Path to a Trilogy, Chapter III: Love Lost

Derrick E. Hingle/USA Today

Welcome to Chapter III of Path to a Trilogy, where we re-examine recent NBA events that have led to the Cavaliers and Warriors appearing in three straight NBA Finals. This series will be composed of several entries and will continue into the 2017 NBA Finals if necessary. Happenings of the past are written in the present tense, as they happened, to create a more vivid portrait of the NBA landscape as it was at the time the events took place. 

In Chapter III, we take a closer look at the 2015 NBA Playoffs, one that saw both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors go through their share of hardships and failures before reaching the NBA Finals. Links to the first two chapters of Path to a Trilogy can be found here and here

Without further ado, this is Chapter III of Path to a Trilogy. Hope you enjoy.

It is the night of April 23, 2015, and TNT is broadcasting a doubleheader on the first Thursday night of the NBA Playoffs.

At 7:00 PM EDT, the Boston Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of their first-round series; Cleveland has taken the first two games of the series at home. Game 3 is close throughout, as the Celtics try to defend one of the best home courts in the NBA. However, the Cavs are in control late, and two Kevin Love three-pointers in the span of as many minutes ultimately seal Boston’s fate. LeBron James plays the starring role with 31 points and 11 rebounds as Cleveland takes a commanding 3-0 series lead and looks to close out the Celtics in Game 4 on Sunday.

In the second game of TNT’s doubleheader, starting shortly after 9:30 PM EDT, the Golden State Warriors, also up 2-0 in their series, go on the road to face off against the upstart New Orleans Pelicans. Despite winning the first two games of the series, the Warriors look like the far inferior team for the first 36 minutes of the game and trail 89-69 heading into the fourth. Golden State begins to chip away at the deficit but still trails by double digits after an Anthony Davis dunk with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter. It would be New Orleans’ last made basket in regulation, and a Steph Curry three with twelve seconds left brought the Warriors within two. After Davis splits a pair of free throws at the other end, Golden State got the ball back trailing by three. Curry misses a game-tying three-point attempt but Warriors utility big man Marreese Speights gets the offensive rebound. Keenly aware of the game situation and the players around him, he gives the ball right back to Curry in the corner. Watch him hit this unbelievable shot to tie the game and send it into overtime:

It is also fair to argue that Curry was fouled on the play, and that fact is corroborated the next day in the league’s “Last Two Minute Report” the next day. The Warriors take care of business in overtime to win Game 3, 123-119. Two days later, Golden State defeats New Orleans 109-98 to sweep the Pelicans and advance to the second round.

The day after the Warriors finish off the Pelicans, the Cavaliers take their shot at sweeping the Celtics. With Cleveland up 18-10 just over halfway through the second quarter, Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Love become entangled while going for an offensive rebound. The result is a separated shoulder for Love and a premature end to his season.

Still, the Cavaliers take care of the Celtics and move on to the second round, one that would see them face off against the Tom Thibodeau-coached Chicago Bulls. The Warriors, on the other hand, would be matched up against the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies, a team that split two games with Golden State in the regular season.

On Sunday, May 3, the Warriors open their Western Conference semifinal series with a 101-86 victory over Memphis. Ten different Warriors score in the victory, and while the Grizzlies have their way in terms of the game’s pace (just under 90 possessions), the Warriors have a 1-0 series lead. However, in a rather surprising turn of events, the Grizzlies take the next two games behind the play of big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Memphis point guard Mike Conley is also instrumental to the team’s success, but he has just returned from facial surgery and averages just 11.3 points over four games after posting 22 in Game 2. Because of the Conley injury and improved shooting from Curry and backcourt-mate Klay Thompson, the Warriors take Games 4, 5, and 6 to win the series four games to two. This effort is capped off by a 32-point performance from Curry and a 70-foot shot that goes down as one of the best in the Playoffs. The Warriors have been pushed, but they move on to the Conference Finals.

The Cavaliers open their series against the Chicago Bulls on May 4. While Cleveland looks like a better team than Chicago, the absence of Love changes the tenor of the series. Love’s departure from the lineup seems to affect the Cavaliers most in Game 1, as the team shoots just 26.9% from three-point land in a 99-92 defeat. In Game 2, the Cavs flip the switch and win behind 33 points from James and a surprise 17 points on five threes from James Jones, one of LeBron’s Miami teammates brought to Cleveland to help change the team’s losing culture.

The next two games are two of the most entertaining contests of the NBA Playoffs. Game 3 goes back and forth until the final minute, when, with Chicago leading by three, midseason Knicks acquisition J.R. Smith hits a three with 11 seconds left to tie the game. This gives the Bulls the opportunity to have one final possession, and 2010-11 NBA MVP Derrick Rose uses it to bank a buzzer-beating game-winner over the Cavs’ defense and propel the Bulls to a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4 is held on Mother’s Day, May 10, and is equally as suspenseful as Game 3. Cleveland blows a seven-point lead with just over four minutes to go, and a Rose layup over James’ outstretched arms ties the game at 84 with 8.4 seconds left. After a botched attempt at a final possession, the Cavaliers have the ball on an inbound with a second and a half left. James cuts to the near corner and drills a very long two-pointer over Jimmy Butler to sink the Bulls, tie the series at two games apiece, and return home-court advantage to the Cavaliers. Ironically, Cavs head coach David Blatt had drawn up a play in the previous timeout in which James would be the inbounder and not take the final shot; the superstar overruled his head coach’s judgment and drew up the final play of regulation for himself.

In Game 5, the Cavaliers nearly squander a 15-point fourth quarter lead but survive a late Chicago comeback to take a 3-2 lead. Game 6 would be the least competitive of the series, as the Cavaliers use a 25-13 second quarter to defeat Chicago by 21 and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the other Western Conference semifinal, the Clippers take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets. Many are enthralled with a potential Clippers-Warriors Conference Final, as the two teams have a rivalry that dates back to before both teams were championship contenders. In a stunning turn of events, though, the Clippers blow their 3-1 series lead and the Rockets advance to the Conference Final, setting up a matchup of the top two vote-getters in the MVP race; Curry wins the award on May 4 with Houston’s James Harden finishing second and LeBron James finishing third. The ultra-disappointing loss for the Clippers is Game 6, one that saw them lead by as many as 19 points late in the third quarter.

