If only black America could work together as well as the NBA champion Warriors Yet, professor Michael Eric Dyson says, ‘black folks are a league, not a team’

The Golden State Warriors will hold their victory parade in Oakland, California, Tuesday, celebrating the franchise’s third NBA title in four years.

This season’s accomplishment was heralded as the triumph of a great team and teamwork.

The Warriors are a team of stars, superstars, young players, veteran players, strong personalities and unique talents.

After the final game June 8, a few players hinted that internal pressures and undisclosed distractions had made 2017-2018 a particularly vexing campaign. Yet, the Warriors survived to win their third title since the 2015-2016 season.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of tumultuous 1968, I find myself wondering whether far-flung black America could use the Warriors’ brand of teamwork to achieve a championship in an atmosphere of clickbait self-centeredness and narcissism.

The civil rights movement was a testament to the bravery of little and the concerted action of many. Just as the Warriors had their issues, there were tensions and rivalries with the movement but the brutality and persistence of white supremacy were often enough to force alliances.

“We’ve always had disagreements and scuffles,” professor Michael Eric Dyson said. “We’re going to have skirmishes. All black people don’t have to agree with all black people in order for black people to succeed.”

“We’ve always had disagreements and scuffles,” professor Michael Eric Dyson said during a recent conversation. “We’re going to have skirmishes. All black people don’t have to agree with all black people in order for black people to succeed.”

We were discussing Dyson’s new book, What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America. The book centers on a 1963 conversation between Robert F. Kennedy and a group of handpicked black celebrities and activists about the smoldering racial tensions in America. Kennedy became annoyed when his guests offered a no-holds-barred assessment of racism, including the Kennedys’ culpability.

The book’s overarching themes were the need to speak truth to (white) power and the need for white power to listen.

I told Dyson that I felt African-Americans spend far too much time persuading the white power structure to listen. I used a sports-team analogy, suggesting it was like Tyronn Lue, the Cleveland Cavaliers coach, going to the Golden State locker room before a game and asking Warriors coach Steve Kerr to take his foot off the Cavaliers’ neck.

Why should he? They are opponents.

Just as Lue worked tirelessly — and ultimately unsuccessfully — to devise a strategy to defeat the Warriors, more time and energy is needed to get our own locker room, the black team’s locker room, committed to winning. That’s because racism is deeply rooted and an omnipresent opponent.

We must do everything it takes to achieve victory: prison reform, police accountability and economic justice. We must be as committed to the proposition of teamwork toward this end.

Dyson accepted the metaphor of the black team but argued that African-Americans are far too diverse and varied to be a single team.

“Black folks are a league, not a team,” he said.

On top of that, he argued, you have to figure out who’s on your team. Everybody who is your color isn’t on your team.

Regardless, great teams bolster the NBA. The majority of franchises are in disarray. Some teams are talent-laden yet never win. Some, such as the New York Knicks, the NBA’s most valuable franchise, don’t have to win to turn a profit. Some black “teams” are like that as well, where individual success is valued over collective success.

The beauty of Golden State, and before that a franchise like San Antonio, is understanding the vision of collective gain vs. individual gain.

I raised the issue of teamwork and great teams with David West, the Warriors’ 37-year-old veteran forward. West is a veteran of 15 NBA seasons. He came into the league in 2003. West has been with four teams, has been in the playoffs but did not win a title until he joined Golden State.

David West of the Golden State Warriors poses for a portrait with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals on June 8.

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

He has won two titles with Golden State.

West said the most important element for Golden State this season — and for successful teams in general — was “the ability to put aside personal agendas for the time that we are together. When we go to practice, guys aren’t bringing their issues into practice. Guys aren’t bringing their own ‘I’m going to do it my way’ into the group environment.”

West mentioned the Warriors’ morning music locker-room playlist as a small but poignant example of the give-and-take that forms the backbone of a successful team.

“Usually, wherever you go, the young guys rule the music,” said West, who played with New Orleans, Charlotte, San Antonio and Indiana before joining Golden State.

At Golden State, the distribution of music is generationally diverse, from Gordon Bell, the 23-year-old center, to West. The music is a thread that connects generations and sensibilities.

“You might hear Earth Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang one morning. You hear Michael Jackson another morning, and you might hear Kodak Black the next morning,” said West.

The tone is set from veteran players Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant or Draymond Green; it’s set for everything from music to free-flowing, no-holds-barred conversation in the locker room.

“In terms of what we talk about, nothing is out of bounds,” West said.

Talent matters and continuity matters. But there are teams that have talent and continuity that do not win.

On the team or in the movement, teamwork requires selflessness and sacrifice that might mean putting oneself in danger or at risk to achieve a greater good.

Each generation, of players or activists, must decide what is that greater good. What is the connective thread? The common denominator?

On the sports team, the thread is winning. On the black team, the thread varies from generation to generation.

In his book, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South, historian Michael Gomez writes about Denmark Vesey’s insurrection of 1822 when people of African descent “born in either Africa or the Americas, coalesced for the purposes of realizing a common objective.”

Gomez pointed out that even free blacks cast their lot with those in legal bondage “after sober assessment revealed that their own status was precarious if not illusory.”

In Vesey’s failed rebellion, the unifying element was religion, though that ultimately was not enough to overcome social and ethnic differences. In 1968, we were unified by the brutality of a deeply racist system determined to sustain itself.

In 2018, sports and high-profile sports stars making statements and taking stands have become a unifying thread. The NFL champions Philadelphia Eagles, largely because of the protest of black players, did not go to visit the White House. The Warriors twice have said they would not attend if invited.

West said social consciousness seeped into the Golden State locker room where there were several conversations over the last two seasons about whether to protest during the playing of the national anthem. There were agreements and disagreements, but nothing got in the way of the ultimate quest to win a third NBA title.

“Black people have to give up the notion that we have to be unified in order for us to have progress,” said Dyson. “We do not.”

Commitment is more crucial than consensus.

Whether achieving an NBA title or the endless quest for freedom and justice, there must be a commitment to achieve collective victories.

The Warriors’ parade Tuesday, their third in four years, is a testament to dedication, vision and the power of teamwork.

LeBron James’ official DJ talks LBJ’s influence on music, the Midwest and more Steph Floss is the unofficial mayor of Cleveland

Cleveland native DJ Steph Floss texts me Wednesday morning that he’s outside my downtown hotel. Steph is a voice of the city, a longtime resident mixshow DJ on Z 107.9 who holds the dual distinction of being the official DJ of both his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and the team’s biggest star, LeBron James. His portfolio includes having spun at events for Jay-Z, Barack Obama, NIKE, Beats by Dre and a who’s who of A-list clientele with residences in cities all across the United States and into Canada. And from 2009-14, he was named Ohio’s Best Club DJ.

