took complete control and dominated the Warriors on their own I realized another reason why the Cavs were going to make a little history on their own and win a championship after being down 3-1. LeBron James was publically challenged by the Warriors and had his manhood questioned by Green who called him a “bitch” on the court during their scuffle in game four and by a trash-talking Klay Thompson and trash-Tweeting Marreese Speights between games four and five with both calling him whiny and insinuating he was a baby.
LeBron wasn’t going to stand for that and I’m sure he made up his mind at that point that he was going to win his third championship and his first for his home-state team or basically die trying. You don’t call the best athlete in the world a “bitch” and live to tell about it. The Warriors had done stepped in it.
Don’t get me wrong, James has been the best player on the floor in this series from game one – even when the Cavs looked absolutely horrible early on during the series. He leads all players on both teams in every major offensive stat category (points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals). Not exactly “bitch” numbers if you ask me. But, something obviously lit his wick between games four and five, hence the back-to-back 40-plus point games in games five and six to force a do-or-die game seven back in Golden State on Sunday night. James also has his team playing better and well, he has no time at all for his teammates who aren’t taking his lead (hence the refusal to high five Kevin Love in game five). James has these Cavaliers on his back both offensively and defensively with the Cavs smothering the Warriors potent and high-scoring offense with the Warriors helping out a lot by mostly missing every wide open three they’ve been allowed (I’m looking at you Harrison Barnes).
James is playing the greatest NBA Finals series I’ve ever seen from any player and I’ve seen Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan win multiple titles. Prior to game five he was having a good Finals. Something changed. Maybe it’s just that he couldn’t stomach falling to 2-5 in his career in Finals series, but the way he’s playing shows me he has a little extra to prove. Like he was publicly offended and decided to single-handedly challenge the entire Warriors team (the greatest in league history) to a duel – one he’s currently winning as if he were Aaron Burr with a machine gun.
No, I am not a fortune teller. I can’t tell you which team is going to be crowned champion on Sunday evening in game seven and according to FiveThirtyEight the Warriors have a 65 percent chance of winning, because analytics are completely overrated and apparently don’t take into account how badly the Warriors have been pushed around these last two games. But, I can tell you one thing – I think LeBron James is about to make the Golden State Warriors his bitch.
by Julian Spivey
What do you say when the Greatest of All-Time passes away?
There’s really not words to put on paper that can perfectly articulate just what Muhammad Ali meant to sports, pop culture and the world.
Ali, three-time heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist, died late June 3 at a hospital in the Phoenix area. He was 74.
He was a king in and out of the ring and changed the popular athlete forever. His brashness and poetic way with words not only helped to talk himself up, but showed the world what a black athlete could be – powerful, smart, articulate and uncontrollable. It was the beginning of a new world Ali was ushering in and many in this country didn’t like it. Hell, the American Government tried to get rid of him – reclassifying his draft status and attempting to induct him into the military, which he refused to do. He had no quarrel with the Viet Cong he said and didn’t feel the need to kill for a country that didn’t have the backs of his own race. Ali was convicted of draft evasion, stripped of his heavyweight title and barred from boxing for more than three years during his prime.
Ali stood for what he believed in, which as someone who isn’t old enough to have seen him fight live, means more to me than anything he could have done inside of the boxing ring. When his ban was lifted he came back with his greatest fights to regain the Heavyweight title against the likes of Joe Frazier and George Foreman – events that will live on in the annals of sports legend for the rest of time.
Ali was long retired and already diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease by the time I was even born, so what I know from his fighting is what I’ve seen on YouTube and ESPN. I can’t speak to what it means to have seen Ali in his prime, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a heroic or legendary figure to me in the same way that another highly influential and barrier-breaking athlete like Jackie Robinson is to me. I have multiple posters/photos/artwork of Ali on my walls at home. I’m not even a boxing fan – not that the sport gives much to cheer about any more like it did in Ali’s days.
As a writer it was Ali’s way with words that really make him stand out for me in addition to him standing up for his beliefs, another thing I’ve always admired in a person. Ali’s IQ was only a 78, which is why he originally wasn’t classified to be drafted, but his poetic way with words shows he wasn’t exactly dumb. He once said, “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest.”
A lot of times today sports fans believe that athletes talk too much, especially about themselves. This all goes back to Ali, who was truly the first to do it, which is why he’s typically referred to as the first of the “modern athletes.” With language like “Float like a butterfly/sting like a bee/His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see,” “I’m young, I’m handsome, I’m fast, I can’t possibly be beat” and “If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize” he not only stood out in his own time, but also in some ways became a precursor to the hip-hop generation.
Arrogance and brashness is a character that a lot of people to this very day cannot stand in an athlete, but some athletes do it with such grace and in such a fashion that you can’t help but to fall in love with them. Ali was this way and it is part of the reason why we’re OK with him referring to himself as “The Greatest.” He backed it up all the way.
The Champ is gone. There’s never gonna be another.