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.

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.

 

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.”

The complete — and insane — list of P.J. Tucker’s 2018 NBA playoff sneakers All 22 pairs — from Cactus Jack Jordans, to custom OFF-Whites, and a trio of Oregon PEs — it’s all here

His reign is already solidified and virtually unchallenged. P.J. Tucker is the NBA’s sneaker king. He has shoes in his collection that hypebeasts can’t even cop, and he actually wears pairs that the biggest sneakerheads in the world wouldn’t even dare to unbox. “With playing basketball and sneakers, there’s no line,” Tucker told Joe La Puma on Complex’s Sneaker Shopping in early March. “If I have them, I’ll play in them.” And, on the huge stage of the NBA playoffs, Tucker didn’t hold back. In Houston’s 17 games during the 2018 postseason, Tucker broke out 22 different pairs of size 14s, while averaging 8.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range. He wore Jordans, LeBrons, Kobes, KDs, Kyries — you name it. He found sneakers that were only meant to be sported by high school players, and represented on his feet colleges the former University of Texas student never attended. This is the complete list of every shoe P.J. Tucker wore in every Rockets game during the 2018 playoffs.


WESTERn CONFERENCE Quarterfinals vs. MINnesota Timberwolves

Game 1, April 15: Nike LEbron Low “4 Horseman” & Air JOrdan 32 “Rossa Corsa”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker walked through the tunnel of the Toyota Center before the Rockets’ postseason opener with a pair of “Flu Game” Air Jordan 12s in his left hand. He then warmed up in a pair of “Stealth” Air Jordan 3s. Come game time, he ran up and down the hardwood in two more pairs of kicks: the “4 Horseman” Nike LeBron 3 Lows during the first half and the “Rossa Corsa” Air Jordan 32s during the second half. What a way to start off the playoffs — with four different sneakers.

Game 2, April 18: Air Jordan 4 “Cactus Jack,” Air Jordan 13 “Playoffs”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Sitting courtside during Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, rapper and Rockets superfan Travis Scott, a native of Houston, donned a pair of his own signature shoes, the “Cactus Jack” Air Jordan 4s. On the court, Tucker wore them too. It’s worth noting: The shoes, inspired by the colors of the city’s former NFL franchise, the Houston Oilers, haven’t officially dropped yet — and won’t until late June. But Trav and Tucker debuted the heat, which the Rockets forward wore only briefly. In the second half against Minnesota, he played in a pair of “Playoffs” Air Jordan 13s.

Game 3, April 21: Custom Air Jordan 11 “ACES,” NikE Air Maestro II “Trifecta”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It took only three games for Tucker to break out some custom kicks: a pair of white Air Jordan 11s dubbed the “Aces.” On the heel of the shoes, a red spade replaces the traditional Jumpman logo, and “PJ4” replaces Michael Jordan’s jersey number in the thinly lined, trademark script. Tucker switched his shoes in the locker room at halftime of the road Game 3. This time it was to a pair of “Trifecta” Air Maestro 2s (worn by Scottie Pippen in a triple-double performance in the 1993 NBA Finals) from Nike’s “Art of a Champion” collection.

Game 4, April 23: Nike LeBron 12 Low

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 23 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

In Game 4 against Minnesota, for the first time in the playoffs, Tucker wore only one pair of shoes: white, gray and red Nike LeBron 12 Lows. Perhaps he left his second-half sneaks in his hotel room. Or maybe he just got tired of spoiling us with a footwear fashion show.

Game 5, April 25: AIr Jordan 32 “JBC,” Air Jordan 10 “Dark shadow”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

On April 8, Michael Jordan’s billion-dollar company hosted its annual showcase for the nation’s top high school prospects. While competing in the Jordan Brand Classic, young stars wore pairs of player-exclusive (PE) Air Jordan 32s, embossed with “JBC 2018” logos on the midsole and tongue. Tucker is 33 — a decade and a half removed from his prep days at William G. Enloe High in Raleigh, North Carolina. But, somehow, he landed all five pairs of shoes that every JBC player received, including the PE 32s, which he rocked a few weeks after the high school all-star game in a closeout Game 5 win over the Timberwolves. For the second half, he swapped out the 32s for a pair of “Dark Shadow” Air Jordan 10s, which were released on April 20.

