The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a championship upset by coming back from down 3–1 in the NBA Finals, something no other team had done in 32 tries. From the first tip to the final whistle, the series had been Greek theater, but back in Cleveland’s locker room, the catharsis hit, and it was nothing but uproarious laughter and champagne splashes. Kevin Love, clad in an Austin 3:16 shirt, celebrated by crushing a couple brews and inefficiently funneling them into his mouth, à la Steve Austin. Fifteen or so hours and a stop in Vegas later, LeBron James triumphantly stepped off of the team jet in an “Ultimate Warrior” shirt. If it wasn’t the best troll job of his career, it was definitely top three, outdone by his Kermit-sipping-tea dad hat, which was probably top two. The wrestling imagery was loud and clear. Suddenly a strange quirk in LeBron’s pregame attire eight days before had come full circle.
Ahead of Game 5 of the Finals, LeBron diplomatically answered questions about noted sack-tapper Draymond Green, who had been suspended for the upcoming game. Then he learned that Klay Thompson had been running his mouth, and he briefly forgot his media training:
Since it happened, I’d been tossing around analogues for that bone-chilling, high-pitched chuckle. First, it seemed tantamount to the time in The Wire when Omar wet up Stinkum and Weebay while whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” On second thought, maybe it was more like the serial killer whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King” in Fritz Lang’s M. Actually, the appropriate comparison was right there this whole time:
At the time of the press conference, the Cavaliers were down 3–1 and looking like a lock for LeBron James’s fifth career Finals loss. James was The Undertaker lying flat on a ringside table at WrestleMania 32, and Golden State was Shane McMahon balancing himself overconfidently on the top rope. The NBA Finals had turned into a pro wrestling match, and in that press conference, we got our heel turn.
Over the next three games, LeBron personally dominated the Warriors like he was playing 2K on rookie mode, putting up a combined 109 points, 29 assists, and 35 rebounds. He elevated his teammates to win back-to-back-to-back elimination games. He also spiked a Steph Curry layup into the front-row seats and stared through Curry like he should’ve apologized for putting it up in the first place. We should’ve been charged pay-per-view prices.
Now, I’m not saying the Cavaliers broke a 52-year title drought because LeBron wore an Undertaker shirt, but … maybe? Say what you will about the ridiculousness of grown men turning the tides of a playoff series by buying into the idea of themselves as glistening gladiators in spandex, but the Cavaliers went 3–0 after James rocked that Undertaker shirt. When the series was presumed dead, the NBA’s version of the Phenom rose from the coffin, and he brought his team back with him.
And that’s real, even if wrestling isn’t.