The 2016 NBA Finals will be remembered first and foremost for the final three games, when the Cleveland Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 series deficit to complete an unprecedented comeback against the greatest team in regular season history.
The three games were filled with plays and moments that will long be remembered by even the most casual of basketball fans: Kyrie Irving and LeBron James scoring 41 points apiece in Game 5; J.R. Smith tossing a no-look alley-oop pass to James in Game 6, followed soon thereafter by Stephen Curry tossing his mouthpiece at a fan and Ayesha Curry tossing conspiracy theories at the NBA; James blocking Andre Iguodala's layup attempt with two minutes to go in Game 7; and then, of course, an exhausted LeBron after the final buzzer had sounded in Game 7, alone on the ground with tears in his eyes.
But let us not forget, today or ever, that the turning point in the 2016 NBA Finals did not involve any of these things. It was not sentimental or beautiful, and it had nothing to do with a ball going through a hoop. No, the turning point of the NBA Finals involved one grown man hitting another grown man in the balls.
Laugh all you want, America! As childish and giggle-inducing as it might be, this is the reality of the situation we now find ourselves in: Draymond Green's decision to hit James in the balls with under three minutes to go in Game 4 changed the course of the NBA Finals more than any other single moment, allowing the Cavs just the smallest bit of breathing room, which they then capitalized on.
At the time Draymond Green hit LeBron James in the balls, the Warriors were up 10 and mere minutes away from going up 3-1. The series not only felt over, it was over. The Warriors would go back to Oracle Arena for Game 5 and finish off what had been a relatively easy series. There was no way the Cavs could win three straight against a complete Warriors team, but they wouldn't have to, for at that exact moment, LeBron James committed one of the most maniacally evil moves in sports history by stepping over Green, goading Green into the ball flick.
From there, everything spiraled out of control for the Warriors. In fact, after the flick, the Warriors would only play one more half with their entire core in tact. The league suspended Green for Game 5 as a result of the incident, allowing the Cavs just the smallest bit of breathing room with the league's best defender off the floor. The Cavs won, 112-97. The next game, the Cavs caught a break once again when Warriors center Andrew Bogut went down early in the third quarter with a leg injury and Iguodala started dealing with a bad back. The Cavs won, 115-101. In Game 7, Bogut was still nowhere to be found, allowing the Cavs to get into the paint much more easily than they otherwise would. And they won once more, 93-89, completing the first 3-1 comeback in NBA Finals history. The lesson seems clear: When life seems hopeless, have someone hit you in the balls.
LeBron James did everything he could to help the Cavs bring home the first championship in the team's history this year. He pulled together more points, more rebounds, more assists, more steals and more blocks than any player on either team. We should remember all that, of course. But that shouldn't mean we forget that LeBron James not only put his balls on the line for the city of Cleveland, but saved his team's season by doing so. And, come on, that's pretty funny.