Western Conference Semifinals vs. Utah Jazz

Game 1, April 29: Nike Kyrie 1 “WArHAWK”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz during the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 29 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Before Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, a photo surfaced of Tucker sitting in his team’s dressing room as he sifted through a huge pile of sneakers and boxes that flowed out of his locker. For the series opener, he decided to throw it back with a pair of “Warhawk” Nike Kyrie 1s, which are inspired by the World War II-era Curtiss P-40 fighter aircraft. The shoes were released in 2015 and were given exclusively to high school and college players who participated in the Nike Basketball Academy in the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica, California’s airport. But of course Tucker got his hands on a pair — because the shoe term “limited edition” means absolutely nothing to him.

Game 2, May 2: Air Jordan 5 “OREGOn” PE, Air Jordan 10 “University REd”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz wrestle for a rebound during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals in the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The University of Oregon — located about two hours south of Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon — is the land of milk and honey when it comes to PEs. Tucker must have a reliable plug on campus, as he’s no stranger to whipping out pairs of shoes that only the university’s athletes, past and present, should have. In Game 2 against the Jazz, he wore a pair of “insanely rare” PE “Oregon” Air Jordan 5s, but only for the first two quarters. In the second half, he sported the “University Red” Air Jordan 10s, a collaboration between the Jordan Brand and famed NBA tattoo artist Steve Wiebe that dropped exclusively at House of Hoops in Harlem, New York, in December 2017. Two pairs of superuncommon shoes in one game. All in a day’s work for Tucker.

Game 3, May 4: Nike Kyrie 4 “Chinese New year”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 4 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, kicked off this year on Feb. 16 and lasted through March 2. But Tucker was still celebrating the Year of the Dog in early May, when he showed off the “Chinese New Year” Nike Kyrie 4s in Salt Lake City for Houston’s first road game of the Western Conference semis. Tucker is a mixologist with the colors of his on-court shoes, often choosing to turn heads instead of matching his uniform. But these kicks, which feature a beautiful red, black and gold floral design on the quarter panel of each shoe, perfectly complement Rockets team colors. Well done, P.J. Well done.

Game 4, May 6: Nike Kd 6 Supreme “D.C. Preheat”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 6 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

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From the conservative “CNY” Kyrie 4s in Game 3 to the vibrant “D.C. Preheat” Nike KD 6 Supremes in Game 4. Tucker had to go deep in his closet for this pair of Kevin Durant signatures, which first hit the streets in 2013. More proof that his sneaker versatility is crazy.

Game 5, May 8: Nike LeBron 8

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals on May 8 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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Why not pay homage to the most dominant player of this year’s playoffs: LeBron Raymone James? With a pair of vintage red-and-black Nike LeBron 8s (which originally released in October 2010), that’s exactly what Tucker did when he and the Rockets sent Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz packing with a Game 5 win that advanced Houston to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2015.

Western Conference Finals vs. Golden State Warriors

Game 1, May 14: Nike Zoom Kobe 3 “Westchester” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA’s Western Conference finals on May 14 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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In 2008, players on the basketball team at Los Angeles’ Westchester High received exclusive red, black and white Nike Kobe 3s. They were personalized for the school, with each shoe’s tongue featuring a “W.” So how did Tucker, who went to high school in North Carolina from 1999-2000, find a pair of these unique Kobes? Perhaps Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, a Westchester graduate, hooked his teammate up. But with Tucker, who really knows? The “Westchester” 3s he wore in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Warriors might just be one of the original pairs. That’s how deep his shoe connections run.

Game 2, May 16: Nike LeBron 15 “Owwhio State” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker is a Longhorn at heart. But in Game 2 vs. Golden State, he was a Buckeye, repping THE Ohio State University in a pair of all-red, player-exclusive Nike LeBron 15s. They were presented to the OSU basketball team last fall as part of James’ everlasting dedication to the school he would’ve attended had he gone to college. Also, don’t forget: We’ve seen Tucker in another colorway of Ohio State LeBron 15 PEs. The first pair, primarily in white, was apparently just the warm-up.

