“Team A simply wanted more then team B”. This, in my opinion, is the lowest form of sports punditry, refuge for the Graham Sounesses and Glen Hoddles of the world. It is a basic admission that the pundit either has no idea why team A won, or can’t be bothered to form a coherent theory. In lieu of actual analysis the pundit in question will spout nonsense about lack of desire and poor attitude, this does a huge disservice to the professionals they make a living talking about.
All professional athletes want to win with an absolute burning passion, without this characteristic there is simply no way they could have made it to the top of their respective sports. The “wanted it more” argument is an extension of the “back in my day” style of punditry, in which pundits seek to preserve their era as the greatest by denigrating the current generation’s style of play, character and everything in between. With the NBA finals tipping off tonight, between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, there are plenty of reasons for both teams to want it more.
For the Warriors it is their chance to cap their record setting regular season with a championship ring. It would be incredibly disappointing for the franchise to break the 95-96 Bulls seemingly unreachable record, only to come up short in the finals. Questions would then start to emerge about how great this Warriors team really is, were they just a flash in the pan, incapable of maintaining success for a prolonged period? A defeat to the Cavs would provide ammunition for pundits and ex-players such as Oscar Robertson, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen, men who have constantly questioned the Warriors greatness.
Such is the fickle nature of sports journalism that Warriors are in effect playing for two championships. This one and the one they won 12 months ago against a depleted Cavs squad. If the fully healthy Cavaliers pull of the upset the narrative will be that had they been at full strength last year Cleveland would have ended their wait for a ring a year earlier. This is a ludicrous suggestion, Golden State could only beat whatever was in front of them, but there is no doubt it will be out there should they loose. The Warriors will be keen to quash any such suggestions by defeating the full strength Cavaliers this time round.
For the Cavaliers, on the other hand, it is all about ending the city’s 53 year wait for a major sports championship. A drought that is brilliantly portrayed in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Believeland – This is Cleveland. The chance for all the Cavaliers players to become immortal in Cleveland sports folklore is obviously a massive incentive. Cleveland has been the subject of cruel taunts for over 50 years, Canadian comedian Rich Little once joked that Ronald Reagan would prevent a Soviet invasion of Poland by renaming it Cleveland. If this Cavaliers squad can bring an end to Cleveland’s long wait for a championship it will be career defining for all involved.
This is perhaps even truer for Cleveland’s leader LeBron James. Born in Akron, Ohio just 35 miles south of Cleveland James has lived the disappointment of a Cleveland sports fan. He has also had to bear the weight of expectation of a whole city, or even the entire state of Ohio at times, since he was drafted by the Cavs aged just 18 in 2003. He has also dealt with the hatred of a community after he left Cleveland and took his talents to South Beach in 2010. To win a championship for what is effectively his hometown team would complete a remarkable tale of redemption for James.
Added to this is James’ desire to add to his own legacy is a key factor. Should the Cavs loose James’ personal record in the finals will slip to 2-5. When this happens all the LeBron haters will inevitably come crawling out of the woodwork bleating that ‘Jordan never lost in the finals’ and ‘LeBron is a choker’. This is ridiculous. Firstly in all 6 of Jordan’s finals appearances he had the luxury of being the best player on the best team, he was never the underdog. For James it has been a different story out of his finals defeats in 2007, 2011, 2014 and 2015 only in 2011 was he on the better team. This argument also reasons that it is better to loose in conference finals than make it to the finals. People conveniently forget that Jordan failed to make it to the promised land until his 7th season in the league. I am not arguing that LeBron is better than MJ, simply that LeBron’s legacy should not suffer due to the fact he has dragged underhanded teams beyond expectations. Unfortunately it will.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that both teams really want to win. Obviously. Ironically many of the reasons for both teams to want it so badly are to prove the “wanted it more” brigade wrong. Such is the nature of the over saturated news environment we live in. One that I am happy to contribute to.