Lebron James

Coin Flip II: 2016 NBA Finals by Maxwell Young

Are y'all awake yet? We got action!

If you thought Mamba Day and the Warriors' achievement of eclipsing the 1997 Chicago Bull's regular season record were going to be the last exciting moments of the NBA season until the hallowed Finals, you missed some epic basketball.

Before Stephen Curry proclaimed "I'm here. I'm back," as if to really say, 'This is my Jordan moment,' in front of a stunned Trailblazers crowd in the Western Conference Semi-final; and before the Cavaliers went on a ten-game tear, going undefeated until they crossed international borders to play in the '6', we all assumed the playoffs would go as scripted.  Eight teams from each conference get to extend their season into the spring, but did we really entertain the thought that anyone other than King James and the Cavaliers would emerge from the Eastern Conference as champions? And how could two-time reigning MVP and the Golden State Warriors at 73 wins and 9 losses be stopped?  Since last summer, all signs have been pointing to a necessary rematch: King James' shot at redemption and Stephen Curry's validation, but we almost spoke too soon.

After a month and a half of playoff basketball, storylines have shaped shifted and shifted some more.  Making it all the way to the Conference finals last year, the Houston Rockets were relegated to vacation status after the first round.  The Clippers, yet again, were snubbed by the injury bug, unable to see what kind of fruit their floor general and high-flying slammers could bear.  We also saw flashes of Dwayne Wade's youth, as he willed-in every contorted lay-up and clutch three-ball he took throughout the Hornets and Raptors series.  If only leading shot blocker Hassan Whiteside stayed healthy, we could have not only seen Lebron's return to a post-season Miami environment, but also two best friends compete for a trip to the NBA Finals.

More glaringly, it might be the end to the efficient, well-oiled, crisp passing machine of the San Antonio Spurs after the six game destruction by the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli, despite the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, and Lamarcus Aldridge, appeared to run out of the proverbial gasoline.  Remember when a dejected 40-year old Duncan walked to the bench, head down, after Serge Ibaka of the Thunder swatted what would have been a routine slam? if only he had young legs.  For all the championships and milestones Duncan has achieved, that split second was a microcosm of what fans had been watching all year; a depleted GOAT having to more carefully pick his moments of attack, realizing his body could no longer follow what his mind enacted.

As fast as that block had happened was how quickly Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coasted in transition to take momentum in the West as a legitimate championship contender. KD and Russ had been proving their greatness as a duo for the entire season.  Westbrook dominated, angrily, tallying 18 triple-doubles this tour, and Kevin has matured so beautifully--an assassin with endless ammunition.

You can't help but feel like the Warriors and the Cavaliers were destined for a rematch.  The Dubs, and more specifically Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala, ripped Game 6 away from the Thunder.  Thompson, who hit 11 three-pointers to break an NBA playoff record, scored 17 tough points in the fourth quarter to will his team back in the game.  Igoudala's stifling defense on back-to-back possessions, swiping the ball away from both Durant and Westbrook sealed the deal on a stunning road win.  Game 7 happened, but it was over before it started.  OKC had the lead at Oracle, but Steph's high floater off the glass to end the half was a signifier that the Dubs were just heating up.  

Lebron and the Cavs controlled their destiny throughout the East.  Even when they lost Games 3 & 4 in Toronto it seemed like they rather conceded the victories when you consider some were "oot and aboot" late on the town. Say what you will about the lack of parity in the Eastern Conference, but James has figured out the winning formula for the last six straight years.  No other players have been able to achieve such a feat since the Boston Celtics were the mainstay in the Finals, every year, from 1956-1969.  Although Lebron has had a strong supporting cast to help, there's no denying the value on the court and psychologically that King James adds to a roster.