Game 3, May 20: Nike Kyrie 4 “Yellow Lobster”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 20 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

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In 2009, only 36 pairs of the “Yellow Lobster” Nike SB Dunk Lows were made. Nearly a decade later, Nike paid tribute to the iconic skateboarding sneaker with a bigger, yet still limited, release of the “Yellow Lobster” Kyrie 4s. Before lacing up the kicks in Game 3 against the Warriors, Tucker arrived to Oracle Arena in a magenta suit. He was really in his bag with his style choices that night.

Game 4, May 22: Custom Off-White Nike REact Hyperdunk

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Between Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals, Tucker took to Instagram, where he posted a photo of one-of-a-kind OFF-White Nike React Hyperdunks — the work of sneaker craftsman Dominic Chambrone, aka The Shoe Surgeon. Tucker teased the custom kicks in warm-ups, but they didn’t grace the court until Game 4. To really appreciate the collaboration between Tucker and Chambrone, you have to remember what a normal pair of the OFF-WHITE Hyperdunks look like. Moral of the story: They started out as white and ended up an intoxicating red. A true masterpiece.

Game 5, May 24: Nike LeBron 15 “OREGON” PE (Black)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

From afar, Tucker’s Game 5 shoes appeared to be a simple pair of black LeBron 15s. Yet, up close you’ll notice the subtle “O” on the heel tab, which signifies one thing: Oregon. Somebody in the school’s equipment department must really love Tucker.

Game 6, May 26: Nike Lebron 15 “Oregon” pe (Green)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 26 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

In the words of the one and only DJ Khaled, “Another one!” — Tucker’s third pair of Oregon player exclusives in the playoffs. Peep the yellow duck wings design on the midsole of these green beauties. The university might as well hire him to teach “PEs 101.” He’s as well-versed as they come on the topic.

Game 7, May 28: Nike Kobe 4 “Del Sol”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 28 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker entered Houston’s home arena before a decisive Game 7 vs. Golden State on Memorial Day carrying a pair of “Grinch” Nike Kobe 6s (the best Christmas Day sneakers in NBA history — and don’t even think about @ing us). But when he and the Rockets stepped foot on the court, with a trip to the 2018 NBA Finals on the line, Tucker had pulled an okey-doke. Instead of the Grinches, he wore “Del Sol” Nike Kobe 4s. Yet he couldn’t quite channel his inner Black Mamba, as the Warriors closed out the 2017-18 season for the Rockets. There’s little doubt, however, that Tucker had the freshest shoes of the night — and of the entire playoffs.

Double trouble — the allure of two NBA Game 7s Both conference finals are going to seven games. What’s on the line for each squad and why does it always boil down to LeBron?

But the allure of the game, keeps calling your name …

— Jay-Z, “Allure” (2003)

There’s a scene in 1992’s Juice that aces the test of time. Not the one where Bishop (played by the late Tupac Shakur) and Q (played by Omar Epps) are by their lockers in the iconic “I am crazy … but I don’t give a f—” scene. This one is earlier in the movie, when Bishop steps to Q about gaining the all-important juice. “You gotta snatch some collars and let them m—–f—–s know you gotta take them out any time you feel like it,” Bishop commands. “You gotta get the ground beneath your feet, partner. Get the wind behind your back and go out in a blaze if you got to.” Name a better description of the 2018 Eastern Conference and Western Conference finals. Better yet, name a better description for any Game 7.

In the second quarter of Saturday’s Rockets vs. Warriors Game 6, Drake, one day out from his release of the laser-guided missile “Duppy Freestyle,” at the rapper Pusha T, released a new single called “I’m Upset.” That same night, Draymond Green sported the black satin Scorpion jacket Drake unveiled on Instagram last month. Coincidence? Probably not. Scorpion is the name of Drake’s forthcoming album, set for release next month.

The Warriors are Deebo from Friday. In particular, Deebo before he caught the brick to the face.

In any case, the title reflected the Warriors’ mood. Backs against the wall, the defending champions responded with a classic Bay Area onslaught. They used a 29-22 second quarter to fuel a run that eventually led to a 115-86 victory and forced a Game 7 in Houston on Monday night. The NBA, the most dramatic league in American sports right now, will play two Game 7s in 24 hours. It’s the first time it’s happened since 1979, when the Washington Bullets defeated the San Antonio Spurs and the Seattle SuperSonics got edged by the Phoenix Suns.

