It is the tale of two sports-mad cities starving for a championship that has long eluded them.
But at some point this month, the championship appetite for either Oakland and the Stephen Curry-led Golden State Warriors or Cleveland and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers will be satisfied by winning the NBA title.
The Warriors made it to the NBA Finals by dominating the Western Conference, finishing off the Houston Rockets in the conference finals in five games to put themselves in position to win the franchise’s first NBA championship in 40 years.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals by running roughshod over the Eastern Conference with a 12-2 postseason record that included a 4-0 sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, putting Cleveland in position to give the city its first major professional championship since 1964.
Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland at Oracle Arena, better known in the Bay Area as “Roaracle” because of the raucous fans.
“I think our fans think because we had the best regular-season record and we got to the Finals that of course we’re going to win,” Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry said. “But you’re playing for sure the greatest player in the game right now and arguably maybe the greatest player that has ever played the game.… He has such an impact on the game that any time LeBron is on the floor, he’s going to have a chance to win.”
Cleveland fans have suffered a championship drought since the Browns won the NFC Championship (pre-Super Bowl) in 1964.
But then last summer, James returned home to Cleveland after four years in Miami, bringing with him new hope for a championship.
James led the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals, where they were swept 4-0 by the San Antonio Spurs. Then he led the Heat to the last four NBA Finals, winning two.
“We’re happy that we got to this point, because anytime you get to the Finals, you always have the opportunity to win a championship,” Cleveland associate head coach Tyronn Lue said. “But we’re not satisfied, because the city has been here before LeBron left. LeBron made it to the Finals against San Antonio. Now it’s time to take that next step.”
The lengthy break before the first game will give both teams time to prepare and heal.
Golden State especially needs the break after the team confirmed Friday that All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson suffered a concussion from being accidentally kneed in the head by Houston forward Trevor Ariza in Game 5 of the conference finals.
The Warriors said Thompson won’t return to practice until he is cleared by doctors as part of the NBA’s concussion protocol.
Cleveland is also happy to get time off because All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving is still recovering from left knee tendinitis that forced him to miss Games 2 and 3 against Atlanta in the conference finals. Irving did start in Game 4 against the Hawks and scored 16 points, with five assists in 22 minutes.
But it’s the otherworldly skills of Curry and James that make this series so fascinating.
Curry, winner of the league’s most valuable player award, is considered the best shooter in the NBA, with his 29.2 points per game average in the playoffs indicative of his scoring abilities.
James, a four-time league MVP, is considered by many around the game as the best player on the planet. And he has carried the Cavaliers in the playoffs, averaging 27.6 points, 8.3 assists and 10.4 rebounds a game.
“To me, this year, watching Curry play, he was probably the most exciting and the most fun player to watch,” said Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who also coached in Cleveland. “And then you’ve got the King [James] down in Cleveland, who was about as dominating as any player in this league at this present time. But I think, defensively, Golden State is a little bit better, and that’s why I think they are going to win it.”