The biggest difference from last year's appearance in the Finals is health.  Kevin Love suffered a playoff ending shoulder injury in the first-round and Kyrie Irving was sidelined for the rest of the Championship after his knee gave out in Game 1.  At 100% and having played the most offensively efficient basketball in the league, the Cavaliers don't have to rely on James' heroics, like they did last year, for their first taste of glory.  Their losing effort wasn't all for nothing, though.  The Warriors exposed holes in the Cavaliers' lineup that GM David Griffin has been filling in anticipation of this rematch.  As seldom as it was to see Lebron off the floor in 2015's Finals, the Cavaliers offense became stagnant against Golden State's active defense when he was on the bench, struggling to keep pace with their motion offense and flurry of Splash Brother three's.  Adding Richard Jefferson, who is making his return to the Finals after a thirteen-year hiatus, and Channing Frye, who is shooting over 50% from three-point range has helped the Cavs' secondary lineup in Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert continue their scoring edge.  At 35 and 33 years of age respectively, you wonder if these veterans can consistently make an impact against a fast-paced, younger Warriors squad.

The Warriors quest for back-to-back championships began at the very first tip-off of the 2015-2016 season.  They made twenty-four straight victories to begin their campaign look easy, especially with Assistant Coach Luke Walton at the helm, while Head Coach Steve Kerr, rested an ailing back.  Opposing teams certainly made it interesting, whether Golden State would reach the elusive 72-wins mark, but all that team chemistry and improvement by Curry and Thompson paid dividends throughout the season.  Honestly, we didn’t start to see the kind of championship resolve this team had until they were faced with elimination by the Thunder.  Many were clamoring that the Warriors had been “figured out” once Durant, Westbrook, and New Zealander Steven Adams began running the same high-octane, fast-transition offense better than the Dubs.  If there’s one thing we learned this season, though, is that the Warriors are never ever out of a basketball game.  Draymond’s strip steals and outlet passes to a flashing Curry or Thompson for a quick three is enough to ignite a lethal group of weapons that once warmed up, are hard to stop.

This bout deserves to go seven rounds, and I would not be surprised if it did.  Home-court has been well protected by higher seeds in this year’s playoffs.  The Cavaliers have yet to lose in Quicken Loans Arena and Steph reiterated that his team would be better prepared to defend Oracle Arena, unlike when OKC stole Game 1.  The 2016 Warriors and Cavaliers are not the same teams that met last June.  Golden State, most importantly, has experience; they know what that atmosphere of the NBA Finals feels like and they know how to complete the task.  The Cavaliers have re-tooled, creating a different complexion of who they were a year ago.

I think about what this series means in the broader conversation about basketball, and I get excited.  We’ve watched memorable Finals matchups a-la the Celtics and Lakers in the 2008 and 2010 Finals, but when was the last time we witnessed the two best players in the world at the peak of their powers compete to be crowned champion? The game has been starving for a heavyweight title fight; we never got to see Kobe vs. Lebron in a winner-take-all.  We’d have to go all the way back to Michael Jordan’s first NBA Finals appearance and Magic Johnson’s last when the Bulls and Lakers met in 1991, something I wasn’t alive to see.  Stephen Curry has earned every bit of his successive Most Valuable Player awards, and all the way on the opposite coast, a King still reigns. 

Father Time lurks behind the scene, who knows when he pays a visit to Lebron James, but until then, what’s keeping him from reaching another one or two more NBA Finals?  And are mere Finals appearances enough to proclaim oneself the best basketball player on the planet? Three rings in seven total appearances to the Finals, each corresponding with a Bill Russell trophy, is very hard to argue against.  Lebron would have no contemporary equal.  Make it 2-5 with a loss again to the Dubs; however, and that’s just as many Finals accolades as the spritely Curry.  After the next two weeks unfold, there might not have to be a conversation over which star is brightest.  You can’t argue with two championships and two MVPs back-to-back.  Jersey sales indicate that Stephen has already become the face of the Association, but dominion comes with consistent victory.

The winner of this series will be the team that can defend home-court and steal one on the road.  You could feel the emotion ooze out of Lebron and the Cavs when they escaped Oracle with a Game 2 win last year, but they also had the stench of champagne baths from Game 6 permeate through the away locker room of the “Q” for the entire summer.  Match-up wise, I’m wary that Golden State exposes the lack of defensive prowess of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  But it’s also possible that the combination of James, Irving, Love, Smith and Frye is too much weaponry for a smaller Warriors lineup.  I don’t know who wins and my gut hasn’t identified a clear favorite yet either, so this time around I’ll actually leave it to a coin flip.  The Cavaliers are heads and the Warriors are tails.

