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“King [LeBron] ain’t got $#!t on me!!!” – Denzel Washington, Training Day

Iguodala-Curry-Warriors

LeBron James is NOT a great basketball player. He is a phenomenal athlete who has the biggest, best proportioned body the modern era has ever seen. He has the agility of a gymnast, the strength of an NFL lineman, and the speed of a sprinter. It is only because of the way the NBA games are called and the desire to have “another Jordan” that LeBron is looked at as being so great. Stephen Curry is a better basketball player. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Igoudala are better basketball players. If Brandon Rush could get consecutive minutes of playing time, he’d also prove he’s a better basketball player. But LeBron James is bigger than anyone faster than him, and faster than anyone bigger. He can drive the lane, be well-guarded, and still be able to take an easy shot because he simply bulls people out of his way. LEBRON IS NOT A BASKETBALL PLAYER. He is a tight-end who can dribble and benefits from the fact that everyone else with a build that could rival his plays football.

If “King” LeBron was truly royalty, he would go get himself a slam dunk championship, but he knows he’d just look foolish. If LeBron was truly exceptional, every player in the league would be copying or imitating his skill set. Everybody wants to be like Mike, but no one wants to be LeBron. It’s a unique set of skills and timing that have made him the league’s ‘best’ player. It’s not his hard work (no one else takes vacation mid-season), his unique ability to do ‘X’ (he’s not the greatest shooter, defender, passer or…), nor his basketball IQ (boy is he dumb). He could have been the modern Jim Thorpe, but instead he chose to play the easiest sport he could excel at while earning lots of money for not being the best he could have been as a decathlete or two-sport pro; BECAUSE LEBRON JAMES IS NOT A BASKETBALL PLAYER.

Think about it. If you ever worked in a medium to large company, while striving to be a “career-oriented” individual, you undoubtedly met individuals who held their positions because of someone they knew and could care less about the industry or job. That’s LeBron multiplied by a thousand. He never had to find someone to take his SAT’s for him, never rode the bench to earn his dues at any level, and never learned the game of basketball from a great coach in college or even in the pros. He’s always been the “best” player on his team, even if he wasn’t (see Wade at Miami). At least Jordan had Phil Jackson to learn from and Scottie to challenge him. It doesn’t even matter what team LeBron is on, that team will do well, if only by decree of the NBA Commissioner. Much like King Kong, LeBron is the best simply because no one has the physical assets to challenge him. But LeBron does have a weakness and it is that he can only play one position at a time. True teams, like the Spurs, have been able to play as a team to make LeBron look average and beat him when it matters. I have full confidence that the tactician Steve Kerr and his Warriors will do even better at unifying against this one-man desecration of team sports.

“Strength in numbers,” the Warriors playoff promotions boast. It is a great concept, a unifying theme, and actually true of this TEAM. The Warriors are a professional basketball TEAM. The strength of the Warriors numbers was never more apparent when the Splash Brothers trapped James Harden to prevent a buzzer beating shot at the end of game 3 in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors demonstrated their ability to play as a team all season, but especially in these playoffs as they’ve adjusted their style, playing time, and shot distribution according to the match-ups. Their stars have proved reliable and resilient and the “role-players” have shown that they really could “be starters on any other team.” This bench isn’t just better than every other team; it ranks up there in the greatest benches of all time. The Warriors MUST NOT FORGET they are a TEAM when they face the epitome of all that is wrong with modern sports: LeBron James.