It’s hours before the Cavs’ heartbreaking Game 3 loss. A defeat that makes Friday night’s Game 4, a potential closeout game for the Golden State Warriors, all the more sobering. No one knows what to expect this offseason with James’ future with the Cavaliers — not even Floss, one of James’ closest friends. Or if he does, he’s not breaking his poker face.

Floss agreed to show me around his city for the day. It’s game day, so the first stop might just be the most important: the barbershop. En route to Supreme Barber and Salon in Cleveland Heights, Floss opens up about his love of travel. Perspective, he says, is key to developing a true appreciation for the world around you. He’s traveled the world for work, DJ’ing at clubs and stadiums around the world, and for pleasure. The opportunity is a testament to both his own work ethic and the blessings in his life.

“‘Bron’s authenticity comes from the fact he really knows and loves music. It’s not fake.”

It’s been 15 years since his life as a DJ began on the campus of The Ohio State University on a marketing and operations scholarship. But music and the joy of entertaining crowds are seeds that had been planted far earlier. He credits the movie Juice, both for the late Tupac Shakur’s presence and, in particular, Omar Epps’ role as Q. “He was a young, fly dude. He’s DJ’ing. He got the nice little older babe,” Floss laughs while looking for parking. “He commanding the crowd. He’s cool and he’s out here. I’m like man, you know, I love music as well. Maybe that’s something I could do, but my mother would never buy me the equipment. She was like, ‘You not ’bout to have all that and be loud up in my house!’ ”

We pause that conversation and head into the barbershop. As is the case for most black men, it’s a safe space for Floss. He knows everyone. Everyone knows him. Demaris cuts his hair. Swiss lines me up. The conversations range from the upcoming Cleveland Browns season and the uncanny but fitting buzz in the city about the team and his overhaul of talent this offseason. Then there’s a completely random and hilarious homage to former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets head coach and current NBA commentator Jeff Van Gundy. “Jeff wanted all the smoke!” said a patron while discussing Van Gundy’s willingness to throw himself into NBA brawls.

After about an hour, Floss and I leave. The conversation picks back up where we really dive into his come up, how the Cleveland Cavaliers came calling and his kinship with LeBron James.

So how did this Steph Floss story ultimately begin? Where do the roots begin?

When I was in high school, a group of friends of mine, we used to throw parties. We were like 15 years old throwing parties and making good money. We would call ourselves all kinds of stuff, like Platinum Plus. But, you know, we had other people that was part of the collective as well. I wasn’t DJing at the time, but we used to throw the craziest little high school parties. (Floss attended Benedictine High School.) We’d have thousands of people there. It was insane. Me and Rich [Paul, founder of Klutch Sports and LeBron James’ agent], went to the same high school together. That’s how we met each other.

“One of the first times I’ve ever DJ’d in the Q was a Cavs playoff game. It was like an Eastern Conference finals game. It was some wild game! I held it down.”

I love school. I still love learning and I still love education. When I was in school, I was out here. I was in the nightlife and kicking it and partying. Hanging out and having fun. But I was also really into my books as well. Once I went to Ohio State, I said I have this scholarship and I don’t really wanna mess this scholarship so I’m gonna focus on my studies. But I needed to make some money.

I don’t have to pay for school, but I wanna make some money. And I don’t want to work a ‘job’ because I don’t want that to take away from my classes and sleep. I said, you know what? I always wanted to DJ. We had been throwing parties. So I’m just finally teaching myself how to DJ. I get the [equipment] and get busy. I’ve been wanting to DJ since I was like 8 years old.

Floss used money from the refund checks he received while at OSU to buy equipment. For Floss it was all about believing the part so others would too. The easiest way to do that? Release a mixtape. While on summer vacation after his freshman year, Floss built a makeshift studio in his mom’s basement. He set it up like a karaoke bar. The mic hung from the pipes in the ceiling and, as one would expect, the sound quality left much to be desired. “It was one of the best mixtapes I’ve ever done,” he says with a smile.

It was the closest Floss felt, at the time, to being like the DJ Clues, DJ Absoluts and the Funkmaster Flexes of the world, all of whom he cited as inspirations. But his first big moment came on campus after that summer. After his showing at a cookout at OSU’s Hale Black Cultural Center, the ladies of Delta Sigma asked him to DJ their big campus party known as the “Icebreaker.”

“They were like, ‘How much do you charge?’ I was like, ‘Uh, $150?’ ” says Floss. He didn’t know how much to charge because prior to them he had never been paid. “The first party I ever DJ’d was the biggest party at Ohio State. I think I did a decent job despite my equipment kept cutting off because it was overheating. I had my dudes with me. I had them fanning the amp while I’m DJ’ing for the rest of the night. I eventually got everything rolling, and the rest is kinda history.”

We’re pulling up at Beachwood Mall, an upscale shopping center in suburban Cleveland, when we transition to life after Ohio State.

How did the Cavs and LeBron come into the picture?

I was still living in Columbus. I would travel back and forth [to Cleveland] because we had a nightclub called The View that started popping up here. That was one of the dopest nightclubs ever. We had a crew called 8081 that we started doing the parties under. My guy Kelton, my guy Smallz, Meel, Mo, myself, Rich. They hit me up like we got this party Sunday night that we’re about to start doing. I would travel back and forth from Columbus to Cleveland and do the party. The first couple of nights it wasn’t making no money, but I saw something in it and I liked being home. I stuck with it. It ended up being one of the best decisions that I’ve made. Everybody that started off, right now we’re all brothers. Only thing that could make us closer is blood.

So I was doing that party and at the time my guy Mick Boogie was DJ’ing for the Cavs. I was part of his DJ crew, the League Crew. Mick didn’t talk on the mic, but I would talk on the mic when I was DJ’ing so I could host as well. Mick knew that, and he asked me to come host a party for him because his host was MIA or something. I was like, ‘Cool, yeah, I’ll come do that.’ I hosted the party and I kept doing it. As a result, me and Mick got closer and closer and I became part of the League Crew. It was me, Mick, Terry Urban and DJ Fresh.

Mick would do the Cavs games, so some games he’d just take me with him. I just noticed how he would be DJ’ing the games. The kinda music he’d be playing early in the games as opposed to late in the games as opposed to pregame.