Heads it is.  Cleveland Cavaliers in seven.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Tonight @ 9pm

Game 2: June 5th @ 8pm

Game 3: June 8th @ 9pm

Game 4: June 10th @ 9pm

Game 5: June 13th | If Needed

Game 6: June 16th | If Needed

Game 7: June 19th | If Needed

* All games to air on ABC


Prince Curry by Maxwell Young

Is Stephen Curry the greatest basketball player on the planet? 

The slender kid from Davidson College who absolutely electrified the 2008 NCAA Tournament, joining Clyde Louellette, Jerry Chambers, and Glen Robinson as the only college players to score over 30 points in their first four career tournament games, while leading his team to the Elite Eight, is not just a kid anymore.  

Five years later, Stephen Curry has amassed an NBA Championship, MVP, and multiple three-point shooting records--collegiate and professional.  His game and body, for that matter, took time to adjust to NBA rigors, but Curry has emerged from his first journey to the pinnacle as the NBA's deadliest weapon. 

He saunters up the court, ready to pull the trigger at any point.  He knows no range.  His step-backs, runners, and side-steps all fluid and natural.  Give him a sliver of space and he's either a blur or the deadliest shooter the world has ever seen.  When the three point line was adopted in the 1979-80 season, I don't think the rule makers imagined the evolution of a game-wrecker like Stephen Curry.  In the month of January alone, he and the Golden State Warriors managed to beat King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (at Cleveland for the first time since winning the championship last June) AND the San Antonio Spurs, who are 45-8, by a combined 64 points. The Warriors' games have become so laughably one-side that Curry will sometimes sit in the fourth quarter, while still leading the league in points per game with 29.8.  Golden State is an unbelievably well-coached, highly skilled unit that is rivaling Michael Jordan's 1997 Bulls team, but when Curry is not in the lineup Golden State looks like a spitting image of themselves. Like Jordan and James, he is a basketball anomaly; a once-in-a-lifetime player who's skill, style and popularity will transform the game of basketball into a new modernity.


After a Game 5 defeat in the 2015 NBA Finals, Lebron James responded to a question of his comfortability performing on the game's biggest stage by simply proclaiming, "I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world.  It's that simple."  Despite the King's adamant belief in himself, his response raised some eyebrows as it is rare you hear an athlete elevate him/herself to such a high pedestal.  In context though, you kind of believed him; I mean averaging 35 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists dragging along a tattered Cavaliers lineup is the epitome of hero-ball.  Having seen the outcome of the Finals and having witnessed the relentless rampage of Stephen Curry, should we still believe Lebron James? 

Over time, one's achievements elevate a player to such a platform, but who ascends to the throne and for how long are only questions reserved for the basketball gods.  There is no defined criteria for becoming the world's best basketball player.  However, the curriculum vitae of past athletes who were regarded as the globe's best--I'm talking Kareem, Magic, Larry, MJ, Kobe, and Lebron--provides a conceptual framework of the road left to travel for Stephen Curry.

To be the GOAT, the Greatest of All Time, or a "once-in-a-generation" player, winning is everything and it is the only thing.  Championships, yes that is multiple, are vital as well as Most Valuable Player awards in the regular season and in NBA Finals appearances.  Perhaps the most important element of this journey is the ability to put together successive seasons of championships and awards; legends have to continue to prove their greatness and defeat those who are just as hungry as they are for that transcendent tag.   

The sustained dominance of these eight legends is the reason why some of basketball's greatest players and hall-of-famers have not been able to achieve their own dreams of winning an NBA championship (e.g. Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Kevin Durant).  Each legend ruled over the NBA for a given period of time, some simultaneously, accumulating championships and post-season honors along their quest.  

No other basketball player has as many championships as Bill Russell with 11! In the 1960s, the Boston Celtics, the team he played center for, failed to win the championship just once.  The Celtics owned that decade and Russell was their anchor.  With five MVP awards during that span, King Russell ruled from 1959-1969.  

