The Pharoah and The King

“Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
John Blutarsky

I have only ever watched horse racing a handful of times in my life. Sometimes it will be the Kentucky Derby just because, but usually it’s the Belmont Stakes those times where there is a horse that is on the verge of winning the elusive Triple Crown. There is almost no reason why I should really care about these horses outside of the fact that I’ve been watching sports long enough to have it ingrained in me that this is something important. The Triple Crown’s importance, in large part, lies in the rarity of it.

Leading up to the race in NBC’s interminable coverage was a short little piece with interviews of various athletes from other sports who recounted the great satisfaction of finally winning the big event in their sport after years and years of working, failing, and waiting. They showed Dale Earnhardt Jr., John Elway, the New York Rangers, and the Boston Red Sox among others. This was applicable of course because the world of horse racing had been waiting 37 years for another Triple Crown winner.

If you have followed the coverage of the Triple Crown at all over the years you’ve heard the reasons for the drought. Horses are mostly bread to be sprinters now and the Belmont is a longer track. The winner of the Derby and the Preakness is typically a sprinter. The eventual winner of the Belmont is almost always a horse that didn’t race in the Preakness and is therefor fresher. Many horse racing enthusiasts and analysts had surmised over the past several years that we may never see another Triple Crown winner for these very reasons. It’s just too hard to win it. The deck is stacked against it.

Well, that clearly wasn’t the case. Because long droughts are meant to come to end.

It’s fair to say that American Pharoah captivated the nation yesterday afternoon. Maybe because I’ve had it drilled into me for 30 years that this is something of importance I was glued to the TV for those two and a half minutes and even made my three-year-old son stop what he was doing to watch, because he may never see another one of these in his lifetime. After being slow initially out of the box Pharoah charged to the lead and held it steady all the way through the final turn where he turned it on. And in the moment in the race where the horse who had run three races in five weeks should have yielded to fresher horses who hadn’t, Pharoah pulled away in was really a truly exciting moment. I didn’t know that I would care or get that excited until it actually happened.

But this is not a blog about horse racing. This is a blog about Cleveland sports, which has been mired in a losing drought even longer than that of the world of horse racing.

With the Cavaliers in the Finals that drought had as good a chance to end as any until Kyrie Irving went down early in overtime Thursday during Game 1 and was summarily ruled out for the remainder of the series with a broken knee cap. This news was met predictably with reaction that focused mostly on the Cleveland Curse or the general quip “Of course, because, well…Cleveland.” If Bill Simmons weren’t on hiatus we likely would have seen his typical “God hates Cleveland” tweet.

The national media has decided that the series is already. Cleveland just doesn’t have enough to win against a great team like Golden State. In their declarations of series finality they bemoan the loss of what could have been a great series as if it something they were robbed of. Never mind that Cleveland fans are being robbed of their first championship in over 50 years but whatever.

Do you think American Pharoah listened to all the “smart” people saying he couldn’t win the Belmont? Saying he was overmatched against horses fresher and bread to run longer. Do you think he listened? Do you think he cared? Did that keep him from getting into the box and running?

No. Because he’s a horse and horses don’t really know how process information like that, nor do they really care. Maybe his trainer figured out a way to convey to him what being a “stud” in the world of horse training is all about and that was his motivation for running like never before.

But the point remains! American Pharoah did what many thought could not be done, and won the Triple Crown. And just as the pharaohs of old ruled the ancient Egyptian empire, American Pharoah rules the empire of competitive horse racing.

Cleveland has its own pharaoh, only we call him the King.

And this is why the series is not over. This is why no declarations can be made. Because LeBron James, the King, still has a say in the matter.

The Warriors essentially told LeBron in Game 1 that he was going to have to beat them all by himself. They allowed their defenders to play him one-on-one with essentially no help at all for fear of him finding the Cavs’ open shooters out of the double-team. LeBron and the Cavs came up just short of pulling off the upset in Game 1 and you can bet that Steve Kerr will stick with that strategy for the rest of the series, especially with Kyrie out.

That’s an outright challenge to the greatest basketball player in the world. And now that everyone is telling him the series is already over after only one game, he’s been challenged even more.

You can’t do it all by yourself, LeBron. Steph Curry is the MVP, you can’t beat him this year. It’s one man against a whole team. You can’t win. It’s over.

I realize the odds are not in our favor. The Warriors have jumped out to -650 to win the series, a huge jump from just before tip of Game 1. Vegas, like the rest of the world, thinks this series is over.

But if there’s any player you want on your team for a situation where everything is going against him and his team, where you need one man to proverbially throw the team on his back and carry them to victory, its LeBron James.

Nothing is over until the King decides it is.

Always (deliriously delusional) Believeland.

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