Win, lose, blowout or close game, the fascination around Game 7s remains steadfast. There’s the ultimate sense of finality. The poetic desperation that rides with every bucket. Agony and jubilation with each turnover. Role players become legends. Superstars become demigods or demons. No one leaves Game 7 the same person they were before the tip. Not the fans, not the coaching staff and certainly not the players. There’s always a certain amount of basketball soul left on the court.

And these two Game 7s? The greatest player in the game is on the road. The greatest team, too. The league’s best team recordwise is hellbent on reversing a conference curse. And the last team to beat LeBron James in the playoffs wants to put another trophy behind. Every team in the conference finals has got some serious soul on the court this year.


Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics goes up for a dunk against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on May 25 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Under head coach Brad Stevens, dubbed heir apparent to the coaching thrones occupied by Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, this is Boston’s best opportunity to advance to the Finals since the days of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. It’s also the chance to accomplish something that hasn’t been done by an Eastern Conference team since those Garnett-era Celtics defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 2,937 days ago.

Recent history also works in Boston’s favor. No home team has lost in this series, and the Celtics are at home. Of the four teams left, Boston’s playing with the most house money. If the Celtics lose, the result will be heartbreaking — but only in the moment. Boston’s peak has yet to be reached. They’re a team full of high-quality role players, uber-talented rookies, a world champion point guard, a swingman whose been sidelined all season and a team poised to dominate the East whenever LeBron sees fit to fall back. Whenever that may be.

Houston Rockets

James Harden of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket against Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors during Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at ORACLE Arena on May 26 in Oakland, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Will the Rockets regret not sealing the deal in Game 6, when they controlled the game for a half? Will Chris Paul be available for Game 7? The answers are “we’re about to find out,” and “they better hope so.” Think back to a few years ago, when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens were the perennial matchup in sports. The Seattle Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick-era San Francisco 49ers are another example. Both were heavyweight prize fights for bragging rights, and the winning teams were roadblocks to the other’s immortality. Warriors vs. Rockets doesn’t present near the physicality the other two rivalries headlined, but what it lacks in violence it doubles in poetic desperation.

Game 4 was the moment that kept them alive. Game 7 is the moment that could make this Houston team legendary. Golden State, by most metrics, is Mike Tyson on the iconic ‘90s video game Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! The final boss that’s so good, so unrelenting that even if a team is lucky enough to steal a round, the final result remains the same. The Rockets stand on unprecedented territory. They’ve stolen three rounds (games) in their clash with Golden State. They’ve got this iteration of the Kevin Durant-era Warriors on the ropes to the point where they actually appear vulnerable.

Of the four teams left, Boston’s playing with the most house money.

But the truth is, Houston should’ve closed out the series Saturday night — never give a fighter a chance to throw one last haymaker. But Monday night the Rockets have the Warriors in their house. James Harden, Chris Paul (maybe?) and company have the chance to slay a Goliath that’s held a sleeper hold on basketball for nearly the past two years. If Golden State wins, though? We’re also going to be presented with one of the all-time great What If’s in sports history.

What if Chris Paul never gets hurt? It’s a conundrum that could very well rewrite basketball narratives moving forward. Paul was a leading figure in Houston’s transformative victories in Games 4 and 5. His absence showed in Game 6, as Houston committed turnover after turnover. Hamstring injuries are difficult to predict, so it’s almost impossible to forecast CP3’s availability for a game that will decide Houston’s place in basketball history. Do the Rockets become just another doormat, in the vein of the Indiana Pacers to the LeBron-led Miami Heat, the Sacramento Kings to the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls? Or are they the key that cracks basketball’s most difficult code?

Golden State Warriors

(From left) Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors celebrate after a play against the Houston Rockets during Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at ORACLE Arena on May 26 in Oakland, California.

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The Warriors are Deebo from Friday. In particular, Deebo before he caught the brick to the face. Golden State, in the Kevin Durant era, has yet to catch a brick to the face. The Warriors have dominated basketball since the 2014-15 season with a gluttonous display of ball sharing, offensive onslaughts and free-agent acquisitions that have crippled an entire league.