Before there was an Air Jordan, Kareem set the standard.  Winning Rookie of the Year in 1970 and back-to-back MVP awards in the two years following, Jabbar's twenty-year career included the highest amount of Most Valuable Player awards given to a player with six.  Besides Kareem's lone title with the Milwaukee Bucks, who drafted him in 1970, his championships came with the flash of the Showtime Lakers, but his unprecedented skill set ran rampant across the NBA for the better part of the 1970s.  

The 1980s saw better league parity compared to the NBA's early years; however, two players and their teams, the Celtics and the Lakers battled repeatedly for supremacy.  Larry Bird and Magic Johnson collided early in their careers during the 1979 NCAA Basketball Championship that would foreshadow the dominance and control they wielded in their respective conferences--Larry in the East and Magic in the West.  Three times (1984, '85, and '87) did they meet in the NBA Finals to settle who would reign supreme.  Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers got the better of Birds' Celtics, winning the lifetime series 2-1.

Then there was Michael Jordan, who came and went and came again just to make sure we didn't forget what Air Jordan meant.  From his off-court personality, the man with the shoes and movie deals, to his on-court demeanor--the killer and ultimate trash-talker--Michael Jordan ushered the league into its modern-era by defining what it meant to be a superstar.

The exodus of the league's highest exalted left a void of entertainment and power.  Imitating Jordan's style and flare, Kobe Bryant, a child prodigy emerging straight out of Lower Merion high school, traversed a twenty-year NBA career to mature as the "HeroVillain."  It wasn't all sunshine in Hollywood under the Black Mamba's reign, as the consummate power forward, Tim Duncan, and the San Antonio Spurs became a constant territorial enemy in the West. 

If you have Lebron James on your team, you have an immediate opportunity to win a championship.  For five straight seasons, Lebron has ended his year fighting for the right to call himself and his team the best.  After twelve years in the league, King James is still stuffing the stat sheet, playing the game as the Jack-of-all-trades.  His engine, though he'll deny it, is starting to deteriorate.  All of those games played well into the summer--Finals series and Olympic games--as well as the grueling minutes are starting to take a toll on James, sighting lower back and hamstring issues as chronic injuries.  Time waits for no man and the mortality of Lebron James has been particularly evident watching a more spritely individual wow and amaze us just like the kid from Akron did before he blazed his NBA path just some years ago.

I don't think it's a question of if Stephen Curry becomes the most dominant basketball player rather a matter of when that time comes, if it hasn't already.

He has the number one selling jersey in the NBA and he was second in All-Star votes behind Kobe Bryant, who made his final All-Star Game appearance just yesterday.  It is evident that the tide of popularity has shifted in Curry's favor.

Wardell Stephen Curry II is not just running away with his second MVP award, but he's doing it while embarrassing great teams with great players.  It gets harder and harder to refute his on-court dominion and notion that this league is his when he's running circles around the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, in Kawhi Leonard, making him look silly and making King James question the possibility of winning another NBA championship.  At twenty-seven years old, Prince Curry has entered the prime of his NBA career.  If he wishes to join the esteemed list of all-time greats he must continue to dominate and continue to win.  It is time for him to build his legend.

Player, Coach, GM, Lebron by Maxwell Young

The dude has an entire organization and city on his back. 

Illustration by Alexander Wells

Illustration by Alexander Wells

Whether you are a Lebron lover or hater, it is hard to ignore what he was able to accomplish at the end of last season.  Heading into the NBA finals, James was depleted of a roster that normally featured a rotation of 3 all-stars, missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to injury.  23 still made it interesting, though, winning two games in a row, playing inspiring basketball averaging 35 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists all while forcing himself into the Finals MVP conversation despite the losing effort. 

Lebron James can do it all and not just on the court.  Peel back the curtain and you'll see how many hats King James wore throughout the 2014-2015 season as he returned to Cleveland as a matured, battle-tested ruler of the league.  Lebron has been to the NBA Finals five times in a row, but last year wasn't the expected breeze that he had flowing through the South Beach palm trees; the Cavs struggled mightily going 20-20 through their first 40 games.  While we saw a team trying to find its identity and chemistry amongst battling personalities, there was Lebron orchestrating virtually every action to ensure his team's success.  

