Poor Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr has taken a pounding in these playoffs. He has been the victim of yet another officiating conspiracy and his team’s postseason hopes have been, well, squeezed into a vice from which no one seems to have the strength to free themselves. In the span of a couple of nights he could have presided over an NBA title as an executive. Then the conspiracy kicked in again. Did the Warriors really do it? David Stern is one of the league’s doofuses who has had a hand in playing favorites in some of the game’s biggest tournaments. He and the refs may have colluded to screw the Warriors — that was the case in the Finals of 2015 — but the story is an interesting one. If the reports are true, then there’s something else at play. If the Warriors did do it, it’s not just “sour grapes.” They may have developed a working group of supportive referees willing to do their bidding. David Stern may have set it up.
It’s this working group that has led to the best way to help an NBA team win. Every player should take a seat and sign a piece of paper pledging that if they should lose (and thereby get eliminated by one of the other nine teams in the playoffs) they would return their jersey to the team’s trainer and assistant coaches. By doing so, the players will be inducted into the Cleveland Phenomenon Hall of Fame. Players who sign the pledge are actually fessing up. They are declaring “there but for the grace of God go I.” It might be tempting for superstars to take a cheap shot against a rival. There’s no motive for that, and no place for it. The mere threat of a backstabbing, pathological sense of entitlement would ruin the city’s beloved heritage. The entire Cleveland Phenomenon would be tarnished.
If there is a wrinkle in Cleveland’s strategy, it’s this: They’re enamored of LeBron James, so they don’t need him to lead this team. Losing James would be a devastating blow. James is a vast driving force, not just for the Cavaliers but for the NBA as a whole. As Cleveland’s coach, he has one job — to build the Cavaliers into the best team in the world. If they can’t win in the playoffs with him, they’re sunk. And if James were to think this was unfair, how could he go against his word? That would make people hate Cleveland. Imagine having to coach when the fans are seething.
No athletic program, let alone the game of basketball, could thrive like this without James. He’s created more than a city’s special feeling about itself, he’s put Cleveland on the map. So in fact, the city should feel secure in knowing it has two keys to a championship.