The Warriors win the Conference Final series against Houston in a fairly incident-free five games; Games 1 and 2 come down to the final possession, but Houston’s blown opportunities in both games come back to haunt them in the rest of the series. Curry outplays Harden for most of the series and the rest of the Warriors do likewise to the Rockets. The Warriors advance to their first NBA Finals since 1975, the year a Rick Barry-led Warrior group defeated the Wes Unseld, Phil Chenier, and Elvin Hayes-fronted Washington Bullets.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers are matched up with the 60-win Atlanta Hawks. Despite Love’s absence and Irving’s left knee tendonitis that keeps him out of Games 2 and 3, the Cavaliers absolutely dominate the series en route to a four-game sweep. James averages 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in the series, including a 37-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist performance in Game 3 with Irving out of the lineup.

The Cavaliers and Warriors are set to meet in a potentially-thrilling NBA Finals. Will Irving’s injury allow him to be at full capacity for a long series against Curry and the Dubs?

Path to a Trilogy, Chapter II: To Fit In Or Fit Out?

Ken Blase/USA Today Sports

Welcome to Path to a Trilogy, where we re-examine recent NBA events that have led to the Cavaliers and Warriors appearing in three straight NBA Finals. This series will be composed of several entries and will continue into the 2017 NBA Finals if necessary. Happenings of the past are written in the present tense, as they happened, to create a more vivid portrait of the NBA landscape as it was at the time the events took place. 

In Chapter II, we examine the initial struggles of the Cleveland Cavaliers as they adapt to life with LeBron James, Kevin Love, and new head coach David Blatt. We also take a look at the dominance of the Golden State Warriors under their first-year head coach, Steve Kerr. Chapter I of Path to a Trilogy can be found here.

Without further ado, this is Chapter II of Path to a Trilogy. Hope you enjoy.

Heading into the 2014-15 NBA season, much is made of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their new “Big Three” of Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and, of course, native son and local hero LeBron James. Many are also curious about the adaptability of head coach David Blatt, who is coming off leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to a shocking EuroLeague title; one NBA general manager tells that Maccabi was “outgunned at every position except coach.” However, he is about to embark on the toughest challenge of his entire coaching career: jumping to the NBA and coaching arguably the most talented roster in the league. Also, it is fair to wonder if he can cast his ego aside and work with James, one of the more famously strong-willed stars in sports.

Early on, the new-look Cavaliers struggle with their new way of being as Blatt tries to institute his well-renowned Princeton offense. In the first game of the season, which quickly turns into James’ own personal homecoming, Cleveland loses 95-90 to the New York Knicks; New York goes on to win just 17 games that season. The Cavaliers, and particularly their prized acquisitions, aren’t on the same page, and as it’s later disclosed, aren’t fully healthy, either. James misses eight games between December 30 and January 11 with back and knee injuries, and his team goes just 1-7 in that span, a period that included losses to non-playoff teams such as the Hornets, 76ers, and Kings. Also included in that time frame is a 112-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors on January 9. Part of the problem is that the Cavs are playing under a microscope many of their players are unaccustomed to; after all, Irving and Love, to this point, have never appeared in a playoff game.

Cleveland craters in James’ first game back from injury, as a 107-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns drops them to 19-20 on January 13. This game truly represents rock bottom for the Cavaliers; while James pours in 33 points in nearly 37 minutes, Love and Irving contribute just eighteen points while collaborating to shoot a combined 7-for-25 (28%). After this, though, Blatt’s team pulls it together, winning twelve games in a row in a three-week span from January 15 to February 5; the final win of this run is an impressive 105-94 home victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in a nationally televised Thursday night game on TNT. The streak ends the next night with a loss to James’ old playoff nemesis, the Indiana Pacers. Love has quite possibly the worst game of his season, scoring just five points and making two of his eight shots from the field.

On February 7, the night after that game and the night before another nationally-televised game against the Los Angeles Lakers, James takes to Twitter and sends out this message, which many interpret to be a thinly-veiled shot at the struggling Love:

While the Cavaliers destroy the ailing and undermanned Lakers the next day, virtually all of the discussion is about James’ tweet. Sure enough, after the win, James seemingly confirms that his tweet was directed in the general direction of the former Timberwolves star; Love had previously spoken about “fitting out” in the preseason. Still, even with the drama and social media finger-pointing, the Cavaliers are playing their best basketball of the season and continue to do so for the rest of the year. One of their best wins of the season is a 110-99 home win over the Warriors on February 26. The team loses just eight games over the course of the season’s final two months to finish the year at 53-29 and in second place in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors do not have nearly this much drama or adversity, as they win 21 of their first 23 games and never look back. The team completes an outstanding season, the first for newly-minted coach Steve Kerr, at 67-15 and at the top of the Western Conference. The Warriors’ consistency is so impressive that they never lose more than two games in a row at any point in the regular season. Players such as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes all have, to this point, the best seasons of their career. Curry’s year stands out in particular, as he emerges as a potential candidate for Most Valuable Player; the award becomes a two-horse race between Curry and Rockets guard James Harden. Curry also breaks his own record for three-pointers made in a season with 286 in 80 games. He emerges as one of the most popular players in the NBA, and some even argue that he has supplanted James as the face of a league awash in young stars.

Slowly but surely, the Warriors capture the public’s imagination with their exciting and unselfish style of play; Kerr has instituted a system that allows the Dubs to rank first in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage and assists. The Warriors are far and away the league’s best team in the regular season; the second-best team by record, the Atlanta Hawks, win 60 games but are viewed as overachievers who have defied odds and, frankly, the law of averages for a full season. The Warriors, on the other hand, are believed to be every bit as good as their 67 wins would suggest.

The Golden State Warriors are the West’s best team in the 2014-15 regular season. And while they have endured a tumultuous regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the favorites heading into the Playoffs to come out of the East. The Cavaliers and Warriors are on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals, but can injuries or other teams block the impact before it occurs?

