A particular sort of currency in 21st Century America is “Not Giving A Shit”. I might have little money, but I’ve got a lot of currency, I thought. I’m a smart, proud, averagely handsome dude who (thought) they only care about literature, music, cinema, and politics. Sports aren’t supposed to matter to me.
Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship, and I realized, that I do give a shit. I’d been lying to myself, pretending I didn’t care. I’m a basketball fan, and I’m a LeBron James fan. When I was growing up, Michael Jordan never really resonated with me for a handful of reasons. Having family from Boston and New York make it tough to root for any team other than the Celtics or Knicks, so liking the Bulls was out of the question, moreover, Larry Bird was coaching the Indiana Pacers in the late 90’s. I was a Pacers fan then, and to this day I still root for Naptown. LeBron James was the first NBA player I ever saw have a complete mastery of the game of basketball. He could score, he could pass, and he could rebound.
I could bore you with LeBron’s unimpeachable numbers throughout his 13 year career, but that’s not even what this story is about. This story is about a particular feeling. When you don’t know how much something matters to you until it matters more than anything. When Cleveland was down 3-1 to Golden “73-9” State, I wasn’t surprised. I had said they’d beat Cleveland 4-1 in the series. Was part of that a defense mechanism to not be let down by the likely outcome of my favorite player falling to 2-5 in the NBA Finals? Of course it was.
Golden State was up 3-1 and it wasn’t even really close, but due to Draymond “I Invented Flex” Green slapping LeBron James taint/gooch he was suspended. I said to my father and friends (who root for LeBron), that I was nervous, but if Cleveland could win Game 5 they could get some momentum and force a Game 6 at home where the Cavs had looked terrific all playoffs. Cleveland would end up winning Game 5, thanks in part to a locked in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving embarrassing Wardell Stephen Curry II on both ends of the court. It was 3-2, heading back to Cleveland, and I started thinking LeBron and company could win. Of course I only shared this with my #1 basketball confidant. I started to care, and that upset me.
I’ve done a lot of cool stuff that means a lot more than basketball, and I’ve read enough books and poems that have shaped how I view the world that a guy who plays basketball shouldn’t make me feel anything other than “that’s a play at something that means nothing, objectively speaking”. Part of being a LeBron James fan means hearing the chirping about how he’s not Michael Jordan, and I distinctly felt that didn’t matter that LeBron wasn’t Michael. What he’s done for over a decade on the basketball court was more important than what someone else did in the 90’s. Also, I’m a pretty strong apologist for most things current (Young Thug is better than Melle Mel, sorry bros who bought “The Message” on cassette) as the level of skill and technical proficiency to compete in this decade is higher than it was in the past, and in 20 years I’ll be the guy saying that DeMarcus Cousins would beat whatever flashy and exciting player who hasn’t even been born yet in one on one.
Cleveland won Game 6, thanks again to LeBron James and a terrific home crowd, forcing a Game 7. “Game Seven” are the two best words in sports. I hated that I was excited, I hated that I couldn’t sleep on Saturday Night because whenever my mind started to wander I would think about what was more likely to happen: JR Smith going nuts and making eight three pointers, or Harrison Barnes coming out of his horrible shooting slump and becoming the hero in front of the home crowd. Would Kevin Love go from goat to GOAT? Was this the game where Klay and Steph would simultaneously play well for the first time in the Finals? Would LeBron be able to keep up the stellar level of play for another 48 minutes?
Sunday was Father’s Day, and my father and I had watched a good amount of Finals games together for as long as I can remember. My dear old dad was rooting for LeBron, partially because I was, and it’s nice to share things with your family, but also because Golden State beat Portland and Oklahoma City (two teams he likes), so it was gonna be fun to see our favorite player against a historic team who beat the hometown Blazers and who were the heavy favorite in the series.
Sunday was also a busy day in terms of shooting a local comedy web series I’m a part of. Our camera man got caught in traffic and ended up being late to the shoot, which went until the start of the fourth quarter of Game 7. I got over 10 text messages from friends and family about the game, and it was bedlam. I couldn’t tell who was winning, how the referees were calling the game, or if LeBron was making a killing from the mid range. By the time I was heading home from the shoot, It was a tie game in the fourth quarter, and I could barely speak or keep my hands from trembling. When I got home and saw LeBron get fouled from three by Festus Ezeli, I was pacing around the living room, unable to sit still.
Part of my anxiety was the game, but surely, part of it was that I was completely at the will of the game. I wasn’t controlling my emotions. I couldn’t. I wanted so badly, so desperately for LeBron James to win. He made all three free throws, and shortly after hit a three to give Cleveland the lead. When LeBron chased down Andre “The LeBron Stopper” Iguodala (who in all sincerity I have nothing but love for, seriously, he had to guard Kevin Durant and LeBron James for 14 straight games) and blocked his layup I jumped up and down. When Kyrie Irving hit that three over Steph I yelled. And when Steph missed the three that would have made it a one possession game with less than four seconds left I screamed as loudly as I can ever remember.
When you’re not expecting something, it usually impacts you more than if you are expecting it. That’s why many people expect the worst, because then you’re not going to be disappointed. It’s classic. We all do it. We never want to be victims to our own expectations. We never want to feel like something is bigger than us. On Sunday night, basketball was bigger than me, and no matter how scary that was, I was happy to know that I still could care that much.
Jordan Paladino is a Portland comedian, rapper, and writer for the show “Who’s the Ross?” He is a staunch defender of all things Lebron James, Drake and Kanye West. He is also a KD hater. I try not to hold these things against him.