The fact remains, though, the Warriors are on the brink of having that invincibility shattered. It’s Golden State’s third Game 7 in this era. The first two? A victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, led then by Durant and Russell Westbrook. And a dramatic Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. Both of the games were in Oakland. The level of difficulty increases tenfold on the road. The rims are a little stiffer. The lights a lot brighter. The crowd is bloodthirsty.

Will H-Town regret not sealing the deal in Game 6? Will Chris Paul be available for Game 7? The answers are “we’re about to find out” and “they better hope so.”

If any team left is built for a moment like this, it’s the Warriors — who have proven time and again that no challenge is too great. Part of what makes great teams great is the ability to walk into any arena feeling up 15 on an opponent. That’s who the Warriors are. Their place in basketball history is already solidified. But how does one of the all-time dominant teams in any major American sport keep that same energy? How do they react when it’s, damn near literally, them against the world? What intangibles does Draymond Green bring? Can Klay Thompson remix his virtuoso Game 6 performance? Will Stephen Curry unleash some hell and toss the Warriors on his back? And will Kevin Durant snap out of three consecutive poor shooting games and again prove himself to be one of the two best players in the world? We’ll learn shortly whether Deebo catches that brick.

Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts after a basket in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics during Game 6 of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25 in Cleveland.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

No one in basketball — no one in sports, really — does drama quite like LeBron James. His 15th season is already documented as his finest. He’s a physical and statistical anomaly if one ever existed. What James has done this postseason — the game-winners, the 40-point games, the Toronto baptism and overall sheer dominance — is nothing short of spectacular. But does even James, the poster child for fitness and longevity in the NBA, have the energy left to lead this Cavaliers squad back to the Finals for a fourth straight year (and ‘Bron’s eighth straight)?

On the surface, this moment seems too daunting for even LeBron. Kevin Love is out for Game 7 (concussion protocol). Tonight has all the makings of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 versus the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 Eastern Conference finals. A game in which Jordan stood no chance, given the fact that Scottie Pippen was derailed by migraines. But, like Jordan, if any player has proved capable of making the impossible seem routine, it’s James.

Houston’s got the Kevin Durant-era Warriors on the ropes to the point where they actually appear vulnerable.

And now the NBA’s premier megastar is in a must-win on the road. King James has to play for his team’s life when Cleveland’s second-best player just might be 37-year-old Kyle Korver. Boston is the better squad. Cleveland just happens to have the best player on the court. A man whose legacy in Game 7s is already cemented with career averages in the most pressure-packed game in sports: 35 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in seven games.

Win, he advances to the Finals, where a Western Conference juggernaut awaits. Lose, and the third (and presumed final) chapter of his career begins. Somehow, though, it feels like tonight’s Sisyphean task was LeBron’s only option. He’s played 11 historic, and at times contentious, seasons in Cleveland. Only two options seem realistic for James, who is so routinely dominant that it’s fooled many into believing his talent is as common to life on Earth as morning traffic. One, his Thanos-like run continues behind another iconic performance inside the arena he’s seen both heaven and hell in. Or, two, he goes out —metaphorically of course — like Cleo at the end of Set It Off. A blaze of glory. LeBron, and all of us, really, wouldn’t have it any other way.

James Harden is ‘strictly music’ Houston’s in-house DJ TGray spins the beats for Harden and team before each home game

HOUSTON – Just like clockwork, DJ TGray knows when Houston Rockets guard James Harden typically runs on to the Toyota Center floor before tipoff to get his shots up. And even if the Rockets’ house deejay is in the middle of playing a song, within about 10 seconds he will mix in a hip-hop banger definitely beloved by the NBA All-Star to help get him ready.

“I know the clock,” said Teryl Gray, 41, who goes by DJ TGray. “About 10 minutes before the doors open, he will come out to shoot around and warm up. There are different tempos for him. Sometimes I keep it around 90 bpm [beats per minute]. We’ll go trap music to 70 bpm and lower than that. You kind of have to feel him out. And I’ve been doing it for so long, you get a good vibe for people and who they are every day of the week.

“I switch songs as soon as he comes out. It might be within 10 seconds. Sometimes I get lucky and it’s around the time of the chorus. I say, ‘Right on time.’ I can blend in some party jams.”

