The Golden State Warriors are not the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rivals according to LeBron James. But his past actions seem to paint a different picture.
When LeBron James went back to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, there’s no way he could’ve foreseen how the next few years would go.
The top four seeds in the West were the Spurs — who had beaten LeBron’s Heat in the Finals — followed by the Thunder, Clippers and Rockets. Meanwhile, the East was fairly weak, save for the Pacers and the Heat, who were now vastly diminished with LeBron’s departure.
So, by returning home and teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, LeBron was probably envisioning domination of the Eastern Conference for years to come and challenge for more championships with a new Big Three.
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But then, like a blitzkrieg attack, the Warriors — who had lost in the first round to the Clippers the year before — came bursting in out of nowhere, grabbing the spotlight with their fast pace and three-point shooting and ball movement and spectacular offense and “Oh my God what did Steph Curry just do” highlights on the regular. And in the Finals, they reminded LeBron that switching super teams did not guarantee a championship.
LeBron never saw the Warriors coming. In the blink of an eye, this team that had been awful for decades came in, stole the crown and the attention from The King and were suddenly the darlings of the NBA. From the Splash Brothers to 73 wins, everything suddenly became “Warriors this, Warriors that.”
Part of me thinks people hold a special grudge against the Warriors for that reason. They weren’t supposed to get this good, this fast. Teams aren’t supposed to go from losing in the first round one season to winning the championship the next under a new coach, then break the NBA record for regular season wins the next year and follow that up by signing Kevin frickin’ Durant in free agency. That just ain’t fair.
Part of me also thinks that there is perhaps no opponent LeBron has wanted to beat more badly in his lengthy career than the Warriors. This is the team that snatched the attention away from him, produced a two-time MVP who does things with the basketball that even LeBron can’t and appears to stand in the way between LeBron and a championship every year for the foreseeable future.
This is why LeBron has been extremely obsessed with the Warriors. Why he questioned Curry’s second MVP award. Why he thought Portland’s Terry Stotts should’ve been Coach of the Year over Steve Kerr last season. Why he felt offended that Curry was rising to become the league’s alpha dog and why he proclaimed himself “the best player in the world” following a loss in Game 5 of the 2015 Finals. Why LeBron threw a Halloween party with a “3-1 lead” declaration, cookies shaped like tombstones with Curry and Klay Thompson’s names on them and a dummy of Curry that guests had to walk over. I mean, who does that?
Apparently, beating the Warriors in the Finals last season didn’t satisfy him. Before Monday’s 35-point loss to the Warriors, James decided to point out that the Cavaliers and Warriors weren’t rivals:
"“I don’t think we have a rival in our game today. 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.”"
This is pure arrogance. For all intents and purposes, the Warriors and Cavaliers are rivals. They’ve played each other for the championship the last two years. Every matchup between them has been hyped like no other game, and the skill level and intensity on display in those games is unparalleled by any other two teams in the league today.
LeBron can make excuses, but it’s a euphemism for proclaiming himself peerless and too good to even have a rival. It’s him still finding a way to talk down the Warriors, even when they’re up on the mountaintop with him and standing as the lone obstacle to more championships.
Because while the Cavaliers are the defending champions, it feels like nobody is really paying attention to them — at least not as much as the Warriors, who were demoralized for all of a few weeks after blowing a 3-1 Finals lead because they signed Durant and their fans started celebrating like they had won the damn championship.
This has to irk LeBron, hence the uncommitted “rivals” statement, and well … the reason why he did this on Monday:
This is a 6-foot-8, 249-pound grown man built like a machine who went down like he got shot after a little shove to the shoulder by Draymond Green. I wonder what mystical force made his head snap back? The Golden Globes were last week, LeBron.
Notably, this comes days after LeBron complained that he wasn’t getting enough foul calls. Correlation is not causation, but I’ll just point out that LeBron also complained that he had a family after the now-infamous altercation with Draymond in Game 4 over the summer, and Draymond was suspended for Game 5. Oh, and there’s precedent for the league giving LeBron what he wants at a moment’s notice:
Kidding aside, LeBron cares way too much about the Warriors to not consider them rivals. He’s willing to flop like a fish, throw a Halloween party with a “Warriors suck” theme and resort to Machiavellian strategies to grab any advantage possible. It’s only January, and it seems like he’s already testing out methods that might pay off come June.
Of course he had to know that was Draymond coming at him to steal the ball, that they would make contact and that he would try to sell it because he knows Draymond’s history.
Afterwards, he said this:
1) Draymond never touched LeBron’s face and 2) That was nowhere near a football hit. Without overreacting to one moment, this is representative of LeBron’s attitude towards the Warriors, one of falsified ignorance but — in reality — one of jealously and (yes) rivalry.
It’s undeniable that the third iteration of the Finals between the Warriors and Cavaliers will be so epic. But in the meantime, it would be nice for the “best player in the world” to call a team that already beat him in the Finals once and just annihilated them by 35 points what they rightfully are: rivals.