Unless you renounced television or the Internet or Earth on or before June 16, 2015, you probably have at least heard in passing that the Golden State Warriors are the 2015 NBA champions. It was the most appropriate outcome for Dub Nation, culminating a season in which they had the best record all year in the best conference with the regular season's MVP-validated best player in Stephen Curry.
For LeBron James, their win and his loss really and truly sucked in a way that few players have known sucking in the immediate past. James just went to his fifth straight NBA Finals only to lose for a third time in that stretch, with a fourth loss out of six trips overall since 2007. It's a fate none of his contemporaries have had the privilege of meeting.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers loss in Game 5, a "we're still in this thing"-looking LeBron James came to the podium and told the world he was confident in his game because he was "the best player on the planet." After his team lost it all in Game 6, we waited with bated breath to hear what the King had to say and to analyze his body language and speculate regarding his state of mind as he said it.
Most of us remember that time LeBron told us all, after his Finals loss with the Heat to the Dallas Mavericks back in 2011, that we were the ones doomed to go back to our sad, pathetic, little lives that are void of riches and comfort while he would be contemplating that little blip on his radar in the lap of luxury. I'm paraphrasing, of course. More specifically, I'm grossly embellishing. No matter, though, regardless of his exact words, my words above perfectly reflect the way he made us feel that night.
Naturally, slander ensued.
In the time since, James has been a bit more careful, robotic even, in his dealings with the public as presented by the press. That caution is what made his "best player on the planet" statement feel so naughtily liberating. While his post-game presser to end all post-game pressers from this season wasn't as gasp-inducing as the one from two nights earlier or as insulting as the one back in 2011, it wasn't without its low points.
When asked if coming home was all that he hoped it would be, LeBron answered by saying, "Well, my family is happy."
No sir, you are not allowed to trot out your family here to get out of a real answer. This entire year, your "welcome home" narrative has been forced down our throats like cod liver oil.
LeBron's love letter to Cleveland that he penned at the beginning of the year to formally announce his return was full of sappy story lines that he wanted us to embrace, no doubt to help fan the fires of our rooting interest in his direction. I know he had just suffered a devastating loss, but gosh, those talking points should have been so strongly ingrained in him that he could call them up at will. He went home to restore hope and to make a town that "could" into a town that "does." He indicated that he was willing to wear the scars of the city on his back and proposed to inspire the youth of Cleveland to aspire to greater things.
All he managed in his response at the podium, though, was a very minimizing impression that a happy wife (and kids) equals, for the most part, a happy life.
LeBron actually said the words, "We just ran out of talent."
Ouch. What a terrible thing to say about your teammates. He could have said "we ran out of gas" or "we ran out of time." To say we ran out of talent is a very specific distinction to make. And call me sensitive or whatever, but I can't imagine his squad took that well.
Those guys played their hearts out and excelled well beyond what anyone might have guessed they could do. Timofey Mozgov had a friggin' double-double after being benched for almost all of Game 5. Who would have thought? And J.R. Smith hit two big 3-pointers to give them a shot at a nearly possible and very miraculous comeback to force a Game 7. Had there been more time, who knows what might have happened?
But LeBron lamented a different T-word and, in doing so, sent a very strong message to somebody. Maybe to ownership and management to make sure he won't be short on talent again. Maybe he was letting his supporting cast know exactly what he thought of their efforts. Smith, for one, might have though it was the latter. Not long after the game ended, it was reported that he planned to opt out of his final year, so yeah ...
LeBron said he couldn't remember a time a team won the Finals without two All-Stars in the lineup.
Unless LeBron flipped off the switch on all electronic media on or before his first game to start the season in Cleveland, he should have known how much this statement plays into his critics' biggest criticism of him. They say he goes around looking for great players to play with so he can win. Yes, he does do that, but surely no one in the league goes around looking for bad players to play with so they can lose.
To that end, the beef with that is a little unfair and kind of childish. But it's not without merit. Twice now, James has been a part of a super team in leaving Cleveland for South Beach and now back to Cleveland. We probably take so much issue with this kind of a search for a championship because it's foreign to us.
Prior to changes in the NBA collective bargaining agreement that allowed James to strike the type of deal he got in Miami to begin with, we didn't see superstar players go out in search of the Larry O'Brien in this way. They used to get locked in to long, uber-lucrative contracts with desperate organizations and had to sit and wait around until the powers that be found a couple of dollars to try and add some key pieces. Only at the end of their careers, after being labeled as at least a little bit washed up, did they get to sign on with a group of guys that would get them a championship the fastest. As such, they weren't as in charge of their fates.
LeBron has been in control the whole way and has not skimped on the good stuff. So yes, after hoping to enjoy the finest company in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving at the five-star experience that is the NBA Finals, James had to give them a rain check. It's a tough break for sure, but I don't like my best player on the planet using his last public address of the season to tell us how unfortunate that was for him. He's supposed to say he didn't have those guys, but that's no excuse. He's supposed to say that we put in a valiant effort and came up short. He's supposed to leave all of the "Cavs were shorthanded" headlines to the media. He didn't though, and his overt desire to drive the season-ending narrative as much as he drove the one to start it wasn't a good look at all.
Listen, I know that it isn't easy to be a gracious loser. In fact, that might not even be a real thing. LeBron came to the podium after a heartbreaking loss and stopped well short of reminding us how much better his life was than ours. It's not perfect, but I'll concede that for him, it's good enough.
I once ran a 6 and a half-minute mile. So, there's that.