LeBron James doesn't think the Cleveland Cavaliers have any rivals. Even after losing to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals, coming back from a 3-1 deficit against them in the 2016 Finals and throwing a Halloween party that featured Splash Brothers tombstone cookies, James insists that the Cavs' meeting with the Warriors on Monday is not a part of a rivalry.
"I don't think we have a rival in our game today," James said Sunday, via ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "We've had two great Finals appearances the last two years, but I had the same with San Antonio when I was in Miami. We weren't rivals. And I think I played those guys more, so I wouldn't look at it as rivals."
James went on to call Golden State "probably one of the best teams ever assembled," and called the Halloween shenanigans "far removed" and "water under the bridge."
This reminds me of when James said in December that a potential Finals rematch with the Warriors wasn't on his mind. When he said that, I thought it was a message to his own team, especially after Draymond Green declared that he wanted to "annihilate" the Cavs and Iman Shumpert decided to stoke the fire. James is too smart to not realize that there's some bad blood here, but he doesn't want to frame it as more than a matchup between two great teams. This is in line with his continual calls for Cleveland to focus on improving throughout the season rather than looking at what anybody else is doing -- he has enough experience to know that getting extra amped for big games can be harmful.
Essentially, it doesn't do James any good to publicly describe Golden State as a "rival," so he won't do it. That doesn't mean, however, that he isn't privately obsessing over how to beat the Warriors in a series, or that he didn't use their rise to prominence and Stephen Curry's back-to-back MVP awards as motivation. James surely respects Golden State, but he also took satisfaction out of reminding the world that he was still the best player in the world last June.
And then, you know, he threw the Halloween party.
Perhaps unaware of James' comments, new Cavs sharpshooter Kyle Korver said it feels like a rivalry to him, via ESPN. In saying that, he spoke for pretty much everybody who is paying attention to the NBA. These two teams have had incredible battles on the game's biggest stage, traded public jabs and are expected to meet in the Finals for a third straight time. Sounds like a healthy rivalry to me.