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After A Week's Break, NBA Finals To Begin Between Cleveland, Golden State

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Basketball fans are looking forward to tonight, the NBA finals tip off with the Golden State Warriors taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

They are the best teams playing their best basketball, and they are led by the game's reigning stars. Cleveland has four-time league MVP LeBron James up against this year's most valuable player, Steph Curry of the Warriors.

MONTAGNE: But for all that's right about these two teams, they both bring tortured histories to the finals. We will hear from Cleveland in a moment. First, NPR's Tom Goldman reports on Golden State's decades of woes.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: This has been a charmed season for the Warriors when practically everything's gone in the basket, metaphorically and literally.

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MIKE TIRICO: Curry flings it the other way - and he got it.

GOLDMAN: From Steph Curry's 70-foot heave during these playoffs, as heard on ESPN, to the 67-15 regular-season record, one of the NBA's best ever, to a style of play that's captivated NBA fans. This is longtime Bay Area sports journalist Ray Ratto.

RAY RATTO: They never had a bad day at work. And in sports, there are always bad days at work. It's been as perfect as a season can be.

GOLDMAN: But on the karma scoreboard, Ratto says this season's perfection only gets the Warriors back to even.

RATTO: Because that's how bad they were for as long as they were bad.

GOLDMAN: Just about 40 years of bad, and Ratto, a columnist for CSN Bay Area, has been a bayfront witness to it all. After the Warriors' 1975 championship, their last one, the team got to the conference finals the next season. And then, says Ratto, Golden State lost its footing.

RATTO: The Warriors made a series of horrific decisions that piled up on each other.

GOLDMAN: Bad drafts, bad trades, bad ownership.

RATTO: Until they basically made themselves monumentally irrelevant by the mid-'90s.

GOLDMAN: One playoff drought lasted 12 years - another, nine. Along the way, low points included the 1997 incident in which all-star Latrell Sprewell attacked and choked his head coach P.J. Carlesimo. More ignominy just three years ago at a ceremony honoring former player and fan-favorite Chris Mullin. Years of frustration by Warriors fans came tumbling down on owner Joe Lacob, who bought the team in 2010. He was booed lustily as he tried to introduce Mullin. Another Golden State legend at the event, Rick Barry, came to Lacob's defense.

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RICK BARRY: Come on people, show a little bit of class. This is a man that I've spent some time talking to. He is going to change this franchise.

GOLDMAN: Under Lacob, the Warriors did change. They made the playoffs in 2013 and '14. And now this shining season, where it's all gelled - a new head coach, Steve Kerr, who's clicked with his players, Steph Curry's launch into orbit and the combination of skill, lack of injuries and luck that championship teams need. Warriors fans, once frustrated, are now buoyant, even a little cocky. Robert Palimore of Oakland spoke outside Oracle Arena, the team's home.

ROBERT PALIMORE: We're going to make it look interesting, but it's going to be a four-game sweep easy. LeBron who? Championship, easy - Steph Curry with the shot, easy.

GOLDMAN: With that kind of attitude, Golden State fans might even cheer the owner. Joe Lacob laid low and stayed out of the celebration when the Warriors clinched a trip to the finals. He's now standing by and hoping to join in. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.