It got to a point where these are Cavs games and they’re popping. I was basically coming to these games for free. What I started doing is I started getting to the games early to solidify I’m gonna get there and I would hook Mick’s equipment up. He’d come in and basically just be able to plug and play. I was very familiar with everything. Then Mick decided he wanted to move to New York. During this time, my relationship with ‘Bron became stronger and stronger. The whole crew, really. All of our relationships became stronger. Around this time, we had went to the Finals in 2007. At that point, we had all been around each other for some time. It’s crazy. Mick decided he wanted to move to N.Y. during the playoffs. He was outta there because he had a gig in N.Y. The Cavs needed a DJ for one of the playoff games, and Mick was just like, ‘Can you do it?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah I can do it!’

One of the first times I’ve ever DJ’d in the Q was a Cavs playoff game. It was like an Eastern Conference finals game. It was some wild game! I held it down. It’s crazy because I was never nervous or anything like that. The time came for the new season, and it made the most sense [to hire me]. It was a real process to interview and all that.

Obviously, you’re working with the Cavs. LeBron’s LeBron. But how did you all grow to become so close?

Aight, so I met ‘Bron via Rich, but of course if you’re from northeastern Ohio you knew who LeBron James was. But we also had other mutual friends, and I remember they came down [to OSU]. ‘Bron was real cool with Maurice Clarett at the time, and that was my guy at Ohio State. Him and ‘Bron were seen as the next two superstar athlete friends that were gonna [dominate the NFL and NBA]. We met via all of these different channels and became cool. Then everybody just started advancing in their careers.

A lot of times people think since ‘Bron is like my brother, they think he’d be like, ‘That’s my guy, he’s gonna be DJ’ing.’ Nah, it didn’t work like that. ‘Bron is my guy, but I worked my way into it. I don’t get it anywhere near as much now, but at first it was like, ‘You just got that because of ‘Bron.’ I’m like, actually, I was going to Quicken Loans Arena setting up equipment early just to make sure I was in the arena so I could watch the game.

You’ve been doing this for 10 seasons?

This is how I count my years. Well, I was here for two years with ‘Bron. Then ‘Bron was gone four years and I was still here. Now he’s been back four years. So that’s 10. Then I sit back and think like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. It’s been 10 years.’ It’s been a roller coaster. Some super highs and some lows, but we still here and it’s been beautiful.

It’s in and out in Beachwood for Floss. We’re roughly six hours away from tipoff, and he still has to run by his office downtown at Spaces and Co., drop off some used clothes at the Goodwill, get a run in (he’s an avid runner) and grab a bite to eat. But you can’t have a name like ‘Floss’ and not be fresh. He runs into Next, a trendy apparel store with a hilarious sales expert named Trice who, as she dubs it, is “serving looks” all day.

After shopping and talking for nearly an hour, Steph ultimately decided on a deep pink champion hoodie and orange Carrots T-shirt. Trice jokes about pulling up the game tonight and Steph’s after-party at Lago, which overlooks Lake Erie. As we make our way back to Steph’s car, the topic of LeBron comes up. As with James, a notoriously caring person for those he considers his closest friends, Floss speaks highly of the four-time MVP.

He’s achieved success without LeBron. He’s made a name for himself without LeBron. But make no mistake about it, Floss’ appreciation for James’ friendship and the opportunities he’s helped make happen just through remaining true to each other is limitless.

“‘Bron’s put everyone in his crew to be successful without him,” Floss says while throwing his recently purchased items in the trunk. “That’s the best thing about him.”

Is it fair to call you “LeBron James’ official DJ?”

It was at a point when ‘Bron was in Miami. We’d go down to Miami and ‘Bron would be like, ‘You know how crazy it is that you’re the Cavs’ official DJ and my official DJ still?’ We would be joking and laughing about it, but as I’ve gotten older with nightclubs and everything [putting that] on publications and flyers — it’s in my bio and all of that stuff — they’ll send me over a flyer and it’ll be like ‘DJ Steph Floss—official DJ of LeBron James.’ I tell them you gotta take that man’s name off. You gotta put “Cleveland Cavaliers” because that man is the biggest entity in sports. Flat out. A lot of people try to finesse. Regardless how good I am or whatever, people are gonna try to finesse more people to the club or finesse a LeBron James situation at their event via that tagline.

You’re gonna try to make other people believe ‘Bron is coming out when he is not coming out. I’m the one that’s spinning! There’s been times where I popped up in a city and the Cavs have had a game and I had a gig. ‘Bron didn’t even know, and he’ll hit me up like, ‘What spot you at tonight?’ He’ll be like, ‘Cool, I’ll fall through.’ Or he might be like, ‘I’ma just chill.’ The club owner and the promoter’s mentality for a lot of spots are trying to capitalize and put some butts in the seats.

It gives people a false hope that everywhere you are LeBron is gonna be there.

That’s not fair to you. That’s not fair to him. That’s not fair to me. I’m not giving you that false hope! Like I said, in my younger years, yeah you can put that on there. That’s cool. But now I’m like nah, you gotta pay for that. You gots to pay for that!

What makes it so unique about LeBron that he’s so effortlessly entrenched in hip-hop culture?

The fact he’s from northeastern Ohio, as we all are, we’ve always had to pull from different coasts and different eras from music. I honestly think, and no disrespect to anybody else, Midwest DJs, and especially Cleveland DJs, are some of the best in the country. It’s because we’ve never really had a run for real. We’ve had Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, but it’s a lot of areas with DJs who’ve had runs. Like Atlanta. They’ve had a crazy run, so their DJs could just play all Atlanta music during the set and they’ll be fine. West Coast, always have a run! New York had a run! Chicago, they’re Midwest, but Chicago had a run. Texas, they’ve had runs. New Orleans too! But we always had to know music from everywhere! If you hear a set from me or another Cleveland DJ, you’re gonna be like, ‘Yo, how do they know this?’ It’s because we have to. We couldn’t rely on just playing Bone all night! Or Ray Cash. You just can’t rely on playing our artists’ music because we never had a run of that magnitude.

Like with ‘Bron, we grew up listening to a lot of West Coast music. Especially those guys in Akron. They had ties with The Bay area, like E-40, Yukmouth, Too Short and people like that. Around here, man, we listen to a lot of West Coast music growing up. I was like the biggest Spice 1 and MC Eiht fan. We used to love that. We also have a huge connection with Texas with our music and their music. Their culture is kinda like us, and we’re kinda like them with the old-school cars and a lot of slang. Then, of course, we’re not far from the East Coast. You’d love the Biggies, the Jay-Zs. I grew up loving Mobb Deep. You would’ve thought I was from Queensbridge: Mobb Deep, Nas, AZ. I listened to everything!

