Why Cleveland Won the NBA Championship (and New York Did Not)

The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship. Meanwhile, neither the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets even managed to make this year’s playoffs, finishing in 24th and 28th place, respectively.

One wonders how it could be that New York City, home to arguably the greatest confluence of culture and intellectual capital in America, could nevertheless not produce world champion-caliber teams.

My theory: Cleveland is so boring that Cavalier players are able to concentrate on their game. In contrast, New York City has so much distraction that players cannot concentrate.

Consider the assessment by J.R. Smith when he was traded by the Knicks to the Cavaliers:

I think this is the best situation for me, ’cause there’s nothing but basketball. There’s nothing you expect but basketball. There’s nothing, there’s no going out, there’s no late nights. There’s video games, basketball and basketball.

You see? Cleveland does not have the same pesky nightlife or culture or restaurant scene that New York has to distract J.R. Smith: all there is to do is practice basketball and play video games.

And he’s not the only former Knick to go to Cleveland and discover there was nothing to do. Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier felt similarly, as he said in a 1982 interview that, ironically, being traded to Cleveland was one of the best things to ever happen to him:

When you’re in New York and you’re riding the limelight, you don’t really know who you are: you think you do. So when I was traded to Cleveland I found out I didn’t really know myself, so I could say with eight inches of snow on the ground and no place to go you have to spend a lot of time soul-searching.

Is it true that Cleveland is objectively boring? Although it may be hard to quantify, consider the distribution of the nation’s hottest nightclubs. According to Nightclub & Bar’s most recent Top 100 list for highest revenue-generating nightclubs in the nation, New York City is home to eight, compared to one for Cleveland.

Then look at the other finalist this year, the Golden State Warriors, who won last year’s championship. They play in Oakland, a city so unremarkable that even the franchise name does not disclose its location, and is home to no club on the Top 100 list.

And the semi-finalists this season were Oklahoma City, another uninteresting town with no club in the Top 100; and Toronto, which has respectable nightlife but also has complex and arcane provincial laws on alcohol sales that result in very few retailers being able to sell alcohol, and even then at marked-up prices. Ontario also has minimum price requirements for alcohol sold in bars and restaurants.

On the other hand, New York City’s nightlife has proved perilous for NBA players. Last season alone, Knick forward Derrick Williams was robbed of $750,000 worth of jewelry by two women he picked up at a club (where he was partying the night before a game), and forward Cleanthony Early was shot and robbed outside a strip club.

Visiting players can face the same peril, as when former Knick Chris Copeland, while a member of the Indiana Pacers, was stabbed outside a New York nightclub last year. Two Atlanta Hawks players he was with, Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic, were arrested for obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct, as well as resisting arrest in Sefolosha’s case. Sefolosha was accosted by four NYPD officers, who broke his leg in a questionable use of force. Charges were dropped on Antic with little explanation, and Sefolosha was acquitted. Perhaps the officers were “testilying” about his conduct to exonerate themselves.

And if you want more proof that New York City is too distracting, consider the Knicks’ star rookie Kristaps Porzingis: a stellar player, he lives with his family in White Plains. Being outside New York City, and also below the legal drinking age, Porzingis is not exposed to any tantalizing nightlife. Instead, he splits his time off the court between the Knicks training center and his home, where his mother cooks for him.

“He’s always practicing or on the road,” Porzingis’s older brother Janis told the New York Times. “He doesn’t go out at all. And it’s not even about whether he wants to or not – he simply can’t.”

“My family’s around to make sure I’m doing the right thing and staying out of trouble and focused on basketball,” said Porzingis.

In fact, when J.R. Smith first moved to Cleveland, he also had family keep him in line: he initially lived with his brother, who trained with him.

So if the Knicks or Nets ever want to win a championship, the key may be for players to move out of New York City and away from temptation. And maybe even live with their families.