The sixth-year Rockets guard is a hip-hop head who enjoys hearing his favorite songs when he does his pregame shooting routine. Gray said some of Harden’s friends regularly give him the Rockets star’s current playlist and text him when a new song comes out that he loves. Gray says Harden adores his native Los Angeles’ hip-hop and loves Southern rap, too.

While there are challenges in finding some of the underground rap songs Harden likes and bleeping out the curse words, Gray can usually find it and clean it up. For example, one of Harden’s favorite old songs played pregame during the playoffs last year was, “I Don’t Stress,” a 2005 song Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle that is laced with bleeps for curse words. But it’s hard to stump a deejay who has been spinning since age 10 and first spun at a Houston club at age 15. Gray is also a member of numerous record pools and often hears songs three months before they come out.

“I know his boys. And his boys will come by or they will text message, ‘You got this?’ ” Gray said. “Or, ‘Can you clean this [expletive-laced rap] song up?’ He is from L.A., so it’s a lot of hip-hop stuff. A lot of Nipsey Hussle. Some mixtape dudes that most mainstream dudes have not heard of, Bino Rideaux, 03 Greedo. All these other people out there. YG. And even here locally with Travis Scott as well as Huncho Jack, also known as Quavo.”

Harden and the Rockets host the Warriors in Game 5 of the tied best-of-seven Western Conference finals on Thursday night. The leading candidate for the 2018 NBA MVP award is averaging 29.5 points per game in these West finals. The winner in this key contest will be one will away from the 2018 NBA Finals.

So, what hip-hop songs will Gray spin Thursday night to get Harden’s juices flowing as he gets his pregame shooting routine in?

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets moves to the music during warm ups before playing the Cleveland Cavaliers at Toyota Center on March 12, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

“ ’Grindin All My Life,’ by Nipsey Hussle. ‘Shoot’ by BlocBoy JB. The new Drake record and the new Travis Scott song with Kanye West and Lil Uzi Vert. It’s called ‘Watch,’ ” Gray said.

So, does Harden like anything other than hip-hop playing when he shoots pregame?

“Never. Never. I did see him rocking out to an old record I played with Field Mob featuring Ciara. He heard me playing that and looked up and said, ‘Yeah.’ You must’ve been in middle school when it played,” Gray said.

Gray has been working with the Rockets’ game-night crew since the Toyota Center opened in 2001. Initially, the Houston native was the public-address announcer yelling out names such as Yao Ming, Stevie Francis and Tracy McGrady before moving over to his familiar DJ role. Gray is also a DJ for the Major League Soccer Houston Dynamo and Houston KRIV-Fox 26.

Gray said he plays music to please all fans at Rockets games.

“My job is to make sure that everyone here is happy from the players to the people in the top to the oldest fan in here. I try to find that happy balance of playing Nipsey Hussle and KC and The Sunshine Band,” Gray said.

But there is an exception to the music rule for DJ TGray, and that is when Harden arrives on the floor for pregame shots. Gray said he has talked to Harden several times, and the subject is always hip-hop music.

“He’s on it. James is a very keen dude,” Grey said. “It’s very welcomed in music. He’s younger than me, a lot younger than me, and there is some older stuff that he is very knowledgeable of. I’m very appreciative of that …

“He asks, ‘You got the new … ?’ It’s all strictly music. No hoops. None of that stuff, which I appreciate.”

Shooting Rockets at the throne: on the eve of Houston’s most important game of the season Does Houston want to have a problem — or do they want to be the problem?

There’s a Jay Z lyric for any and every situation in life. For the Houston Rockets, their current 2-1 Western Conference finals plight is no different. More on a that shortly. Following elimination by the Golden State Warriors in 2015 and 2016, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey all but confirmed the Bay Area fetish. “It’s the only thing we think about,” he told ESPN last December. “I think I’m not supposed to say that, but we’re obsessed with ‘How do we beat the Warriors?’”

He went on to say, “It’s like 90 percent … if we’re gonna win a title, we’ve obviously gotta beat the Warriors at some point. So we’re extremely focused on that. A lot of our signings and what we do during the year is based on that.”