So ‘Bron’s authenticity comes from the fact he really knows and loves music. It’s not fake. It’s not like I’m just gonna put this song on my IG because this is what’s poppin’. This is what I like. You may like it or you may not, but this is what I’m listening to and this is what I think is poppin’. I think the artists understand that. He really knows his music.

His IG stories are basically the new listening sessions.

It’s an A&R-type situation! You’d be surprised how many people have asked me, ‘Can you get big homie this joint?’ I’m like, ‘That’s awkward, man!’ (laughs) Like I understand it, but it’s like I’ll tell him to listen to it and if he likes it he does what he does with it. It’s been times I’ve told LeBron such and such sent me the album early and I’ll send it over to you. He’ll listen to it and he actually liked the album, but he didn’t put anything up on his story. You can’t use him though. I’m letting you know the man liked the album. It is what it is. That’s what is authentic about him. And he has a good ear.

After a quick bite and a few more errands, we part ways until it’s time to link back up at Quicken Loans Arena for Game 3. As if the crowd needs any more reason for creating a raucous environment, Steph runs through a litany of high-energy hits: Ayo & Teo’s “Rolex,” Jeezy’s “Win,” Diddy’s “Victory,” Lil’ Reese, Rick Ross and Drake’s “Us (Remix)” and the modern-day holy grail of hip-hop motivational sermons in Meek Mill’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).”

Unfortunately, all the energy in the world, yet another LeBron triple-double and a breakout performance from Rodney Hood wasn’t enough, as Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors inched one step closer to defeating the Cavs for the third time in the past four seasons. With the game ending closer to midnight, Steph lamented the moments missed in the game that could’ve turned Friday night’s Game 4 into a potentially series-tying contest. The night might have been over closer to midnight when the game ended. But for Floss, his night is only halfway done. He’s leaving work to go back to work for an after-party about a mile away.

It’s a grind he’s dedicated his life to since the days of poor-quality mixtapes at Ohio State. Just like LeBron, in his 15th season as well, Floss doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Draymond Green’s designer and stylist confirm he wasn’t trolling LeBron James with his shorts suit The Warriors star really did beat LeBron to the style

LeBron James vs. Draymond Green: the battle of the shorts suit. For Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, James arrived at Oracle Arena, rocking a gray version of the look from New York designer Thom Browne. By Game 2, three days later, James went at the look again — only this time, he was joined by Green, who donned a custom-made teal ensemble from a Los Angeles designer named Fresh. The outfit had been on Draymond Green’s mind, and in his closet, long before the fourth-straight heavyweight title matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers delivered an entertaining undercard of off-the-court style.

Contrary to popular belief, Green’s wardrobe decision was not rooted in pettiness, or a moment of swagger-jacking. “I started that trend a long time ago. Go check the pictures,” he said before Game 2. And he wasn’t lying. The versatile Warriors forward has a storied history, and deep connection, to the shorts suit.

“With him and LeBron, absolutely Draymond is the originator,” says Fresh. Four years ago, he founded his own brand RICHFRESH after quitting his job at the Beverly Hills retail location of Ermenegildo Zegna. “Who came up with the plane first? Fred Weick or the Wright Brothers? I don’t know. Fred Weick got a lot of attention, but the Wright Brothers did it first. Was there a day, before LeBron, that Draymond wore the shorts suit? Yes. That’s an easy myth to debunk.”

“It won’t be the last time you’ll see him in shorts.”

That day? The first annual NBA Awards show on June 26, 2017, when Green was presented with the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy while wearing a seafoam shawl-collared tuxedo jacket, accented by a Tom Ford bow tie, Yves Saint Laurent brooch and velvet Del Toro skull slippers. In the New York City sun, he sported shorts with the classy tuxedo top. It was a custom look that had been in the works for over a year.

“The NBA Awards shorts suit was originally supposed to be for the ESPYs in 2016, but that’s when the Warriors lost the Finals and Draymond didn’t want to go,” says Vick Michel, Green’s L.A.-based personal stylist. He met the 2012 second-round draft pick early in his career, but didn’t start working with him until 2016. “So we had it just laying in the arsenal.”

In preparation for this year’s Finals, the shorts suit was at the ready. While searching the internet for inspiration, Michel came across an image of a peacock feather and fell in love with the vibrant hues of green. He sent a screenshot to Fresh. Together, they locked in on a specific shade, and the designer began figuring it into one of his creations. The original plan was for Green to wear the shorts suit for Game 1, but final fitting tweaks took longer than anticipated.

“We didn’t get the tailoring right,” says Michel, whose other athlete clients include Deshaun Watson, Denzel Valentine, Giancarlo Stanton, Domantas Sabonis, Jahlil Okafor and Malik Jackson. “I told Fresh, It’s not ready. It’s not gonna be done. I don’t like to rush anything, because it’s all about fit with Draymond. He can wear anywhere from a 50 to a 56. Sometimes, it’ll be a 54, sometimes it’ll be a 52, sometimes it’ll be a 56. It just depends how certain garments feel on his body. We couldn’t wear it for the first game, so we said we’ll wait for the next opportunity. I’d rather pass the ball 10 times until we get the right shot. I’m not gonna rush just to shoot it.”

For his client’s series-opening outfit, Michel put Green in a Vivienne Westwood blazer with a custom pair of half-black and half-plaid paints, crafted by Fresh. Meanwhile, LeBron turned heads and broke the internet with his Game 1 shorts suit, which even garnered praise from NBA commissioner Adam Silver for being fashion-forward.

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“I was caught off-guard,” Fresh says of LeBron’s outfit. A designer for 15 years, he’s made pieces for everyone from Belly to DeAndre Jordan, The Weeknd, Joel Embiid, ASAP Rocky, Zendaya and more. “But I didn’t want it to sully or cast a shadow on the moment that I expected Draymond to have.”

Following Golden State’s 124-114 win in Game 1, Fresh flew into the Bay Area, where he, Michel and two tailors worked tirelessly to assure Green’s swaggy fit would be good to go. And as soon as he hopped out of his whip in the arena parking lot, cameras began snapping photos of the finished product: a teal hopsack shortsuit, loosely woven to feel like linen but fall like silk, with tuxedo panels on each side of the jacket and cuts on the thigh area of the bottoms to mimic actual basketball shorts. “It has a beautiful drape,” Fresh says. “I’m sure it felt amazing on him.” Michel paired the fit with a $350 t-shirt from Dolce & Gabbana (one of Green’s favorite brands because the name matches his initials), as well as a $602 brooch from Chanel and a pair of $1195 Christian Loubotin Aurelien sneakers. Fresh declined to disclose the amount Green paid for the shorts suit, but valued it at $3,300.

