On May 25, 2017, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Conference for the third season in a row, and the fourth time in franchise history. Over the past three seasons, the Cavs have gone on a historical run through the Eastern Conference, going 36-5 and sweeping six of their nine opponents. It's wild to think about but two of their five losses could be considered a fluke, coming on buzzer beaters leaving the hands of Derrick Rose in 2015 and Avery Bradley this season. The team's 135-102 victory over the Boston Celtics to advance to the Finals for the third consecutive year did more than just confirm their Eastern Conference dominance, it cemented this as the golden era of Cleveland sports.
Starting last June, Cleveland will have participated in three of the four major championship rounds that have taken place between the Finals, World Series, and Super Bowl (dammit Browns). Cleveland hasn't been able to say that since the mid-1950s when the Browns were routinely winning NFL Championships and the Indians lost to the Giants in the 1954 World Series. Since that time, two teams being championship contenders at the same time has been a rarity. The closest was in 2007 with the overmatched Cavaliers being swept in the Finals by the San Antonio Spurs and the Indians choking away a 3-1 lead to Terry Francona and the Boston Red Sox. This time, things are much, much different.
This time, the Cavaliers are touting the most talented team in team history, lead by arguably the best basketball player of all time, in his prime. The Cavaliers also have a very respectable neighbor in an Indians team that is coming off of a World Series appearance and features a young shortstop, Francisco Lindor, who is one of baseball's bright young faces. Cleveland hasn't buzzed like this in a long time, if ever.
Yes, I'm sure the 50s and 60s were great. The 80s Browns were the life of the city, the 90s Indians kept Cleveland alive once the Browns vanished, but this is different. This is a native son elevating his region to the top of the sports world. A hometown hero continuing to deliver on his promise to those who watched him grow as a teenager. This doesn't happen, this hasn't happened.
Of course, there's certainly more at stake here than just Cleveland being in the golden era, this is about LeBron's legacy. The legacy of number 23 is more than just what he does on the court for the Cavaliers. James has revitalized a city by coming back. The economic effect that he has had on the City of Cleveland is undeniable. Cleveland has changed leaps and bounds since 2003, and again in 2014. James doesn't only control the basketball world, but he has a significant impact on the lives of others. If you're reading this right now, there is a strong chance that LeBron James has made a positive impact on your life.
That's something that cannot be said for many of today's professional athletes, and it speaks volumes to who LeBron James is and what he stands for and believes in.
While what he does off the court is incredible, what he does on the court is wildly impressive, and deserves to be talked about in this column, after all, that's why he's the subject of conversation here. This series has the opportunity to vault James into the top spot in NBA history in the minds of many. If James can find a way to will his Cavaliers to four wins in their next seven games against the Golden State Warriors many are going to consider him the greatest to ever touch a basketball, quite a feat for a self-described 'kid from Akron, OH.'
That task is a mighty tall one as the Warriors boast the likes of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and have won 67 or more games in each of the past three seasons. It won't be easy for the Cavaliers to win four games in June, as their goal has been all season.
It's such a tall task that it shouldn't happen. The Warriors are that good, they might be the most talented collection of basketball players to ever grace the NBA floor. If they win The Finals, it would come as shock to no one, including me. They're supposed to win it all. They have been supposed to win it all since July 4, 2016 when Kevin Durant decided to move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area, and maybe even before that. There are so many reasons why the Golden State Warriors should be the 2017 NBA Champions. I could go on, and on, and on, causing you to rage-quit your reading of this.
There is one reason why they won't though, and in my opinion, it trumps every reason why they're supposed to:
I'm going with the Cavs in a thrilling seven-game series, ending in the same building it did last year. James and the Cavaliers will win Game 7 on the NBA's most feared court two years in a row, and LeBron James will cement his place as the greatest basketball player of all time.
This is Cleveland's peak. This era is golden and might not be appreciated as such right now, but decades from now, we'll all look back and smile upon what we're currently witnessing.