Kings travel with an entourage and in Lebron's is Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin.  The former was a beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2003 to 2008 before being scooped up by ESPN to follow Lebron James on his new path to Miami in 2010, while McMenamin covers everything Cavs and everything Lebron, like if Jared Cunningham will don his entire collection of Lebrons.  With the help of illustrator Alexander Wells, the two have chronicled how Lebron James has begun to construct his new empire in Cleveland, revealing stories of players-only meetings to James pulling himself from the lineup minutes before tip-off.  Read an excerpt from the article below and head over to ESPN for a riveting narrative.

On Dec. 30, suffering through knee and back pain that has hampered him on the court for weeks, James unilaterally makes the call to sit. Says Windhorst on the B.S. Report: "LeBron just decided, 'I'm not gonna play.' Like, at the last minute, he told them, 'I'm not playing.' Didn't even come out to the bench, just sat in the back, didn't come out." The Cavs are stunned, but they acquiesce to the decision and agree to two weeks' rest.

Coin Flip: 2015 NBA Finals by Maxwell Young

Sports fans have been fortunate to watch some big events this year.  From Super Bowl XLIX pitting the greatest dynasty of the 2000s in the New England Patriots against a team looking to repeat in the Seattle Seahawks to the biggest boxing match of this modern era featuring Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, we have been able to witness legendary athletes, coaches, and teams compete to be the best.  In the NBA, the "best" has usually been a moniker reserved for a select few organizations.  Since 1999, the only other teams to win an NBA championship besides the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat were the 2004 Detroit Pistons, '08 Boston Celtics, and '11 Dallas Mavericks.  This year's NBA Finals feels revitalized as the chokehold NBA blue bloods have had on the series is no more.  2015 features the Golden State Warriors who haven't won the championship since 1975 and the Cleveland Cavaliers who, well, have never captured the elusive NBA title.

For Lebron James, the two-time NBA champion, four-time NBA MVP, and eleven-time All-Star, the objective has never been more clear.  When he returned to the Cavaliers after a four-year stint maturing with the Miami Heat, he called for patience saying in his homecoming letter, "it will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010 [when James and the Heat lost to the Mavericks]."  After a rocky 20-20 start and a season ending injury to one of the Cav's "big three," Kevin Love, Lebron James' letter seemed more prescient than ever.  However, Lebron is the king for a reason.  After losing just twice in the first three rounds of the playoffs and sweeping the best team in the Eastern Conference without Love or an injured Kyrie Irving, King James has once again carried his hometown team to the pinnacle--that's five straight Finals appearances for the kid out of Akron.

The Golden State Warriors' initial push to become one of the league's elite began in 2011 with the hiring of former NBA point guard, Mark Jackson, as their head coach.  Under his short three-year tenure, the Warriors were able to acquire and develop players such as Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and reigning MVP Stephen Curry.  Prior to the start of the 2015 season, Mark Jackson was controversially fired.  Perhaps it was for the best considering he was unable to lead his budding team past the Eastern Conference semifinals during his three years.  His replacement?  Five-time NBA champion and Michael Jordan disciple, Steve Kerr.  Now, their play is unorthodox yet surgically lethal; once they cross half court any shot is within range.  From the tip-off of the first game to the final buzzer of the their Western Conference Finals victory over the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors have been the best and probably most exciting team in professional basketball.   While King James fights to bring hope and a long-awaited championship back to where he grew up, the Warriors look to reward a fan base that has unconditionally supported their team for forty fruitless years. 

