The first time the Spurs met “The Chosen One” in the NBA finals was 2007, back in the days when the big three was still a big three and Bruce Bowen was still pissing opponents off in the black and silver with hounding on ball defense and a little bit of sticking his foot out to trip other players. To be brutally honest, it wasn’t a very memorable finals, or even a slightly memorable finals, really. The Spurs came out of a conference where Nowitzki and Kobe were in their primes, the Derron Williams Carlos Boozer duo was at it’s best, and the five-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns had become a dominant offensive force. Cleveland, on the other hand, had edged their way out of a conference where only two teams had 50+ wins, and only five even had winning records.
Still, with all of the hype around Lebron as an individual player and the attention (or even lack-thereof) to the Spurs team chemistry and quiet mannered fundamental basketball, it’s almost a wonder we didn’t see it coming, that there would be more conflicts between these two. The juxtaposition of the silent assassins of San Antonio and the more extroverted, celebrity style athlete in Lebron James is the kind of battle they write about in comic books. It’s this epic clash of two different kinds of dominance that make the matchup more compelling than the two by themselves. Without each other, they’d have no one to prove themselves against, but in the end, only one can prevail.
“It’s only a question of now what Lebron James was really chosen to do. Dominate the league in a greater way than anyone since Michael Jordan, or prove once in for all that a well built team will always defeat any top superstar in a seven game series?”
As soon as Jordan retired, the NBA-whether it be the media, fans, or the players themselves- immediately begin searching for one savior to be the face of the league. It was sold as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’ Neal, Dwyane Wade, or even Allen Iverson. The road to championships (other than just being on the Spurs) throughout the beginning of the 21st century seemed to be to hire Shaq as a 300 pound rim stuffing mercenary or to get a bunch of superstars to join forces, and this renewed focus on individual players led to a storm of high volume, low efficiency scorers like Carmelo, Iverson, McGrady (although early on he was relatively efficient) and more. Eventually, though, The Chosen One came along.
A six foot eight, lightning quick and brutally powerful, Lebron James is truly a physical force like none that we have ever seen. The league had found it’s guy, the one man who was going to be the face of the NBA as he grew up right in front of our eyes. But as great as his efforts were for Cleveland, they were never able to get to championship level. He left for Miami Beach to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in what was being sold as a formation of a super-team. Just like that, a trend had began.
As high profile teams like the Knicks and the Lakers failed to produce success out of simply combining star players, questions begin to arise as to whether this was really the most effective way to build a basketball team. All of this came to a pinnacle during the last two years, when the Spurs and Miami Heat faced off two consecutive years. After beating the Spurs by the skin of their teeth in 2013, Miami found themselves being walloped by the furious heart and chemistry of San Antonio in 2014, and NBA fans everywhere watched in awe as a squad seemed to be perfecting basketball without having a Michael Jordan alpha-dog type player on the team. The Spurs not only dominated in the finals, but were able to gain the full appreciation and respect of fans around the league in a way that the back-to-back champions Heat never could.
And just like that, a trend had been killed.
Looking back at it a year later, that may have been the summer that changed the NBA forever. Now, the Golden State Warriors are at the top of the league standings, a glued together team of guys who have been building chemistry over the last few years that rely on floor spacing, tenacity, and chemistry. The Hawks, under former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, are now basically emulating the same system the Spurs have taken advantage of and turned it into an Eastern Conference team-eating monster. The Grizzlies have thrown their own version of this at us, playing some beautiful basketball of their own despite not being as all-around offensively talented as the Spurs and Warriors are.
Meanwhile, out in Oklahoma City they’re starting to see the need for better role players, as Russel Westbrook scoring forty points on 35% shooting doesn’t seem to be as effective as actual team basketball.
This years Cleveland Cavaliers are the last of a dying breed. They’re just three large-scale talents plugged into one otherwise very underwhelming roster, centered around none other than the biggest star the game of basketball has to offer, Lebron James. Their success this year is enough to make them the Eastern Conference favorites, and to put Lebron once again in position to make the finals. If the silver and black are able to prevail out of the wild western conference again, it’s not a very bold prediction to say that Lebron and the Cavs are likely to be the next challengers.
If not the Spurs, then it will more than likely be another team that they influenced so heavily this year, one that is sure to drop a heavy dosage of extra passes around “The Chosen One” this year. It’s only a question of now what Lebron James was really chosen to do. Dominate the league in a greater way than anyone since Michael Jordan, or prove once in for all that a well built team will always defeat any top superstar in a seven game series?