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Following Golden State’s 122-103 Game 2 win, Green’s outfit was the subject of more than one question at the postgame press conference. He shouted out both Michel and Fresh — and even to share the swag of his shorts suit with one of the reporters in the audience. Quite literally. “You can have this one,” Green joked. He must’ve already been thinking about what he’d break out in Cleveland. For Green, Fresh, and Vick Michel, a new city with different weather doesn’t shift the focus.

If it’s Game 1 or Game 6, he has to look fly,” Michel says. “How you play is how you should look. If you wanna play well, you dress well.” Maybe not in the Finals — but can we expect to see the revisited trademark of Green’s style once again?

“I’ll tell you right now,” Michel continued, “it won’t be the last time you’ll see him in shorts.”

Tristan Thompson is ready to right his wrongs — can he get right for Game 3? Let’s not forget: He’s one of the most consistent players on the Cavs and he knows how to defend against Steph Curry

Tristan Thompson knew the question was coming. So the Cavaliers forward was better prepared for it this time around. With the Cavs this season, especially their fourth consecutive Finals showdown with the Golden State Warriors, everything goes viral. Thompson walked out of a postgame interview after being asked following Game 2’s 122-103 loss whether he felt defenseless when guarding Stephen Curry.

“[That was] just a dumb question. It made no sense,” Thompson said during media availability Tuesday afternoon. “Do you feel helpless? I only feel helpless if you’re getting robbed at gunpoint — that’s helpless. This is basketball.”

It’s been a season filled with strange moments for Thompson. His personal and professional lives collided when his relationship with Khloe Kardashian hit tabloid and social media fans. But on Tuesday, Thompson left no question about the urgency of Wednesday night. “It’s not about pulling younger [less experienced] teammates aside,” said Thompson. He, by the way, is the Cavalier with the longest tenure (not counting LeBron James’ first stint).

“We know how important it is to get Game 3,” Thompson continued sternly. “This is the most important game of the series. We gotta go out and leave it all out there.”


A proverbial black cloud has followed Thompson. A string of misfortune and bad luck that can be traced back to the 2017 Finals.

The Warriors were hellbent on removing Thompson from the series after the former Texas Longhorn averaged a double-double in the 2016 Finals and anchored an exceptional interior defense that helped spur the Cavs to the 3-1 comeback that brought the city of Cleveland its first major pro title in 52 years. Last June, though, Golden State made Thompson a nonfactor in a five-game series in which Curry grabbed more rebounds than he did.

Thompson didn’t get much time to erase yester-June’s stain heading into this season. He suffered a right calf injury at the beginning of November. The injury sidelined him for a month, and when he did return he was the scapegoat for Cleveland’s bench issues.

Thompson’s return to the lineup did little to change Cleveland’s troubles in the new year. The Cavs couldn’t string together a series of wins if they tried. At one point, the possibility of the Cavaliers missing the playoffs altogether was a legitimate topic, as it became clear that the experiment that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston and brought in Isaiah Thomas had failed miserably. Midseason turmoil resulted in the Cavaliers gutting much of their roster to bring in guys like Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and George Hill.

If Thompson has never found a groove this year, it’s because he’s spent too much time away from the court. A model of consistency before this season, he played all 82 games for four consecutive seasons and played in 78 games last season. Injuries and a difficulty integrating into the rotation have limited Thompson to 53 games. And time on the inactive list came calling again in March after a right ankle sprain sidelined him for a month. By the time he returned to the lineup, his lack of production while there led to backlash about not just his production but also about him and Kardashian, with whom he has a daughter, True.

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On the eve of the postseason, footage of Tristan and women who weren’t his then-pregnant girlfriend surfaced. The story, like any and everything Kardashian-related, became national fodder. His infidelity infiltrated the Cavaliers’ culture as the story broke around the time he was returning to the lineup. He became a social media pariah. Even when Thompson performed well on the court, the vitriol was there: “Everyone still hates you!!!!”-like comments were common. And an eventual focal point of fellow Kardashian clan member Kanye West who on his recently released “Yikes” rhymed, All these thots on Christian Mingle/ That’s what almost got Tristan single / If you don’t ball like him or Kobe / Guarantee that b— gon’ leave you.

The scandal was a low point in a season that couldn’t have gone any worse for Thompson. And it was just another scar on a squad in search of itself.

Yet despite the drama, Thompson’s once again in the same spot he’s been the last four Junes. Being down 0-2 in a series against a team he admits is an all-time great squad isn’t intimidating to him. If anything, the Finals represent an opportunity to right a ship that began to go off course nearly a year ago. Thompson’s still being outrebounded by Stephen Curry (13 to 10 through two games). “There’s no place like playing on your home court. Our crowd is one of the best in the league,” Thompson says. “We owe it to them to come out … and leave it on the line.” More importantly, Thompson owes that to himself.

 

Are the Warriors turning LeBron James into Wilt Chamberlain — big stat lines and heartbreaks? No team in James’ career has tested the limits of his genius like the opponent he’s down 0-2 to right now

It came up Sunday night, while I was watching Game 2 at a bar with two friends. It was right after Stephen Curry’s most video-game-like 3-pointer, the fourth-quarter heave over Kevin Love from roughly 4 feet behind the 3-point line as the shot clock expired.

“Watching LeBron right now …” said my friend Jason, 31, shaking his head at Curry’s exploits, “I wonder if this is what it felt like watching Wilt Chamberlain play the Celtics back in the ‘60s.” Jason works in information technology. “Jerry West, too,” said Marcus. He’s 34 and works in higher education in Louisiana. “They both ran up against Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Red Auerbach and all those guys.” There is a case to be made: LeBron James’ current four-year war with Golden State may be the NBA’s modern-day equivalent.

Chamberlain is the game’s original statistical anomaly, the prophyte of modern-day bulls-in-china-shops like Shaquille O’Neal and James. There’s his 100-point game in March 1962. That same season he averaged a whopping 48.5 minutes per game while putting up 50 points and 25 rebounds a night. Chamberlain, a Philadelphia native, never averaged less than 18 rebounds per game in any season of his career, and he retired averaging 30 points and 23 rebounds per game. He was the game’s all-time leading scorer until he was surpassed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1984; Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan also eventually overtook him. Both Dirk Nowitzki and James will pass him early next season.

Chamberlain and Bill Russell met during Russell’s rookie season and Chamberlain’s freshman year at the University of Kansas in 1956-57. They became basketball’s original titan-on-titan rivalry. Chamberlain was the unstoppable force, which Russell has said forced him to think of different defensive schemes each time they competed. Russell and the Celtics were the immovable object in Chamberlain’s path toward NBA immortality.