ESPN and the rest of national media find it too difficult to fit an entire team into their 30 seconds of highlights, so they prefer to focus on individuals. They have force fed Kobe, LeBron, and now Steph, down the masses’ throats because it is easier, plays to selfishness and vanity, and provides that “personal connection” we apparently all want to have with the stars. The Warriors marketing runs counter to this concept, with the most singular promotion being the “Splash Brothers.” No one person on the Warriors is greater than the rest. Yes Steph Curry has a talent unlike many before him and our offense is keyed by his play. Yet when Steph took that nasty spill (knock on wood, he was fine) and was out for an entire quarter, Klay and the rest of the Warriors wound up playing as well or better than they had during that game prior to Steph’s fall. Klay has shown that he too could be a shooter on par with Ray Allen or Larry Bird, and his defense could be compared to Scottie Pippen. Our defense revolves around Draymond Green’s crazy ability to cover all five positions and Andrew Bogut’s stalwart rim defense. Yet they’d just be collecting stats if the rest of the team didn’t work as one to key on the mistakes created by such defensive prowess. The team chemistry would not be what it is if Igoudala or Lee had rested on their laurels and demanded to start. Or if Speights, Ezeli, and the rest had demanded the minutes they truly deserve. Every Warrior puts TEAM first and, despite what the post-Jordan era would say, it IS the best way to play basketball.

There is one man who is more important than the rest down the stretch and that is Stephen Douglas Kerr, the true Coach of the Year. Steve Kerr has improved upon a great team, installing a more flexible defense, asking veteran stars to take a back seat to emerging ones, and creating an offense that is truly spectacular. My personal favorite feature is that he actually uses his clipboard and coaches during timeouts instead of preaching or looking the other way while an assistant draws a play. Marcus Thompson II wrote a great article on Kerr in the Mercury News and it drew attention to a number of items and is definitely worth the read. It bears repeating that Kerr has abandoned season-long held tenets in favor of match-ups or a “hot hand.” This has resulted in reduced, though more effective use of Leandro Barbosa; the increased minutes of David Lee, who is rebounding like he always did and D-ing up much better than usual; Shaun Livingston in the post; Harrison Barnes flying; and Festus “For-the-Rest-Us” Ezili being allowed to go beast mode down low. This is, as the awful Black Eyed Peas song proclaims, awesome. Kerr is not so prideful that he cannot admit when he is wrong, he doesn’t sacrifice production in favor of his philosophy, and he has the uncanny ability to know when to ride out a problem and when to address it post haste. His use of a deep bench at times has been able to save our starters for key stretch moments. Often times, Klay, Draymond, Bogut, Andre, Harrison or even Steph will wait two or three rotations before coming back in to play more than a quarter of consecutive minutes. This means that Kerr goes small for more than a quarter bookending Festus minutes to give Bogut time to truly rest before asking him to grind through the entire fourth quarter against daunting big men like Howard, Randolph, and Gasol. Kerr does not withhold expectations from anyone, holding his rotation players as accountable as the starters for points and defensive contributions.

If you were the GM of a potential championship team, I believe you would ask any coaches you interview what their plan is to stop LeBron. I bet some coaches don’t have a plan, many would create one on the spot to varying degrees of effectiveness and depth, and a special few lay awake at night, scheming and dreaming of the day they can play the NBA’s game of thrones. I imagine Steve Kerr is the third kind. He watched Michael Jordan every day at practice. He must look at LeBron and see an imposter who has no right to rule the marketing empire developed and built by His Airness. Steve Kerr must feel the moral imperative to remind us all what true greatness is, to show the world how basketball ought to be played when such great talent is available. He played for Gregg Popovich and with Tim “Big Fundamental” Duncan. Kerr must want to instill the lesson that true greatness brings out the best in everyone leaving them with a feeling of accomplishment and oneness, not a desire to leave as soon as their contract expires. The Spurs beat King LeBron by playing team basketball, the one skill LeBron does not possess. LeBron James is to team play as Voldemort is to love… too much?

While I hope that Klay’s head heals quickly and without lasting effect, it is Steve Kerr’s head we will need most in these games. The Warriors players have shown that they can score, D-up, rebound, and most importantly, they can listen. They have strength in numbers and they play for each other. They have heart, they celebrate with joy, and they have that fear of losing all champions possess. It will be up their guide and coach Steve Kerr to do as he has done all season and channel their individual greatness into one phenomenal team. LET’S GO WARRIORS!!!

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