Around this time last year Matthew Dellavedova was settling in to start some summer reading. His choice was Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. I think through 3 games of the NBA Finals we all wish our summer reading would prove so useful or prophetic in our lives. I don't agree with everything Gladwell says in his book, but there are a couple of passages that speak to the Cleveland Cavaliers' current place and demeanor.
#NowReading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.Really good so far. Underdogs, misfits + the art of battling giants pic.twitter.com/z9opboJUgD— Matthew Dellavedova (@matthewdelly) June 8, 2014
These passages have become symbolic of the entire team when one might think that these old tropes apply only to Delly.
(If you don't have time or don't want to read David and Goliath in full, here is a 1 page cheat sheet. Shout out to Kevin Gao for breaking it down.)
(1) Gladwell says, "Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you've been through the tough times and you discover they aren't so tough after all."
The Cavs have been facing tough times since Kelly Olynyk dislocated Kevin Love's arm in the Celtics series. I pinpoint being down 2-1 in Chicago, after a Derrick Rose buzzer beating heave, as when Cleveland embraced their tough circumstances. The Cavaliers responded with 3 straight victories to proceed to the Eastern Conference Finals under that pressure. The last game of which served as Delly's best game of the series and his playoff career high (19 points) until Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
The next round had some pundits not believing in the newly configured Cavaliers but, the Cavs proved them wrong again. Cleveland dispatched the Hawks in 4 games which led us to where we are now. The Cavs had been thoroughly tested by Chicago and losing two of their All-Stars up until that point with Kyrie Irving's status so uncertain. The only parties that are not surprised by the gritty nature of these wins have been the Cavaliers themselves and their fans.
(2) Gladwell says, "Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of (these) one-sided conflicts. Because the act of facing overwhelming odds, produces greatness and beauty."
These special circumstances lend a special sheen to this Cavaliers Finals appearance. I walked past the television before the series and heard an avalanche of ESPN carnival barkers yelling that Golden State had already won. These last two wins have felt good because the Cavs have just shown up and played hard.
Dellavedova has become the poster child for beating the odds here in Cleveland. Somebody should tell him to become a motivational speaker after his playing career. I mean there would always be a market in Cleveland for him. But, the beauty of just getting it done should make all supporters of this team proud. It might have been "one-sided" at the beginning but the Cavs have made sure that it's become a dogfight.
(3) Gladwell says, "There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources- and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former."
There's no secret in the fact that the Cavs are making the most of what they have left. The absence of material resources, available players in this case, has led to the gritty identity that allows 98.7 points per 100 possessions. Things would be different if we were still the spacing led juggernaut that was laying waste to opponents with pure offense. Instead, the Cavs are winning ugly and that winning has come from doing more with less.
The Cavaliers have assigned a maximum of two-tasks to every player not named LeBron James. Everybody does their part, whether it's Tristan Thompson being asked to grab every rebound he can or for Delly to stick with Stephen Curry everywhere he goes. The lack of bodies has really spotlighted what makes each of these guys so special.
Tom Junod says in his review of David and Goliath that his main trick (called the Gladwell Feint) consists of, "In all of Gladwell's books, people succeed when they master a skill that seems inconsequential but turns necessary." Gladwell sets up his books to reveal that the obvious factors right in front of us are really important. I think that sentiment hits the nail on the head when looking at this Cavalier team. Early in the year everyone knew what the players' strengths were but, instead focused on their shortcomings. Now, we see those strengths are critical for success on the biggest stage.
But as Junod writes, "But that's not the Gladwell Feint. The Gladwell Feint in David and Goliath is that the book is not really about underdogs at all but rather highly successful people who can teach us something about success." Over this Finals run, the Cavs have taught all of us a great deal about how to find success through your strengths when the odds aren't with you.