“We talked about it one time,” Russell said of the lone conversation he had with Chamberlain about the difference in their careers. “[Wilt] said that [Russell having better teammates] was not true. Simply because his teammates had to feed him and I fed my teammates.”

LeBron’s virtuoso 51-8-8 performance that ended in a Game 1 loss felt very Wilt-esque.

From 1959-69, Russell and Chamberlain played against each other in 94 regular-season games. Neither was a particularly great free throw shooter, with Russell’s 54.2 percent nudging out Chamberlain’s 49.3 percent. Chamberlain had the edge in rebounding over Russell, who is widely considered the greatest defensive big man to ever live, 28.2 to 22.9. And Chamberlain more than doubled Russell in points per game, 29.9 to 14.2.

Chamberlain’s teams, however? They won only 37 of the 94 matchups, with the win-loss ratio slightly tighter in the playoffs. Chamberlain, again, held the advantage in points, rebounds and field goal percentage. But it was again Russell who walked away victorious in 29 of those 49 postseason matchups. A final tally: Russell’s Celtics defeated Chamberlain’s Warriors, 76ers and Lakers in 86 of 143 matchups (60 percent). Chamberlain and Russell played each other in eight different playoff series. Russell won seven of those eight series.

This is why watching James this postseason has been particularly astounding. In the first round vs. Indiana, the second round vs. Toronto and the Eastern Conference finals vs. Boston, James’ opponents had the better team. Cleveland just had the best player.

But no team in James’ first-ballot Hall of Fame career has tested the limits of his genius quite like the opponent he’s down 0-2 to right now. His virtuoso 51-8-8 performance that ended in a Game 1 loss felt very Wilt-esque. When Chamberlain snagged a still-record 55 rebounds in November 1960, he did so against Russell and the Celtics. But Wilt did so in a loss.

Although LeBron and the Golden State Warriors haven’t been attached at the hip his entire career in the way Chamberlain was to Russell and the Celtics, the history is peppered with special moments. In December 2012, the Warriors (with a then-rookie Draymond Green) shocked the defending champion Miami Heat at home. A month later, LeBron returned the favor in Oakland, becoming the youngest player to score 20,000 career points in the process.

A year later in January 2014, Steph Curry’s 36 points again led to another South Beach loss for the defending champion Heat. And right before heading into that year’s All-Star break, LeBron outdueled Steph (29 points and seven assists) with his own near triple-double of 36 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists and the game-winning 3 in Oakland. It ranks as the first classic duel between the two multiple MVPs — though the Bay Area monster hadn’t yet graduated into its current mutation. After that game, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Curry had an always fascinating battle of “black men attempting to out-compliment the other.”

The past four Junes speak for themselves. The Cavs and Warriors are the only teams to ever play each other for the championship four consecutive times in any major American sport. Golden State has won two of three, invited former MVP Kevin Durant into the fold and, if they take care of business this week, could be returning to Oakland this weekend with their third title in four years — and Curry’s first career Finals MVP award.

The Cavaliers return to Cleveland in a series that should be tied. And beating Golden State four out of the next five games is a pipe dream. It’s James, the best player (like Wilt), against the unquestioned best team in the league for almost the last half decade (like Russell and the Celtics). Difficult takes a day and impossible takes a week. James, in most cases, makes impossible look like a random Tuesday. But the weight of that responsibility became crystal clear in one clip — when LeBron found out the Cavs still had timeouts left at the end of regulation in Game 1.

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Love or loathe LeBron, the exasperation was uncomfortable to watch. He, more than anyone around the league, understands the value of getting any added advantage on the Warriors. They’re a python, smothering teams with ball movement, quick hands on defense and a steady stream of 3s. Every now and then, though, the Warriors will slip up, allowing a team to escape the constriction of their reptilian play. James knew this was the game. The entire world knew it too.

And Cleveland blew it with blunders both beyond their control and well within it. It’s how Chamberlain felt against the Celtics. Four Chamberlain vs. Russell series went to Game 7. Russell and Boston won all four — by a total of nine points. Russell is a perfect 10-0 in Game 7s in his iconic career.

Record-breaking stats mean nothing in the heat of the moment. No player has ever won a title without a team effort.

Role players traditionally play better at home. But if Cleveland is to at least make it a series, LeBron knows just what Russell and Chamberlain knew — that record-breaking stats mean nothing in the heat of the moment. And that no player has ever won a title without a team effort.

On Wednesday night, Cleveland will play like its season hangs in the balance — because it does. And Golden State will enter Quicken Loans Arena knowing it can inflict a body blow that would, effectively, leave LeBron down for the count. So either the Cavaliers make adjustments to their rotations and defensive schemes and find a better clip from 3-point range or the Warriors make it back to the Bay Area, trophy in tow, without having to cancel Saturday brunch plans.

Cleveland is suffering the bitter taste of Murphy’s Law at the NBA Finals Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for J.R., Thompson and the spiraling Cavs — but LeBron keeps the faith

OAKLAND, California — And when it comes to the game, I’m willing to play harder / So harder I go, there he go / They chant M-V-P when I shoot a free throw! This is a decade-old bar spit by a still-in-his-prime Lil Wayne. It appeared on 2008’s “Ransom,” one of the first songs from a then new rapper named Drake. On his feature verse, Wayne raps about one of the greatest spectacles in the NBA: the moment when a team’s best player gets fouled, toes the free throw line and gets serenaded with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” while preparing to shoot.

A moment like this came to life in Game 2 of the 2018 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. But it was unlike what you’d expect. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green — none of them got the loud MVP refrains inside their home venue, Oracle Arena. Instead, Cavs shooting guard J.R. Smith became the focal point of the crowd. The shouts, however, weren’t those of praise.

Raucous Golden State fans made a mockery of Smith in the first quarter, after he scored a bucket, drew the foul and went to the charity stripe for a chance at an old-fashioned three-point play. Trolling ensued as a result of his mental miscue — being unaware of the score in the final moments of Game 1 — which cost his team a chance to steal the series opener on the road. There’s little doubt the way Game 1 ended sucked the life out of Cleveland — and especially Smith.

“Terrible,” said Smith of his performance in his team’s 122-103 Game 2 loss. In 31 minutes on the floor, he only shot 2-for-9 from the field and 1-for-4 from 3, with just five points, as the only Cavs starter who failed to score in double-digits. Even before the sarcastic MVP chants, Warriors spectators tactically attempted to get inside of the embattled Smith’s head, delivering a petty standing ovation during the announcement of the game’s starting lineups, while LeBron James whispered in his teammate’s ear, presumably telling him to block out the noise and just play pall. “I’m always a person who the fans like to talk to or heckle,” he said. “I like it. I’d rather them do that than not acknowledge me at all. I appreciate it.”