Path to a Trilogy, Chapter I: The Summer of 2014

John Locher/Associated Press

Welcome to Path to a Trilogy, where we re-examine recent NBA events that have led to the Cavaliers and Warriors appearing in three straight NBA Finals. This series will be composed of several entries and will continue into the 2017 NBA Finals if necessary. Happenings of the past are written in the present tense, as they happened, to create a more vivid portrait of the NBA landscape as it was at the time these events took place. 

In Chapter I, we take a closer look at the summer of 2014, one that saw Cleveland and Golden State change head coaches after disappointing seasons the year before. The biggest move of the summer, though, did not take place on the bench but rather in free agency. 

Here is Chapter I of Path to a Trilogy. Hope you enjoy.

The date is May 3, 2014. The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are set to face off in Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

This first Saturday in May is the epilogue to one of the craziest weeks in the history of the NBA. Five of the eight first-round series go the distance in these playoffs, but that isn’t the main story in the league at this time. The real headline-grabber in league affairs is newly-minted commissioner Adam Silver’s lifetime ban of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who had been revealed by a TMZ-obtained audiotape on April 25 to have made racist and incendiary remarks to a mistress by the name of V. Stiviano. Sterling was upset at Stiviano for posing for a picture with Lakers legend and African-American Magic Johnson; the conversation was believed to have been recorded in September of the previous year.

The Clippers and Warriors play in Game 4 of their series on April 27, just two days after the tape was published on TMZ’s website. The Clippers wear their warmup uniforms inside-out to avoid association with their owner and make the statement that they play for themselves and not an organization run by an apparent racist. Both teams wear black armbands in solidarity and unity against the statements made by Sterling. However, a clearly distracted Los Angeles squad gets pummeled, 118-97.

Two days later, Commissioner Silver holds a press conference at the league’s New York City offices and announces in an unprecedented move that Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA, effective immediately. The move is praised by many both inside and outside the league, but some wonder whether or not the league overstepped its bounds in punishing Sterling after the release of a privately-recorded conversation. Teams such as the Clippers and the Kevin Durant-led Thunder, which had floated the idea of boycotting games, continue on with the playoffs as usual. The Clippers and Warriors split the next two games, leading to a deciding Game 7 in Los Angeles on the first Saturday in May.

The game is competitive throughout, but Golden State holds a 64-56 lead at halftime. The Clippers come back in the second half and outscore the Warriors 70-57 in the second half to win the game by five. A balanced Clipper offense sees four players (Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick) score 20 points or more. Steph Curry leads the Warriors with 33 points while Draymond Green chips in another 24. A Golden State team that had reached the second round of the NBA Playoffs the year before is clearly not quite ready to contend for an NBA championship, even with one of the most talented rosters in the league and one of the best jump-shooting backcourts in NBA history.

So, for those reasons and also for fostering a dysfunctional atmosphere with the organization, the Warriors’ front office decides to move on from head coach Mark Jackson. Jackson, who had reached the playoffs in two of his three seasons at the helm of the Warriors, is, from the outside, respected for his ability to turn the organization around and turn Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson into two of the best players at their positions in the league. However, this nugget from ESPN’s Zach Lowe, which speaks about Warriors center Festus Ezeli, would suggest otherwise:

When Ezeli was injured last season, Jackson and his staff told the healthy players that Ezeli was cheering against them — so that he would look good, according to several team sources. Players confronted Ezeli in a meeting, and he wept at the accusation — which he denied.

That series of events, as well as several others, likely led to the demise of Jackson as an NBA head coach. The Warriors are said to prioritize two candidates in their search for a new coach: former Heat and Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy and TNT analyst Steve Kerr, who also worked as general manager of the Phoenix Suns from 2007-2010. Their search quickly zeroes in on Kerr, who has no coaching experience before being pursued by the team in the offseason. There’s one problem: the New York Knicks are also interested in Kerr for their head coaching vacancy. In order to ensure that Kerr, who maintained relationships with Warriors owner Joe Lacob and president Rick Welts, both colleagues of his from his time in Phoenix, the front office offers him a 5-year, $25 million contract, which he accepts on May 15. It is later reported that the Knicks lost out on Kerr because owner James Dolan only offered him three years and $13 million. Another purported influence on Kerr’s decision to spurn the Knicks and head west? Marv Albert. Yes.

The Warriors have a rather quiet summer, bringing in Nets guard Shaun Livingston as their only major player acquisition. But how were things in Cleveland, Ohio, at the same time this was happening?

Answer: very different. A team that used the number one overall pick on relatively-unknown UNLV product Anthony Bennett in the 2013 draft is expected to take a step toward contention behind point guard Kyrie Irving and second-time Cavalier head coach Mike Brown. Instead, the 2013-14 Cavs do the exact opposite, going 33-49 and firing Brown after just one season in his second stint as head coach. 14 different players start a game for an injury-riddled team that starts the season 4-12 and never gets within four games of .500 after December 13. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert fires Brown on May 12. In a critical move, though, Gilbert retains embattled general manager David Griffin, who was heavily criticized for drafting Bennett, who would average just four points and three rebounds per game in what would be his only season with Cleveland.

The Cavaliers would need to fill their coaching vacancy after one of the more disappointing seasons in franchise history. They do receive good news on May 19, as the franchise surprisingly wins the NBA Draft Lottery for a second straight season. They do so behind good luck charm Nick Gilbert; the son of the Cavs’ owner represents the team at the Lottery and has a condition called neurofibromatosis, which permits tumors to form in his brain and other parts of his nervous system. Nick has represented the Cavaliers at the Draft Lottery every year since 2011, including a stretch in which the franchise gets the number one pick in three of four drafts (2011, 2013, 2014). With the top pick, the organization closes in on Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, who is regarded much more positively in league circles than the aforementioned Bennett. With that decision just about predetermined, the team focuses on its head coaching search. As it turns out, they take an unconventional route that is similar to the Warriors’.