I'm not sure which team comes away crowned NBA champion, as I'm sure many have debated and will continue to debate until this Thursday's tip-off of Game 1, yet my mind tells me the Cavaliers pull away victorious and here's why:

This post-season run has seemed to be less tumultuous than previous for Lebron James.  In recent seasons, James had to battle it out with tough, hard-nosed Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls teams, making the King fatigued in the final round.  This time around; however, James and company have played a total of 14 playoff games, suggesting a well rested bunch come Thursday.  What's more is that Lebron has continued to improve as the Cavs became more injured and dependent upon their king.  In the 4-0 series sweep against the Atlanta Hawks, LBJ averaged 30.3 points per game, 11 rebounds per game, 9.3 assists per game, and 1.5 steals per game.  Averaging almost a triple-double is deadly and to marginalize James' greatness to say that the best defensive team in the NBA can handle him is ludicrous.  Watch out Golden State.

Outside of the obvious impact James will have on this series, the Cavaliers have a supporting cast that has grown more comfortable and more effective at the roles they play with each game.  Although Kyrie Irving will still be hobbled by a knee injury come Game 1, his tremendous ball handling skills, ability to get to the cup, and long range shooting prowess will be much needed support to James' arsenal.  People forget, but Kyrie holds the Cavalier's record for most points scored in a game with 57.  Moreover, the line-up is infused with superior athletic wing play.  J.R. Smith, a guy who prefers to shoot the ball contested over open looks, and Iman Shumpert, a flat out baller shooting 36.8% from three, and who, by the way, are both over 6'5" tall give the Cavaliers an advantage against a smaller Warriors backcourt.  The loss to Kevin Love could have created a vulnerable weakness in the Cavaliers' rotation, but the mid-season addition to Timofey Mozgov and emergence of center Tristan Thompson, who is averaging 9.9 RPG, will allow for James and Irving to effortlessly execute transition offense that inevitably results in one of those raging tomahawk slams by the King.

Ultimately I believe the Cavaliers win this series because of Lebron's sheer will-power.  The fact that at the end of this series James could either be 2-4 or 3-3 in the NBA Finals is a huge motivating factor for not only him, but also his team.  I think the Cavaliers have rallied around Lebron James throughout these playoffs as he's put them on his back.  Plus, when you add the fact that this man wants nothing more than to bring a championship to Cleveland, it makes it difficult for a young Warriors team to dethrone the King.  

With that being said though, the Warriors continue to pull on my heart strings.  From watching Stephen Curry annihilate every record he sought out to break and shoot the lights out of the gym with fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, to watching a cohesive unit rank atop the NBA in offensive and defensive statistics led by a rookie coach who just last season was a sideline commentator--you can't help but think that this team is capable of something special.  The Warriors' also have depth.  Boasting a nine, sometimes ten-man rotation highlighted by Andre Igoudala coming off the bench (which might have been the smartest coaching decision Kerr has made to date), this team will be fresher down the stretch to fend off James and company. Moreover, playing at Oracle Arena will be a tall task for the Cavs.  That place is going to be loud and it is going to be a raucous starting on Thursday.  If the Cavaliers can steal one game in San Francisco, I'd say they have a good chance at winning the title, but if the Warriors control home-court advantage they might be favored to win it all.  If anything, this series is an opportunity for Chef Curry and the Warriors to complete their maturation process and join the group of the elite. 

I know I'm contradicting myself, but how could you not go back-and-forth trying to figure out who wins this matchup.  The Warriors time-and-time again have proven that they are the best team in the league, especially after convincingly emerging out of a conference that is eons ahead of the East.  But, there is something about the Finals that elevates King James' game and his team's game, and that's because he is a leader and he knows how to push the right buttons, so his team will be at their best.  Either way, the potential is there for this year's NBA Finals to be one of the most exciting in recent memory.  Join the conversation! Leave a comment below telling us who you think will be crowned NBA champion, and tune in to ABC tomorrow at 9pm EST.



Lebron James to Star in Trainwreck by Maxwell Young

Lebron James has been vocal about his desire to expand his brand reach into many different areas of business.  Having established his own production company, it comes as no surprise that King James will make his first appearance on the big screen with his cameo role in this summer's flick, Trainwreck.  Featuring Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader and stand-up comedian Amy Schumer, the film revolves around a commitment-phobic, successful career-centric woman who finds herself conflicted after meeting a good guy.  Lebron serves a supporting role, as he plays a fictitious version of himself.  Check out the trailer below and stay tuned with InTheRough for further release date information.