Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

On the Cavaliers, Outcomes, and Margins

The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals by a razor thin margin and the stories and narratives turned on a dime from what they would have been.

As we've all known for far too long, the Cleveland misery storyline is about how close you can get to glory before coming up short. I don't have to list the examples because we know them all so well, but it's incredible to look at how razor thin those margins can be even in victory. Because of the time we live in with media the way it is, we know exactly what the stories would have been had the Cleveland Cavaliers not won Game 7 by four points after completing a nearly impossible climb out of a 3-1 series hole. Despite the staggering odds and amazing accomplishment it was to even force a Game 7, we know that the story of the Cavaliers would have been one of utter failure had they fallen to Golden State by even a single point. The story wouldn't have been one of how close they came or trying to overcome obstacles next year; it would have referred to the Cavaliers as in-need of a complete tear-down.

This isn't unique to Cleveland other than how long it had been since they'd been on the winning end of the ledger. You think to Tom Brady and how his "legacy was cemented" when a no-name corner intercepted Russell Wilson. Wilson was almost assuredly about to lead his team to a win. As Tom Brady sat on the sidelines, he became a four-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. It's not wholly unlike LeBron James watching as Kyrie Irving nailed a three over Steph Curry with the game knotted at 89. Meanwhile, with the ball in his hands, the game on the line, and a chance to be back-to-back champs, Steph Curry became Russell Wilson.  He was unable to convert in the face of Kevin Love's much-maligned defense.

None of this is to trash Steph Curry or further crown LeBron James. It's simply to say something about the way we produce narratives and stories about our teams based on outcomes. Outcomes obviously matter a whole lot, but the idea that we'd be talking about breaking up the Cavaliers if there had been a five point swing in Game 7 this year is really silly. If you believe there's some luck and chance involved in these things - and I don't know how you couldn't - then you'd have to sit back and realize how crazy it all is.

If the Cavaliers hadn't pulled it out in the end, the following narratives would have found their way onto national websites:

  • LeBron James' legacy is one of losing in too many Finals despite getting there so often
  • Cavaliers only forcing Game 7 because of Draymond Green suspension
  • The Cavaliers should trade Kevin Love because he's a bad fit and they can't win with him
  • The Cavaliers never should have traded Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love
  • The Cavaliers were better a year ago completely injured with David Blatt as coach
  • LeBron James is a failure as the de-facto GM
  • Kyrie Irving will never be an NBA Superstar
  • A team with J.R. Smith can never win the whole thing
  • Dan Gilbert's letter and the irony of how he can't win by taking shortcuts

That last one gets me too, by the way. I'm no defender of Dan Gilbert's because he's got his flaws, and he doesn't need my help anyway. Still, it's amazing to me how many want to forget what he's already stated on the record to Adrian Wojnarowski after LeBron made the decision to come back to Cleveland.

"We had five great years together and one terrible night," Gilbert told James, and so started the process of reconciliation on Sunday night in Miami. "I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for situation carry me away. I told him I wish had never done it, that I wish I could take it back."

The only way you could really forget it is, you know, if you wanted to in order to hate Dan Gilbert. And if that's what you want to do, be my guest. If you want to hate LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the city of Cleveland and its sports fans, or even the Golden State Warriors, just own it.

It was fun to watch the Cavaliers beat the Warriors, but Golden State is undeniably a great team. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are two of the most terrifying opponents that I've ever watched compete against one of my favorite teams. That's all a part of what makes this championship so special. And yes, the Warriors lost after being up 3-1. And yes, the Warriors did a lot of talking as they watched Draymond Green get suspended. It's a part of the story, and it's an enhanced part of the story because they ended up losing the series, but that same attitude is part of what made them so intimidating and phenomenally great all year long. Just because they lost doesn't mean they stink or are irreparably broken.

Even beyond just building narratives, it's dangerous for the process of trying to build a winner when you draw too many conclusions. When LeBron James was in Cleveland the first time, we saw this team struggle with learning how to win. We saw them struggle with the chase, including trying to mold themselves into whatever it was they had lost to in the previous season. Rather than continuing to build with a consistent roster and approach, we saw them go out and get Shaq to play against Dwight Howard. We saw them trade Z for Antawn Jamison, and then sign Z back. I realize the Cavaliers did a version of that this year trading Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye, but it seemed more like a cohesive vision for building the team they wanted to build all along. Maybe I'm a prisoner of the moment and they were chasing the Golden State Warriors. Maybe I'm guilty of allowing the winners to write the history books, but the point remains.

It's incredible to think about how the narratives can turn 180-degrees on a margin of just four points at the end of a seven game NBA playoff series following an 82-game regular season and lengthy postseason that in total spans nine months from October to June. You've got millions of data points along the way to prove out theories and trends and yes, even storylines. Only to watch them get written in black and white based on the final binary outcome of winning or losing. That's a bad way to go about your business, and yet it's the lens we use to judge sports.

At least this time, for once, we get to see it from the vantage point of the winner's circle.

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