Cleveland’s head coaching search is far more methodical than Golden State’s, and it essentially boils down to three candidates: Clippers Associate Head Coach Alvin Gentry, Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue, and ex-Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt. Ultimately, Blatt wins the job, beating out Lue and Gentry. Gentry takes an offer to become the top assistant on Kerr’s bench in Oakland, a position that was offered to Blatt before he took the job in Cleveland. In a strange caveat, Lue, the runner-up in the Cavaliers’ coaching search, is hired by that same organization as Blatt’s top assistant. His contract of four years and $6.5 million makes him, at the time, the highest-paid assistant coach in NBA history.

Come draft time, Griffin and the Cavs front office surprise no one and take Wiggins with the top pick. The team’s fans and the organization are invigorated with the possibility of pairing Irving and Wiggins, two explosive playmakers who could make an immediate impact on the franchise’s recent misfortune. But the Cavaliers are not necessarily thinking about that in their selection of Wiggins.

They’re thinking about luring LeBron James, the best player in the league, back to his home state to play in Cleveland.

James played for the Cavaliers from 2003-2010 and grew up in Akron, Ohio, a mere 45 minutes away from downtown Cleveland. Under his leadership, the team went to the NBA Finals in 2007 but was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron never again reached the Finals in his first stint with the Cavaliers, and after a disheartening second-round exit in the 2010 NBA Playoffs, the superstar became a free agent. James had narrowed down his free agency decision to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat, and decided to announce his future in a 75-minute ESPN special titled “The Decision”. He chooses Miami over Cleveland, leading Cavalier fans to riot and burn his jersey in the streets of the city and surrounding suburbs. Gilbert writes a letter, engraved in Comic Sans font, on the Cavaliers’ website. The letter is written and published with very little thought; Gilbert accuses James of “deserting” Northeast Ohio in going to Miami and calls the television special, which raised $2.5 million for Boys and Girls Clubs of America, “narcissistic” and “self-promotional”. This, though, is the climax of the letter, as well as its least-thought-out statement:

You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

You have given so much and deserve so much more.

In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:


You can take it to the bank.

James wins titles with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013 and also appears in the NBA Finals every year from 2011-2014. The Cavaliers go 96-216 in the same time span. Essentially, both sides reject the notion of burning bridges in favor of the thought of napalming them. James stuns and disappoints his home state while Gilbert angrily immolates James mere hours after he leaves and sets the franchise up for massive failure without him.

But after all that, the Cavaliers feel they have a legitimate chance to pry the best player in the game away from South Beach. More importantly, they have the cap space to offer him a short-term contract that would offer him more money than the league’s max with increased leverage for James as the salary cap is expected to increase in the next couple of seasons. This leverage would be used not to leave Cleveland again, but rather to squeeze more money out of a front office that would have more room to work with under an expanding salary cap. The hypothetical had been foreseen by the Cleveland organization and became a legitimate possibility to the rest of the public with just one tweet:

The choice is simple for The King: stay with an aging cast of characters, including the injury-plagued Dwyane Wade and somewhat inconsistent Chris Bosh, or join a younger group in Cleveland with Irving and Wiggins (or another superstar) with a better chance to compete in the long run.

James also happens to be hosting a basketball clinic the same week he is to decide his NBA future, and while Broussard reports that Cleveland is his favorite, Miami still seems to make more sense; after all, James was not exactly given a hero’s sendoff upon leaving Cleveland and many thought that the wounds cultivated in “The Decision” had not yet healed in the span of four short years.

Ultimately, on July 11, 2014, five days after Broussard’s initial report, James put the speculation to rest and announced where he would be spending the next years of his life and possibly the final years of his NBA career:

In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

With James suddenly back in the fold and the Cavaliers suddenly thrust into the title hunt, the team looks at other ways to improve their team. With three number one picks on the roster (Irving, Bennett, Wiggins), the team has plenty of chips to use to acquire a star via a trade. Sure enough, the front office, which had given Irving a max extension ten days before James returned, closes in on Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves star power forward who has the ability to opt out of his contract in the summer of 2015. The teams work on a trade until Minnesota agrees to send Love to Cleveland in exchange for Wiggins and Bennett. Additionally, a third team, the Philadelphia 76ers, agrees to send Thaddeus Young and a trade exception to the Timberwolves.

With the trade finalized, the Cleveland Cavaliers have their “Big Three” and a serious chance at ending the 50-year championship drought for the city of Cleveland. The Golden State Warriors have a new head coach and new philosophies, but not much seems to have changed in Oakland. Will the changes in both organizations be enough to lead them into contention for an NBA championship?

European Soccer Leagues Don’t Need a Playoff System

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

On Sunday, the English Premier League season came to a close with little to no fanfare.

Chelsea, which had already clinched the league title, defeated bottom-feeding Sunderland 5-1; Sunderland had already clinched relegation with a last-place finish that saw the team attain just 24 points in 38 matches. Sunderland had known this would be their fate after a 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth on April 29, three weeks before the end of the season. Chelsea clinched the Premier League title in their third-to-last game of the year, with a 1-0 win at West Brom. Because the league does not hold an end-of-season playoff tournament, the leader of the standings, or as it’s known in England, the “table”, is crowned league champion.

The only suspense on Sunday would be whether or not Liverpool could finish in the top four of the standings and earn promotion into the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s most elite soccer tournament. Any drama surrounding that game would be easily extinguished, as the Reds scored three goals in ten minutes of game time between the first and second half to pull away with a 3-0 home victory over Middlesbrough. Liverpool will have to win a playoff game to make it through to the group stage of the Champions League, but they will compete for Europe’s top crown, booting Arsenal from the Premier League’s top four for the first time since the 1995-96 season.

The final day of the regular season, otherwise known as “Championship Sunday”, was a complete dud. The other two relegated squads, Hull City and Middlesbrough, had already clinched those outcomes heading into the last game of the season. What had the potential to be a scintillating day of football turned into a Chelsea coronation with very little relevant tension in the final table. Today, the noticeable lack of suspense in the Premier League’s final days has begged this question:

Does the English Premier League need a playoff to obtain relevance and excitement for the end of the regular season and beyond?

