Eyes of the basketball world continue to focus on the NBA as the best-of-seven NBA Finals begin tonight.
The much-anticipated rematch of last year’s Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers has glitz, glamour, superstardom — and eight players who are finalists for the Team USA roster that will compete at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games in August.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala make the list for the defending champion Warriors, while LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love represent Cleveland.
The Olympic team will be pared down to 12 from the 31 finalists, making for some tough decisions for USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The Olympic preliminary round begins Aug. 6 at the Barra Carioca Arena.
Trying to predict the final roster can be perilous, but betting odds would favor Curry, the first unanimous NBA MVP in the league’s 61-year history of the award, and James, a global superstar in the first order since jumping to the NBA from high school in 2003.
Each team’s respective Big Three — Thompson and Green for Golden State, and Irving and Love for Cleveland — should be favorites as well. So, how do these trios stack up?
Let’s take a look!
Lighting Up The Board
Nobody in the NBA has drained 3-point shots like Curry — ever. He sank a league-record 405 treys at 45 percent shooting this season. Add his league-best 91 percent at the free throw line, and he averaged 30.1 points. Collectively, the Golden State trio averaged 66.2 points a game. James had 25.3 points a game and the Cleveland three racked up 60.9 a night.
Advantage: Golden State’s Curry, Thompson and Green
Cleaning The Glass
James is a 6-foot-8 forward who can play guard on the outside or crash the boards with the big men in the paint. He averaged 7.4 rebounds, which trailed his teammate Love at 9.9 a game. The Cavaliers threesome pulled down 20.3 rebounds a game, compared to the Warriors’ 18.7 per contest.
Advantage: Cleveland’s James, Irving, Love
LeBron James in his career has been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team five times, and named to the second team once. Green was named to the first team twice.
International Medal Tally
James has a clear advantage having played for Team USA for so long. He’s only the third men’s basketball player to appear in three Olympic Games, where he’s won two gold medals (2008, 2012) and a bronze (2004). Cleveland teammate Love also won a gold medal at the 2012 Games. None of Golden State’s big three have appeared in the Games. Add in the total medals won in other international world championships, and Cleveland has 11 medals (nine golds, two bronzes). Golden State has seven total medals (five golds, two silvers). Although, if you add Iguodala (2012 Olympic gold medal and 2010 world title), the race gets a bit tighter.
Lots of these players come from a lineage of good or elite athletes. Curry is the son of 16-year NBA veteran Dell Curry and the brother of former Duke star Seth Curry. Thompson’s father, Mychal Thompson, was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1978 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. Klay’s older brother made a brief appearance in the NBA (with the Cavaliers) and his younger brother, Trayce, is in the Chicago White Sox’s minor league organization.
For Cleveland, Irving’s father, Drederick, played basketball and had his jersey retired at Boston University. Love’s father, Stan, played for the Lakers and the Washington Bullets, and his aunt, Kathleen McCartney, won the 1982 IRONMAN triathlon and is in the U.S. Triathlon Hall of Fame. Not sports related, but Love’s uncle, Mike Love, is a member and co-founder of the Beach Boys.
Advantage: Come on, who can compare families?!
Michael Jordan Effect
Michael Jordan played for Team USA in 1984 as a collegian and on the 1992 Dream Team — the first Olympic Games where NBA players were allowed. Three of the eight players listed have ties back to Jordan.
For Cleveland, James said he’s always worn No. 23 because Jordan was his role model. Irving was co-MVP of a game for the East squad in the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic. For Golden State, Barnes’ middle name is Jordan. According to his biography, his parent gave him that name after Michael Jordan.
Advantage: When it comes to MJ, they’re all winners.
So, What Comes Next?
The Cavs and Warriors will determine the true winner on the court; the series could end as soon as next Friday or as late as Sunday, June 19, if it goes to Game 7. After that, attention turns to Rio.
Team USA will have training camp and a series of five international warm-up games played in the United States in late July and early August. In Rio, the Americans will look to add to their record of 14 gold medals in 17 Olympic Games appearances.
Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 18 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.