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On the other end of the court, Stephen Curry, Golden State’s two-time league MVP, couldn’t miss. He dropped 33 points on 11-for-26 from the field, and an NBA Finals-record nine made 3-pointers. “If he takes 17 of them thangs, you know he’s going to hit some shots,” said Cavs point guard George Hill. “You just gotta continue to pray to the basketball gods, do what you can, challenging all shots, and don’t let him get them easy ones.”

The thing is, Curry even made the impossible ones. That’s the type of night it was for him. Early in the fourth quarter, as Golden State’s shot clock ferociously ticked down, the skilled point guard gravitated further and further away from the basket, placing Cavs forward Kevin Love by his lonesome out on Curry island. Love had seen a play like this unfold before — most notably during Game 7 between the Cavs and Warriors of the 2016 NBA Finals, when he made a crucial defensive stop that would allow Cleveland to hold on and claim the franchise’s first championship. In the Game 2 one-on-one matchup with Love, Curry flicked up an unfathomable 31-footer, and his off-balance prayer was somehow answered.

“No matter where you are on the floor, especially past halfcourt on their side, he always has a chance to make a miraculous shot,” Love said. “We made a gamble and he hit a shot from about … it seemed like 35 feet out there. So I felt like it was well contested. We played 23.5 good seconds of defense, and he turned around and hit a moon ball.”

The thing is, Curry even made the impossible ones. That’s the type of night it was for him.

The Curry Effect even left the court, and trickled its way into Cleveland’s tense postgame locker room. At the end of Game 1, Cavs big man Tristan Thompson got into it with Warriors players Shaun Livingston and Draymond Green — altercations that led to a flagrant foul call, immediate ejection and $25,000 fine. Following Game 2, Thompson got into it with a reporter, who posed the question: When Curry goes on a roll like that, do you feel a sense of helplessness out there when you can’t defend him?

“No. The fuck? No … ,” Thompson responded. “When I’m switching on him, I’m guarding him … I am never helpless with no guy in the NBA … Fucked up. Next question.” But the interview ended there, with Thompson grabbing his bag, parting the Red Sea of the scrum and leaving the locker room.

Down the arena’s hall in the press room, LeBron James — as he’s been required to do on this stage so many times before — had to maintain hope, as he spoke for not only himself, but also his entire team. During the 2015 Finals, when the Cavs went down 3-2 in the series against the Warriors, James delivered the brashest response to a question about a loss in his career.

“I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world,” James said after Game 5 in 2015. “It’s simple.” This time, after falling to 0-2 in the Finals to Golden State for the third-straight year, his mood was starkly different.

“It sucks when you go out there and you give it everything that you have,” said James, his left sclera still bloodshot from being poked in the eye in the series opener, “and you prep, and your mind is in it, and your body is it it, and you come out on the losing end.” Barely anything went right for the Cavs in these first two games — but if there’s one thing that’s gone unscathed, it’s the hope of LeBron James.

“I mean, it sucks to lose, that’s for sure,” he said. “But it definitely won’t stop me from preparing to be better the next day.”

The Audemars Piguet watch LeBron James wore for Game 1 worth at least $40,000, expert says According to the luxury brand’s website, only 1,500 of the model were made

OAKLAND, California — Remember when LeBron James broke out a short suit outfit, valued $46,964.95, for Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals? Well, the ensemble is actually worth much more. Just take a look at the Cleveland Cavaliers star’s wrist.

According to watch connoisseur FakeWatchBusta, a social media sensation known for exposing celebrities for wearing inauthentic timepieces, James donned a super-rare Audemars Piguet, called the Royal Oak Offshore Arnold Schwarzenegger The Legacy Chronograph during pregame and postgame of the Cavs’ 124-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors. The watch’s features include:

  • Self-winding chronograph with date display and small seconds at 12 o’clock
  • Ceramic case, bezel and crown.
  • 18-carat pink gold pushpieces
  • Titanium caseback with medallion.
  • Black ceramic case, black dial, anthracite strap.

According to the Swiss luxury brand’s website, only 1,500 were made, and the watch is currently “not for sale.”

“It retailed in shops for right over $40,000,” FakeWatchBusta told The Undefeated via email. The watch can be found on websites, such as swissluxury.com, for a resale value of as much as $46,495. But there’s certainly a chance James’ version of the Royal Oak Offshore Schwarzenegger could be worth more.

“Since he is endorsed by Audemars Piguet,” FakeWatchBusta wrote, “it could also be something special made, of course.”

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Arnold Schwarzenegger The Legacy Chronograph, worn by LeBron James pregame and postgame of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.

James has a longstanding partnership with Audemars Piguet that led to the limited release of his own signature watch, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore LeBron James, in 2013. At a retail price of $51,500, only 600 pieces dropped worldwide. And in early 2018, the watchmaker tapped James for an ad campaign directed by fashion photographer Rankin in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the iconic Royal Oak Offshore.

Come Game 1 of his eighth-straight Finals appearance, James’ choice of watch was surely a no-brainer. The Royal Oak is fit for a king and apparently worth every penny. The accessory brings the minimum total of this Game 1 outfit to nearly $87,000 — not even including his custom jewelry. Guess that’s just the luxury of getting paid more than $33 million a year to play in the NBA.

LeBron James’ Game 1 outfit and accessories cost more than $45,000 A piece-by-piece breakdown of the head-turning look the Cavs star wore to the NBA Finals series opener

OAKLAND, California — If you haven’t seen the outfit by now, you either live under a rock or don’t have a Twitter account. Because, before Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, LeBron James broke the internet when he pulled up to Oracle Arena in style.

The leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers sported a tailored suit from New York designer Thom Browne. But the look he pieced together was far from what’s traditionally seen in the tunnels of pro basketball arenas. Instead of wearing slacks, James strolled through the Bay Area breeze in fitted shorts, which matched his charcoal jacket that he complemented with a white shirt and dark tie.

James brought the shorts suit to life, and even NBA commissioner Adam Silver took notice. “I’m behind a podium, so you can’t see mine,” Silver joked of the shorts before the game. “You know, LeBron defines fashion. If LeBron is wearing shorts, it must be in.”

Unlike Silver, Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue didn’t find the humor in fielding questions about what his star player breaks out of his closet. “No comment,” Lue said of the ensemble that could’ve landed James in the rock band AC/DC.