Currently, the league crowns its champion based on the results of the regular season. There have been a handful of instances recently where the outcome of the league has come down to the final day of the season, the most famous one being the unforgettable finish between Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers in 2012. Manchester City was down 2-1 in stoppage time before scoring to tie the game. Needing a win and three points to win the league from bitter rival Manchester United, this happened:

The drama of the moment was completely perfect: Manchester City scores two goals in the last five minutes of the game, snatches the title out of Manchester City’s grasp, and very nearly relegates the team they defeat (at the time, QPR could have been relegated, but teams losing below them allowed them to stay in the league for another year).

In general, though, finishes like the 2012 Championship Sunday have been more of an exception than a rule. More often, one team wins the league title by a comfortable margin; we’ve seen this the past three years with teams like Chelsea and Leicester City winning the Premier League by anywhere from seven to ten points. The league places a lot of emphasis on the regular season and particularly Championship Sunday, and when there’s little to nothing for most teams to play for, there is little to no reason to watch.

Because of that, many people have advocated for the league to enact some sort of playoff system, most likely comprising the top four teams in the league. Truth be told, I was triggered to thinking about this by this tweet I saw during Liverpool’s win yesterday:

I began to think about the potential pros and cons of a playoff system for the Premier League and other leagues in European soccer, and how a playoff system would change the state of affairs for several teams as well as the way regular-season games are played.

The clear upshot of a playoff system in European soccer would be the financial boon it would represent, both for the league and television networks. Teams that would hypothetically host playoff games would earn lots of money from ticket and merchandise sales, while the league itself would earn more money simply by having additional games. Also, there would be an added layer of drama that the regular season cannot have. With a playoff format, particularly a single-elimination one, every play, foul, save, and managerial decision is magnified. The United States’ Major League Soccer has this with their MLS Cup, but they are an outlier when it comes to a postseason tournament.

But, in thinking about this for a day or so, this is what I kept coming back to: how could you argue with a system that rewards the best team for winning 100% of the time?

No matter what you think of something like, say, March Madness, you can admit that a team like South Carolina was not one of the best four teams in college basketball this season. Alas, they went to the Final Four in Phoenix, showing just how easy it is for a team in any sport to go on a run come the postseason. The same is true with the 2011 New York Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl after winning all of nine games in the regular season. Playoff tournaments are fun and exciting, but the team that dominates the regular season isn’t always the team that takes home the trophy.

A hypothetical playoff tournament for any European soccer league would have to be a one-and-done, single-elimination format; after all, soccer players run roughly six to eight miles in a game and subjecting themselves to that three or four times a week in a potential series would be inhumane. Also, the game of soccer is generally a little more random, meaning that an arbitrary bounce or call could decide the outcome of a game. While this would make for some very exciting television, it doesn’t necessarily ensure that the best team always wins.

Take the NBA as an example. While many have griped about their playoff format, it is designed to ensure that the best team just about always carries home the hardware. That’s why we are about to have Cavaliers-Warriors III in the NBA Finals; Cleveland and Golden State are the two best teams in the league and no one has risen to meet their respective talent levels. This is similar to how no team in the Premier League rose to meet the excellence of Chelsea this season. While you may not like it, the best teams are winning in both sports, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.

One final note: Chelsea finds itself in the FA Cup final on Saturday and will play Arsenal. This June, eight international teams will descend upon Russia for the Confederations Cup, one of the final tune-ups before the 2018 World Cup. As a practical matter, it would be very hard to ask European players to compete in a postseason for their club teams without those clubs sacrificing games on the original schedule, something very few sports owners are willing to do. This makes it all the more difficult to schedule a playoff because players need their rest. Therefore, the regular season would need to be truncated, something that would also be a very hard sell on soccer owners across Europe.

In the end, I’m just fine with a fair, if less-than-compelling, way to decide a league champion. Chelsea was the best team in the Premier League this season, and they deserved to win the league.

After all, in the Premier League and across European soccer, the best team is always crowned champion. Since when was that ever a problem?

The Media Is Enabling LaVar Ball’s Charade

Richard Maxson/USA Today Sports

Don’t worry, this article is not going to have to do with the full-fledged category 5 hurricane of a crazed AAU dad that is LaVar Ball. This is going to be about how the media let his antics become as legitimate and important as they have.

If you’re unfamiliar with who LaVar Ball is, 1) you’re probably better off and 2) he is the father of UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, who is very likely to hear his name called in the top two or three picks of next month’s NBA draft. Lonzo is, by all accounts, a quiet, respectful young man who is laser-focused on improving his game. LaVar is quite the opposite: a loud, bombastic father who is willing to beat his own drum just as much as, if not more than, he’s willing to promote his sons.

Chances are you’ve seen LaVar across the sports media landscape over the past few months, from FS1 to ESPN’s First Take and beyond. In the past, he has made comments to the press that can best be described as annoying, bizarre, and delusional. Recently, Ball’s quotes and actions have taken a turn toward offensive and indefensible. What’s even more interesting is that LaVar has something called the “Big Baller Brand” which sells apparel inspired by LaVar’s three sons. This is taken from the “About Us” section of Big Baller Brand’s website:

BIG BALLER BRAND is a Lifestyle Apparel company founded on core family values, and inspired by the 3 Ball brothers from Chino Hills, California.
Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo Ball are basketball players with Championship pedigree. We are always striving for excellence through strong work ethic, passion, and commitment to win as a team. Our company goal and purpose is to deliver the same qualities into the brand. We are dedicated to produce the highest quality products to build brand loyalty.
Our mission is to provide a clothing line that is a reflection of what every Big Baller in the world expresses through what they wear. Trust Big Baller Brand as a Lifestyle for the latest in apparel fashion and design for any occasion. Welcome to our family.

The statement says that the three sons have championship pedigree; none of them have played in the NBA and LaMelo is 15 years old. Also, that same championship pedigree is what may or may not have gotten the sons’ Chino Hills High School coach, Stephan Gilling, fired after this past season; Gilling said he was relieved to be done as Chino Hills’ head coach and deserves a civilian award for dealing with LaVar for an entire season. Now, the eldest Ball is making headlines for what he thinks of his and his son’s abilities.

