"What team are you rooting for," has been a loaded question during these Finals.
From a Mavericks' fan's perspective, this seven-game series has been a duel between two of the most hated teams. Over the past decade, a hatred towards our basketball-loving brethren in San Antonio has been cultivated. But on the other side, the Heat stole away a ring from us in 2006, formed a superteam through collusion and still relies on the ever-so-hateable Dwyane Wade. Seriously, that guy sucks.
So no, my gut instinct just doesn't -- can't -- produce a simple "Go Spurs!" or "Go Heat!"
There's other ways to determine who to root for, though. Is one of the teams an underdog? Well...Miami was favored headed into the series, but San Antonio is a four-time champion who reached the Western Conference Finals last year. If not for a shocking collapse at the hands of Serge Ibaka's jump shot (and some other factors, but that's not the point), they would have been the favorite to win their fifth championship last season. The underdog effect doesn't really apply to either team.
Which team deserves it? Which plays the better brand of basketball? Well sure, Miami uses more isolation, but in the end, their offense is based around one player (James) using his elite abilities to create shots for himself and others. Just because the Spurs' main player (Parker) does the same with a screen, does that make San Antonio a better basketball team? Both teams play are well-coached, disciplined, and really, a beauty to watch -- case in point, Game 6.
Up until Tuesday night, I'd been using a cop-out, "I'm rooting for a great basketball series that goes seven games." Well, I got that. We got that, the NBA got that, the world got that. So for Game 7, I'll finally choose someone...I'm rooting for LeBron James.
It's weird for me, too. I couldn't stand the dude after the Decision, abandoning his hometown in the douchiest of ways on national television. I enjoyed his collapse in the 2011 Finals, and not only because it led to the first championship for Dallas.
But as I matured over the past few years and began to appreciate the little things of basketball even more, it was hard to dislike LeBron anymore. In a world of the Kobe and Carmelo superstar, it's refreshing that the best player in the world is also one of the best passers and totally unselfish. It's remarkable to see him guard literally whoever his team needs him to, be it a point guard or a power forward, and have the ability to completely shut them down.
I never watched a single game of the NBA until 2008, meaning even the second return of Michael Jordan to the Wizards was before my time. In fact, Jordan picked up his third ring the year I was born ('93), so yeah, I'm basically a fetus.
I know that I missed out watching the greatest player of all-time, and that makes me sad. But the "best player of all-time" is a title that changes hands over time. Do I think LeBron James will pass Michael Jordan? Probably not, but he could get real close. And if he does, in twenty years, it'll be me telling some young'un that I watched LeBron James when he won his first ring and treated the NBA like a playground.
I understand there are still reasons to dislike LeBron. Especially of late, his temper tantrums after not getting a foul call make me want to slap him and scream, "GET BACK ON DEFENSE AND STOP BELLYACHING" (word of advice: I wouldn't actually recommend ever ever EVER slapping a 6'8" 280 pound man). But it's interesting that on several of those outbursts, James actually had a decent case. At least during these playoffs, the superstar treatment that surrounds Kobe and Melo and even James' own teammate Wade seems relatively absent.
Considering Dirk is and will probably always be my favorite player, I feel for James. Dirk's been bullied, pushed, grabbed, bumped and even bitten all through his career with little to show for it. I'm not supporting "superstar treatment", but the fact is that the referees have missed some major fouls against LeBron (very possibly because he is a physical beast who does things a player his size isn't supposed to, somewhat similar to Dirk), and it sucks.
Anyway, let's be honest: LeBron is amazing to watch. Acrobatic layups are cool. High-flying dunks are cooler. Watching a 6'8" player run an offense and pick apart a defense with a pass? That's the coolest, because he's constantly defying everything that anyone knows about the game of basketball. Oh, and those damn blocks.
This probably bears repeating, lest people start calling me a blasphemer: I don't actually think LeBron will surpass Jordan. But the reason we watch the NBA is to watch greatness, and LeBron has a chance at a level of greatness that has only been seen a few time through basketball history.
Tonight in game seven, first and foremost, I want to see a continuation of the fantastic basketball these two squads have thrown at each other. No matter who wins, both teams deserve to be standing on the floor with the Larry O'Brien trophy hoisted high. But for my own personal rooting interest? I want to see LeBron at his greatest.