OAKLAND — In late June of last year, Draymond Green and LeBron James sat side-by-side on the rooftop of a hotel in Beverly Hills around midnight, looking at the lights of LA and the future that lay ahead. At the time, Green was a newly-minted champion, on the brink of his first sizeable contract. James was coming off a painful Finals loss in which he’d operated largely as a one-man team. Still, James had invited Green to hang out and now, staring out at the night with glasses of wine, he advised the younger man, who he saw as something of a little brother. You’ve earned this, LeBron said, according to someone who was there, but don’t go out and do anything stupid tonight. You have your whole future ahead of you.
A year later, their futures collided, in grand and entertaining fashion. The narrative of the past few weeks may have pitted Steph Curry vs. LeBron but, really, this series was about Green v. James, in myriad ways. Each is the emotional core of his team. Each is a point guard in the body of a forward who occasionally plays center. And so they clashed. Draymond guarded LeBron. LeBron guarded Draymond. Bodies toppled, sh*t was talked, groins were targeted, biceps flexed. LeBron played the series of his life; Green played the game of his life, putting up a 32-15-9 line in the finale.
It seemed fitting, then, that the Finals came down to one play between these two. With ten seconds left last night and the Cavs up three, James caught a hook pass from Kyrie Irving and took off for a crashing slam. Green stood in his way. Turning and off a flat footed jump, he contested as best he could. James soared; Green impeded. They came down in a heap, James clutching his right wrist. Free throws. James missed the first.
And here it was, the miracle ending we’d come to expect from the Warriors. James would miss; Green would race down and pass to Curry, who would hop and skip and juke and launch a parabolic three, which would of course swish (perhaps Steph wouldn’t even be looking at the basket when he shot it). Oracle would go nuts and we’d go to overtime and Golden State would prevail (perhaps on a six-pass possession where the ball didn’t touch the floor). That was the script the Warriors were going off of at least, the one that had them winning at home, after which Curry would fire his mouth guard wherever he damn well pleased—maybe right at E-40, or Tony Robbins—and Green would be absolved of all his sins and Golden State would take its rightful place as one of the best teams of all time.
Because this was how we all expected it to go. This is why three Warriors-themed books are in the works. Why Silicon Valley execs look to the franchise for management techniques. Why the rest of the league copies Golden State and bids to hire its assistants. All year, the Warriors called their shot. They wanted 73 wins. They wanted the Cavs. This is not a team that plays a zero-sum game, like Pop’s Spurs. Degree of difficulty not only counts; it is embraced. These Warriors wanted it all. All of Game 7’s flaws—the disastrous minutes from Festus Ezeli, the poor shooting of Klay and Steph, the rebounding troubles and careless passes and Varejao flops gone awry—would be negated in one glorious sequence.
Except James made the second free throw. And the Warriors missed at the other end. And Curry, to the great dismay of the yellow masses packing Oracle, continued to look human. Later, he admitted that he was “settling too much” and “was aggressive in the wrong ways,” never more so than when he became obsessed with hitting a three, rather than an easy two, on Kevin Love in the final minute.
Meanwhile, Green tried to take the blame, on account of that Game 5 suspension. “I’m not afraid to say it’s my fault,” he said. “I think it was.” As for Steve Kerr, who went through hell this year in his recovery from back surgery and then endured a different version of it in losing a 3-1 Finals lead, said he felt “stunned. “He’d been confident the team would win at home. Instead he said the team was having “a moment of sorrow.” Said Klay Thompson: “It’s just difficult to process right now.”
And when it was over—in a 93-89 score straight out of the Bad Boys era - James cried, and anyone you’ve ever known from Cleveland texted you, or posted to Facebook or tweeted while the whole city appeared fit to erupt. To judge by photos of the scene, the party’s still going on when you read this, even if it’s Wednesday.
After the buzzer, Green fled, heading down the tunnel to the locker room. Upon arriving, he sat for a moment, then realized it wasn’t right, retreating to his own disappointment like that. So he got up and headed back to the court, to the yelling and hugging, to congratulate the Cavs.
Later, Curry came over to him, back at his locker, and whapped his left shoulder to get his attention. Green stood up and the two exchanged hugs, Curry pounding on Green’s chest. The offseason is full of questions. Barnes, Ezeli. Rio (Green announced he’s in; Curry’s out). Next June, we may see these two teams back here again, James and Green once again dueling and cussing. But for now, the greatest team not to win the title awaits a long summer, a dream unrealized.