Recently, many writers and pundits have come around to the fact that Ball is really a loud-mouthed blowhard who can’t back up his braggadocio with anything more than being Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo’s dad. This is the problem: by having him on television, major sports networks seem to be legitimizing LaVar Ball and his outrageous statements. This week, Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz wrote about just how willing certain networks are to have him on their air and promote his craziness:

Well, if there’s no place for that in TV, it’s interesting that FS1 has done so much more to promote Ball than anyone else to date. They’ve given him eight TV appearances and five podcast/Periscope appearances in just over two months and tweeted about him at least 105 times (from the official FS1 account and the official accounts of three of their shows). By contrast, ESPN appears to have had him on TV three times, on radio once, and mentioned him a combined 37 times between @FirstTake, @ESPN and @SportsNation.

105 times in two months! Just to reiterate, this is the same guy who once averaged all of two points per game at Washington State.

That’s the issue with his sudden fame and his appearing on FS1 every five minutes. LaVar Ball is famous because he says so; he’s the basketball world’s version of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian rolled into one. The way to combat Ball’s growing fame is to not give him a platform to say stupid stuff on such a regular basis. Sure, media types can rant and rave about the things LaVar Ball says and does. But, after all, who is giving Ball the platform to say those things? The media. Kristine Leahy, the Fox Sports anchor LaVar told to “stay in her lane”, said Thursday that the show she co-anchors, The Herd, should not allow Ball back on the show. The problem is that by saying, as Leahy did, that there’s “no place for that on TV”, she is indirectly criticizing her employer for having him on its air in the first place, which could lead her into trouble with the network. Her choice is this: accept Ball’s bravado and move on with a guilty conscience or criticize Ball and her network, the same network that tweeted about him 105 times in the span of two months.

This ultimately comes down to network executives and what they value. There are currently plenty of important stories in the sports world; Tom Brady’s potential undocumented concussion, the NBA suddenly consisting of only two great teams, and Enes Kanter’s detainment in Romania, to name a few. These and others are the stories that should really matter, not the one where someone’s father brags about his basketball abilities or broaches the subject of Kyrie Irving’s deceased mother when boasting about his son.

I believe that sports networks may have reached their wit’s end with Ball’s antics, particularly after his most recent controversies. That is generally how it goes with suddenly famous public figures or stories. However, Ball’s comments on show X make person Y more likely to tune into show X the next day. Also, a show like First Take will happily welcome Ball because he can make someone like Stephen A. Smith, the guy who once threatened Kevin Durant on-air, look like the sane one in the conversation. That is not a small factor in how networks decide whether or not to book a loose cannon like Ball.

And let’s face it: there are plenty of viewers who will absolutely devour Ball’s nonsense like it’s candy. This is the same reason why CNN’s viewership increased by an average of 300,000 viewers per day since they doubled down on coverage of an airplane that no one could find. Everyone was making fun of the network’s coverage; heck, even the leader of the free world ridiculed them at the 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner:

I am happy to be here even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia – the lengths we have to go to to get CNN coverage these days.

That would seem like a large indictment of CNN’s integrity. But remember, their viewership increased 1.6 times in the span of a week, and the President mentioned the network completely of his own volition. That would be advantageous for the network’s sagging ratings going forward, just like Ball is for a network like FS1 that has lagged far behind ESPN’s ratings since its inception in 2013.

Again, the best way to handle someone as unpredictable and strange as LaVar Ball is to not give him attention he doesn’t deserve. What I’m saying is to take a page out of ESPN anchor and SportsNation host Michelle Beadle’s playbook:

That’s what has to be done here. When push comes to shove, how hard was that?

The patriarch of the Ball clan recently proclaimed that if you can’t afford his ridiculously expensive shoes, you’re not a Big Baller. But why is LaVar a “Big Baller” himself? Because he anointed himself as one.

And the way to refuse him the legitimacy of a real “Big Baller” is to deny him the platform to brag about himself and his children on an everyday basis.

An Appreciation of the Boston Celtics and Danny Ainge

Matthew Lee/Boston Globe

On May 3, 2013, the current state of the Boston Celtics would have seemed unimaginable to even the team’s most ardent fans.

That night, the Celtics lost Game 6 of their first-round series against the New York Knicks and were eliminated from the playoffs. Two-thirds of Boston’s so-called “Big Three” (Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) were still with the organization while the other member (Ray Allen) had left before the start of the season to join the Miami Heat. Pierce was under contract for one more year while Garnett was locked up for another two; however, with the team’s decline from championship contender to fringe playoff team, Celtics’ GM and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge would have a decision to make: ride out the length of their contracts or deal them to a team crazy enough to give up key assets for their services. At the same time, the front office needed to figure out what to do with coach Doc Rivers, who would have been less than willing to endure a rebuild and wanted more organizational influence; Boston later responded by dealing Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2015 protected first round pick. Still, the situation remained with Pierce and Garnett.

As it turns out, the Brooklyn Nets were willing to help out the Celtics with their dilemma.

On June 28 of that year, the Nets acquired Pierce, Garnett, and Jason Terry in exchange for several role players, the most notable of whom being Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. Here’s the kicker: the Nets also sent their first-round picks for 2014, 2016, and 2018 to Boston, as well as the right to swap picks this year, something the Celtics are going to take advantage of in the draft lottery. However, both sides were happy: the Celtics got a truckload of draft picks while the Nets got three additional pieces they thought could help them win a championship; Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov proclaimed shortly after the trade that “the basketball gods smiled on the Nets”. Little did he know just how wrong he would be; Pierce and Garnett played just one season together in Brooklyn before the former signed with the Wizards in the summer of 2014 and the latter was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the 2015 trade deadline. Terry left the Nets and signed with the Rockets the next year.

The C’s predictably struggled in the 2013-14 season, winning just 25 games under first-time NBA head coach Brad Stevens. With just 23 games gone by in the next season and with the team sitting at 9-14, Ainge decided to trade star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for three players, including Jae Crowder. Crowder is currently a significant contributor to the Celtics’ success, as he has started all of the team’s playoff games in the last two seasons. At the time, the deal looked like a classic sell move from a team looking to slowly work back towards contention. In hindsight, it looks like a steal for Boston; Rondo played just 46 games in a Maverick uniform before signing with the Kings after the end of the season.