During the 2018 playoffs, the Cavaliers have been no strangers to donning suits. James gifted each one of his fellow players a collection of three suits as a way to create postseason continuity among the team — especially during road games. According to a report from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin during the Eastern Conference finals, each suit, and all its accoutrements (shirt, sweater, boots, etc.), cost approximately $5,700. But before he graced the court in the Finals for the first time, the King, of course, had to swag out a little harder than the rest of his squad.

Down to his socks and shades, here’s a breakdown of the complete outfit James rocked into Game 1 — and the price that each piece of the look cost the King.


Suit, tie and handkerchief — $2,590

Oxford shirt — $330

Backstrap shorts — $940

Socks — $90

Wingtip Boots — $1,290

Alligator Bag — $41,000

Jacques Marie Mage Molino Frames — $525

Powerbeats wireless headphones — $199.95

Grand total: $46,964.95. Moral of the story: Not all of us have pockets as deep as LeBron James’.

LeBron is King, but his Cavs squad deserves more respect James can’t be crowned alone

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — “Are you surprised to be here?”

As reporters filed onto the hardwood at Oracle Arena, approximately 30 hours before tipoff of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, almost every player donning a Cleveland Cavaliers practice jersey fielded some form of the above question. Implication being: If your name isn’t LeBron James, who’s rightfully credited for carrying the Cavs back to basketball’s biggest stage, you should be surprised.

They’re a motley crew, but they’re here. The starting five includes the seasoned George Hill, who was selected 26th overall in the 2008 draft. There’s also of course the swaggy J.R. Smith, an NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2013. Toronto’s very own Tristan Thompson, who’s perhaps too well-known for his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. And the five-time All-Star, yet injury-riddled, Kevin Love. This group is flanked by Meridian, Mississippi, native Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, the fiery 2014 second-round pick out of the University of Missouri, and Jeff Green, who went through open heart surgery in January 2012 while a member of the Boston Celtics.

They’ve all heard all the noise about the King’s so-called lack of help from them this postseason. But when the question was posed — Are you surprised to be here? — Hood took still took a long pause before arriving at a calculated answer.

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“Because I’m playing with LeBron … no,” said Hood, whom Cleveland acquired as part of a blockbuster day of deals at February’s trade deadline. On that day, the Cavs also landed Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from the Los Angeles Lakers, and George Hill from the Sacramento Kings, while moving on from All-Star veterans Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade, as well as roleplayers Jae Crowder, Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert. “LeBron,” Hood continued, “he runs the East. He’s going to get to the Finals.”

This has been the narrative. That James has gotten Cleveland to the final series of the 2018 season, and has done so essentially single-handedly. Just look at the numbers: James’ 612 playoff points —an average of 34.0 points per game, with seven 40-plus-point performances and two game-winning shots — are the most by any player in a single postseason before a Finals in NBA history. Aside from James, there’s just one more Cavs player — Love, the team’s only other All-Star — averaging double-digit points. Fellow Cavs Hill and Kyle Korver are just shy of the mark with averages of 9.7 and 9.8 points per game, respectively. And not until the Eastern Conference semifinals — eight games, and two series, into Cleveland’s postseason run — did one of James’ teammates score 20 or more points. It was J.R. Smith, with 20 in a 113-112 overtime Game 1 win over the Toronto Raptors on May 1.

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“Sometimes you catch yourself watching [LeBron] in the game … He’s making play after play after play, scoring buckets,” Clarkson said. “And you forget that he’s a human being. He gets tired like the rest of us. So we’re trying to do our jobs — and do it the best we can.”

James hasn’t been in this position for quite some time. The group of Cavs he leads into the 2018 Finals is a far cry from the championship-contending rosters of his days as part of the Miami Heat’s Big 3, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, from 2010 to 2014. This team also pales in comparison to the one that overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors in 2016 to bring the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. And even last year’s squad, which fell in the Finals to Golden State, 4-1, had Kyrie Irving, who was traded to the Boston Celtics last offseason. There’s little doubt that is the least heralded supporting cast James has reached the Finals with since his first trip in 2007. So how did Cleveland even get there? That’s simple. On the back of their leader — though he doesn’t want all the credit.

“Shoot, if people got something to say, they can lace ‘em up with us, get on the court and see what’s happening with us.”

“I know I get a lot of the headlines,” said James in a heartfelt interview during the Eastern Conference finals trophy presentation. “Win, lose or draw, whatever the case may be, but in order to be successful, it’s a team game … You get all the doubters and people who’ve never stepped into an arena, who’ve never played basketball, who’ve never put on a tank top and shorts, who’ve never played anything organized — [they] always wanna try to kill my teammates. And it’s unfair to them, but I’m always gonna stay true to the game of basketball because the game of basketball always stayed true to me. That’s why we’re going to another Finals, because of my teammates.”

“It’s dope to hear your leader commend you on how you’ve been doing,” said Clarkson of the moment. “People bash us all the time. It is what it is. But we’re out here competing, lacing them up every day just like everybody else. Shoot, if people got something to say, they can lace ‘em up with us, get on the court and see what’s happening with us.

Even the Golden State Warriors — from their star player up to the team’s front office — have been called upon to weigh in about the prospect of the Cavs as a one-man team. “I hate when people say that,” said Stephen Curry before Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Warriors general manager Bob Myers spoke about it, too. “Any team that’s here deserves to be here,” Myers said before Game 1 of the Finals. “I don’t view it as any type of one-man show. The Cavs are a very good team.” Yet the players surrounding the best hooper on the planet have also had to defend themselves. When the questions were hurled at Hill, he didn’t sugarcoat his feelings.

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He feels for us, night in and night out,” Hill said. “No one gives the supporting cast credit, because you may go 2-for-5 and only have four points. But no one sees you playing defense, no one sees guys coming in for six minutes, and playing a hard six minutes. No one sees the guy that may only play three minutes but had a big stop and dove on the floor and got a charge. All those possessions matter. All those little things matter. If he’s out there by himself, he wouldn’t be in the position he is…I’m sure he’s tired of people throwing shots at his teammates, just like I’m sure we’re tired of people throwing shots at us.”

“You forget that he’s a human being. He gets tired like the rest of us. So we’re trying to do our jobs — and do it the best we can.”

After Hill and the Cavs wrapped up interviews, Cleveland took the court at Oracle for one of their final pre-Finals practices. Head coach Tyronn Lue brought his team into the middle of the floor, while James spent a few moments alone, getting up extra shots from the 3-point line. Soon he’d join the scrum, and each player and coach raised a hand. In unison, on the count of three, they all recited one word: “Together.”