This year’s Houston Rockets are an all-time great offensive juggernaut. The franchise broke its own record for three pointers made in a season this year. But here’s the thing—beating the defending champions in regular season matchups, as they did two out of three times, is a completely different animal than trying to beat them four times in less than two weeks.

Chris Paul waited his entire career for to advance to the NBA’s final four and it’ll likely end in five if the Rockets put on a repeat performance of their Game 3 curb-stomping.

The Warriors as presently constructed, represent the love child of the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams and 2001 Miami Hurricanes—only the child decided CTE, the lack of guaranteed contracts and football’s stance on social issues were too much to ignore. Golden State is most overwhelmingly dominant team ever assembled with four presumptive future Hall of Fame candidates all still very much in their physical apexs. And Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant could very well end up as Top 10 players of all time.

Now Houston has to beat that same team at home. That same team that hasn’t lost since in Oakland since LeBron’s block and Kyrie Irving’s shot punctuated the greatest Finals comeback in NBA history nearly two years ago. A loss that, by Golden State’s own admission, delivered them Durant. Oracle Arena hasn’t felt the agony of playoff defeat in 703 days and counting. That’s 16 games in a row—the longest such streak in league history. This is the task sitting on Houston’s shoulders ahead of tonight’s game.

Do not bark up that tree, Jay Z warned his foes on the seminal 2001 diss record “Takeover.” That tree will fall on you / I don’t know why your advisers ain’t forewarn you. The best record in the league, with a team specifically designed for this exact moment only to sit on the edge of their own self-destruction. That lyric will haunt the Rockets if they lose tonight.

If Harden wants to continue to live under the label of “superstar” without reproach, this is the type of game that notarizes the stamp.

Head coach Mike D’Antoni called his team soft following Sunday’s baptism. D’Antoni understands the magnitude—even if he is saying Golden State has “all the pressure” — of tonight’s game. D’Antoni is the forefather of the space-and-pace offense: his mid-2000s Phoenix Suns were the kings o fit. Now he’s a mad scientist watching his creation turn against him as the Warriors are a faster, better defensively, and just more crippling version of those Suns. Chris Paul waited his entire career to advance to the NBA’s final four and it’ll likely end in five if the Rockets put on a repeat performance of their Game 3 curb-stomping.

James Harden, the leading MVP candidate (though another James continues to make a case), has had his great season come down to one game. These moments define careers. Big-time players, as Santana Moss once poetically put it, make big-time plays in big-time games. And if Harden wants to continue live under the label of “superstar” without reproach, this is the type of game that notarizes the stamp. Game 4 on the road? In an all-time hostile environment? With a chance to completely rewrite the narrative of both the series and your postseason career? These are dreams that money—not even Harden’s mammoth contract—can’t buy.

Houston called out Golden State like Martin called out Tommy Hearns in the classic 1994 Martin episode “Guard Your Grill.” And, as it stands right now, the Rockets are a two piece and another Steph Curry biscuit away from looking like Martin after the fight. It’s the “s— or get off the pot” moment for these Houston Rockets. Go back to Houston tied 2-2 and it’s a best of three series with potentially two games at home—and the reality that they don’t have to win in Golden State again. Go back to Houston down 3-1 and not even the courtside five of Beyoncé, Bun B, Scarface, Travis Scott and Deshaun Watson would prevent the inevitable. Does Houston want to have a problem or does Houston want to be the problem? Do not bark up that tree. It won’t take long to find out either way.

Lil Wayne is front and center for Warriors at Houston — but who is he rooting for? That’s a difficult question to answer

 

WHO: Lil Wayne

VENUE: Game 2, Western Conference Finals; Toyota Center

WHHW: Weezy might’ve missed his set at Rolling Loud in Miami, but he wasn’t missing out on Warriors vs. Rockets Part Two. It’s no surprise Tunechi is court-side — he’s one of the most diehard sports fans in all of music. As for who he’s pulling for, that’s a difficult question to answer. We know he’s a Lakers fan. We also know he’s a diehard Kobe Bryant fan, so maybe he’s just there because he’s a student of the game (with amazing seats). Whatever the case, Wayne’s long-awaited The Carter 5 could see liberation this year, as he just signed with CAA, and Birdman look to finally be on cordial terms once again.