The move, though, didn’t pay off right away: the Celtics slumped to a 20-31 mark at the All-Star break and did not appear to be in playoff contention heading into the trade deadline. One team that was looking at self-improvement for a playoff push was the Phoenix Suns; the Suns had already dealt guard Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat after he demanded a trade because of disagreements with the front office and then-head coach Jeff Hornacek. The Dragic deal necessitated the team’s acquisition of Bucks shooting guard Brandon Knight. With Knight’s acquisition, Phoenix and general manager Ryan McDonough looked to remedy the team’s crowded backcourt situation, as the Suns had played with three starting-caliber guards in the rotation for the first half of the year. That led the organization to ship Isaiah Thomas to Boston in a three-team deal that spawned the Suns….. Marcus Thornton and Boston’s 2016 first round draft pick. Whoops.

The rest is more or less history; the Celtics went 20-11 to close out that season and went to the playoffs where they were quickly dispatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games. You may remember that series for this play but not much else. Ainge laid low over the summer of 2015 and over the remainder of the next season, as Boston’s most significant transaction was acquiring forward Amir Johnson in free agency. The Celtics continued to improve, and Thomas took over as the team’s starting point guard and undisputed face of the franchise. While the C’s lost in six games to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, the team was clearly ahead of schedule in their rebuilding process.

Last summer, Ainge and the Celtics front office made their biggest splash yet, signing star center Al Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract; Horford was part of the Atlanta team that defeated Boston the year prior. With Horford in the fold and the rest of the core together for another year, the Celtics took another leap, finishing with 53 wins and, in a down year for the Eastern Conference, the number one seed in the playoffs. While some posited that they were the worst one-seed the league has ever seen (wonder who that could be), the accomplishment was still noteworthy for a team that looked to be locked in a long-term rebuild at this same time just three years ago.

Now, the Boston Celtics find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals after defeating the Washington Wizards in a deciding game 7. Kelly Olynyk, a forgotten piece of the Celtics’ resurgence, went for a playoff-career-high 26 points, Thomas went for 29, and the Celtics moved on after a series in which the home team won every single game. This comes on the heels of Boston being down two games to none to the Rajon Rondo-led Chicago Bulls (yes, him again). Rondo missed the last four games of that series, all of which went to the Celtics.

It’s fair to argue that the Boston Celtics had lots and lots of luck in getting to this point. The Thomas trade, the Nets giving them most of their draft picks for half of a decade, the Bulls losing Rondo, etc. But it is impressive that Ainge and the Boston front office was able to rebuild the roster so quickly after having very little to work from not long ago.

Also, consider this: the Celtics could get the number one overall pick in tonight’s NBA draft lottery. Because the Nets (very dumbly) allowed Boston to swap picks this year and the Nets had the worst record in the NBA, the Celtics have a one-in-four chance to earn the top pick. And, because they have the most ping-pong balls in the lottery, Boston cannot pick any lower than fourth overall. Then, think about how loaded this year’s draft is; with the Celtics’ standing, they could end up with any one of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, DeAaron Fox, Malik Monk, or Jayson Tatum, all of whom could help the team from day one. And if they want to make a run at a championship for next year, they could draft any one of those players and trade him to a rebuilding team for a more established player or players, such as the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler or the Pacers’ Paul George. I’m not suggesting this would definitely happen, but it should be on the table when Boston makes their selection.

Also, this is not meant to suggest that Boston will defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Cleveland has shown itself to be the far superior team over the course of the season and so far in these playoffs, so it would be a major shock to see Boston come out on top in the series.

Nevertheless, it is an incredibly impressive achievement for a team that will earn a top-four pick in the draft tonight and open the Eastern Conference Finals at home tomorrow.

Sidney Crosby Is Suddenly the Face of the NHL’s Concussion Crisis

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Sidney Crosby is one of the National Hockey League’s biggest stars and most recognizable faces. Today, he’s also something else: the poster-boy of a concussion problem that has quietly plagued the league for years.

In the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Game 6 loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday, Crosby (who missed Game 4 of the series after suffering a concussion on May 1) took this hit against the boards. One can reasonably assume that this would trigger some type of concussion test, but you can judge for yourself:

For as critical as we often are towards football’s occasional concussion ignorance, Crosby likely would have been immediately entered into the concussion protocol if he played in the NFL. After all, the NFL was shredded for not forcing Cam Newton into its concussion testing after this hit, which, comparatively, doesn’t look nearly as bad as Crosby’s. Unfortunately, the Crosby debacle would be far from finished after the dangerous collision.

After Game 6, Crosby was asked by reporters whether or not team doctors evaluated him for a concussion during the game, and he responded in the affirmative. After Crosby was questioned, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked the same question and said that his star player wasn’t examined during the game. So the player, who may have been concussed, and the coach, who is responsible for the player, are sending two completely different messages about what happened. Not great, Bob.

This is where the problem arises. If you watch Crosby try to get up from his collision, he is very clearly slow to get to his skates and even uses the side boards to help him get back up. It would be reasonable to assume that the Penguins’ coaches could miss Crosby’s struggle as the action moved toward the defensive end of the ice. However, that is where the on-ice officials, and the league’s New York offices, are supposed to help the coaching staff and the injured player.

This year, the NHL revamped its concussion policies and added a comprehensive staff of league spotters in the league office to watch each game and specifically identify players who may have suffered head injuries. Additionally, the New York spotters work in conjunction with concussion spotters in the arena and game referees to identify potential concussions; the spotters and officials have the authority to force a player to leave the game if they exhibit signs of a possible head or neck injury. This is similar to the NFL’s protocol that forces players to be immediately removed from the game when they exhibit those same warning signs. While players can try to game the system, as Herm Edwards smartly noted, the NHL’s new policies seemed like a good start towards addressing a major problem in one of the most violent sports on the planet.

The catch here is that the entire system literally self-destructed in front of everyone’s eyes on Monday night. Crosby took his tumble, the spotter(s) didn’t force Crosby’s removal from the ice, Crosby didn’t pull himself out (and why would he), and the Penguins’ coaches didn’t seem to notice anything wrong with one of their clearly-shaken players. While it is clear that the NHL is invested in protecting its players from head injuries, the implementation of the system failed miserably in Sidney Crosby’s case.

Here is the issue that must be faced in this situation: is our collective outrage about the NHL’s handling of Sidney Crosby have more to do with concussions or Sidney Crosby?

For instance, if Trevor Daley was boarded and came up very slowly but was allowed to stay in the game, would we be this angry about it today? Chances are that answer is no. That’s just the way it is.

This is what John Mayer once said about comparing himself to Kanye West. It seems off-topic, but it’s relevant to what we’re talking about here:

Look, if I save a baby from a burning building and Kanye saves a baby from a burning building, there’s more Google news hits on Kanye. I’m fine with it.

Likewise, in this scenario, if Sidney Crosby gets violently concussed and Trevor Daley (who also plays on the Penguins) gets violently concussed, we are conditioned to react far more strongly to Crosby. And when both are permitted to stay in the game after suffering said collision and not acting like themselves, Crosby will receive far more attention and sympathy.

This story had all of the perfect elements to become a firestorm: a star player, visible and tangible signs of an injury, and negligence on the part of a major institution, one that has become a punching bag in recent years. But it’s entirely possible that the system has failed its players in the past, just like it’s plausible that many of the league’s players have gamed the new system this year.

This is the other dilemma: we are trained to criticize the NFL for just about everything (and justifiably so) because most of us care about and love football. While the Stanley Cup Finals drew eight million viewers for the series’ deciding game last year, the NFL considered an audience of 30 million for a Divisional round playoff game a disappointment. It’s not like there aren’t people interested in hockey in the United States. But if a tree falls in the forest and ESPN isn’t around, does it really make a sound?

Because so many of us watch and care about football, we are more likely to talk about Cam Newton’s bell-ringing than Sidney Crosby’s. And we’re more likely to destroy the concussion policies of Roger Goodell than we are those of Gary Bettman because we are more familiar with Goodell’s power-wringing and overall character than we are with Bettman’s.

This is the thing: while the NHL has implemented comprehensive policies to protect its players, their protocol failed one of the most recognizable faces of the sport in its most-viewed period of the season. While good things can come of this, such as increased concussion awareness and a microscope on the NHL’s handling of head injuries, we need to seriously ask ourselves how we will react when something like this happens to someone like Radim Vrbata.

I’m sure most of you don’t even know who Radim Vrbata is. Just know that he wouldn’t be treated with the same attention as Sidney Crosby, the new face of the NHL’s concussion crisis.

We Need To Stop Taking LeBron James for Granted

John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports

It is no secret that LeBron James is still, even at 32 years old, the best basketball player alive. His sustained excellence has been somewhat improbable, as he is in his 14th season in the league and has logged nearly 50,000 career minutes between the regular season and playoffs. One would think that he would start to either slow down or break down over time; after all, he’s already logged more minutes than Michael Jordan and he retired two separate times in his career. James hasn’t had that luxury, but it still hasn’t mattered.

If anything, LeBron James has improbably improved this season.

As a general rule, though, we as basketball fans have gotten bored of LeBron James. We’ve become used to the ridiculous alley-oop-off-the-backboard finishes, the absurd passes, the left-handed, Olajuwon-esque post moves, and the chasedown blocks to win championships. We regard him casually willing his team to an NBA title, the first professional sports title in 50 years for his city, the city of Cleveland, as commonplace. Now, he’s having the best playoff performance of his storied career. Guess what? He’s still not getting the recognition he deserves.

The reason why there has been such a muted reaction (or, more accurately, no reaction) in the media has been because we have come to expect this from James. From the time he was in high school, the expectations on LeBron have been sky-high; if you don’t believe me, he and his St. Vincent-St. Mary squad took on top-ranked Oak Hill Academy on national television in December 2002 at the start of James’ senior year. James was also on the cover of Sports Illustrated in February of that year at the age of seventeen; he was mentioned in the accompanying article as the heir to Michael Jordan before he could even vote. It’s easy to see that bizarre and outright nutty expectations have followed LeBron James in every level of his basketball life.

And yet, somehow, someway, he has almost always surpassed those expectations. This season, and particularly the playoffs, has been no different.

The problem is that every time James falls short of any expectation of him, realistic or not, he is criticized mercilessly by fans and pundits alike. Even when he does come up big, his loudest critics say, well, very stupid things. There are some people (cough, cough, Skip Bayless) who will literally go to any and all lengths to discredit James’ accomplishments over the course of his career. And even when he does succeed, those same people will still be there to find a way to delegitimize his successes.

That is why we need to stop trying to smear LeBron’s career and appreciate what he has done. So far in these playoffs, he’s averaging a staggering 34.3 points per game and has posted a 126 offensive rating, a postseason figure Michael Jordan only achieved once. Jordan may very well have been the greatest playoff performer in NBA history, but James is entering territory that was previously uncharted.

And just think about how consistently great LeBron James has been over the course of his fourteen-year career. James has averaged at least five rebounds, five assists and 20 points per game every year he has been in the NBA. Remember how much has changed in the league since LeBron entered the league; eleven days before James was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the then-New Jersey Nets in six games in the NBA Finals. Since that time, the Nets moved to Brooklyn, the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder, the New Orleans Hornets became the New Orleans Pelicans, and six teams have moved into new arenas. Virtually the only constant in the NBA over that time period? LeBron James.

He’s been legitimately amazing for fourteen years. His greatness has spanned over two decades, countless pop culture fads, and three United States presidents. On the day he made his regular season NBA debut, the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was Baby Boy by Beyonce and Sean Paul. Last week, it was Humble by Kendrick Lamar. In the fourteen years between Beyonce and K-Dot topping the charts, LeBron James has been consistently other-worldly at his craft.

Of course, there will come a time when James is not the player he is now. He will reach a breaking point sooner or later (unless he’s superhuman, which I’m not entirely convinced he isn’t). When he does, many more people will realize just how great he was; unfortunately, those same people aren’t able to appreciate just how special he is right now. After all, he’s currently toying with a whole franchise and, for that matter, an entire country.

It is very difficult to predict how much time LeBron James has left as the undisputed best basketball player on earth. What is known is this: we need to appreciate LeBron for how good he is right now, and we need to do so before it’s too late.