As players, coaches and fans prepare for the onset of one of the most anticipated NBA Finals of all time, there’s still an electrifying vibe pulsating through the air in the aftermath of the monumental 2016 Western Conference Finals.  

And it’s unapologetically and quantifiably black.

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Most historians will only note Golden State’s rally from a 3-1 deficit to clinch back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals as the major point of reference when discussing the series. However, the underlying tale of and cultural significance which is being overlooked is the one-of-a-kind duel between teams with multiple headline superstars playing for two polar opposite markets and fan bases.

Cue in Oklahoma City.

A heartland metropolis and capital of the Sooner State is known to outsiders for the tumultuous storms swirling within Tornado Alley, conservative red state values, the horrific bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 and powerhouse high school football feeder programs for the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Mixed in with these tidbits are the city’s unbalanced demographic figures.

According to a report filed in 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of the population in OKC is African-American. This vast disparity was evident during the crowd shots aired on TNT during the three home games at Chesapeake Energy Arena. While the camera operators managed to zoom in on people like The Real MVP and KD’s mom, Wanda Durant, along with a handful of black faces sprinkled in the mix, the bulk of the fans in the building were white.

Amidst these cultural differences are the members of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Led by perennial All-Stars KD and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are the main attraction in a region which is a far cry from the familiarities of the upbringing of several black players on the team.

Cue in Golden State.


The Warriors are beloved throughout the entire Bay Area, but their hometown is the city of Oakland. In contrast to San Francisco, its chic neighbor across the Bay, the tech-heavy hitters of the Silicon Valley or the mass winery vineyards in Napa County, Oakland is a blue-collar city with a rough edge to its personality.

The towering pillars of Oakland’s African-American cultural legacy include serving as ground zero for the Black Panther Party and the city’s iconic old school hip-hop scene which gave birth to famed acts such as Too $hort, MC Hammer, Digital Underground, 2Pac and E-40.

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Throughout this span, the Warriors have been a fixture of the community, uniting the city’s diverse population of blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians in the name of basketball.

With these two cities serving as the backdrop, the Thunder and Warriors took the court in the quest of securing a spot in the NBA Finals.

Leading the charge during this seven-game run was the epic point guard confrontation between the two-time NBA MVP and face of the league, Steph Curry, versus the powder keg and triple-double machine, Westbrook.

Curry’s wicked handle and textbook-form shooting propelled him to averaging 27.9 points per game in the series. The reigning MVP hit shots from all over the floor, gnawed on his mouth guard and let the opposition know he meant business with a menacing glare that pierced through the heart of OKC.

His crossover ball movement, smooth behind-the-back passes and lethal jumper is an elevated version of streetball wizardry as seen throughout inner city parks in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. His pregame warmups, during which he simultaneously dribbles a basketball in each hand while keeping his head leveled, has become a must-see attraction for spectators. 


As a result of his talents and accolades, Curry is one of a handful of black athletes who garnishes equal respect at the barbershop, graffiti-stained courts or with marketers in corporate boardrooms seeking to use his face to endorse their products.

Westbrook did his best to plead his case for the ranking of the world’s top point guard. Despite falling short of his goals, the nation got to see his insatiable hunger for excellence up close and personal.

Westbrook can best be described as the Kayne West of the NBA: a player with illustrious talent who is oftentimes misjudged by outsiders. While he doesn’t utter self-indulging comments like West, Russ’ prickly relationship with the national media and questionable shot selection have caused some to second guess his status as one of the game’s elite players.

Although he still ranks behind Curry, his uncaged energy, which already pulsated through the streets, now has shockwaves vibrating in mainstream circles.

Fellow superstars Klay Thompson and Durant also left their fingerprints on the series with an onslaught of ferocious baskets.

Thompson, the second half of the Splash Brothers, put on a show for the ages in Game 6, dropping a game-high 41 points and set a playoff record by hitting 11 3-pointers. He and Curry also re-ignited the sensitive internal debate between black folks of light-skinned versus dark-skinned.

While some have added comic relief to the discussion with the commentary of “light-skinned is making a comeback,” the subject reveals the lingering scars of this old divisive wound which date back to the era of slavery. 

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KD dismissed talks of his pending free agent status by scoring 30 points a night. He also shed his perceived cookie-cutter image with hard-nosed play in pursuit of his first championship ring. However, despite the added aggression he poured out with each dribble, he was unable to rally his troops and stop the bleeding as the Thunder blew a 3-1 series lead.

While the Splash Brothers get the majority of the praise, perhaps no other player on the Warriors embodies the personality of Oakland more than Draymond Green. The fourth-year power forward from Michigan State possesses the rawness of the city.

Green brings a hard hat and lunch pail to the gym on a nightly basis. His rugged defense, prowess for snatching rebounds off the glass and pounding the ball in the paint for double figures adds to the squad’s take-no-prisoners approach to winning basketball games.

The year’s Western Conference Finals was a positive representation of excellence and proudly displayed the new wave of young black athletes performing at the summit of their God-given abilities. They stormed to the court with passion, determination, superior work ethic and an inextinguishable flame for success.

The series was also perhaps the most impactful playoff set from a cultural standpoint in NBA history. It brought the ugly stigma of self-hate based on skin complexion, unbalanced racial demographics, inner city blues, hip-hop and mainstream appeal to living rooms and sports bars across the country.

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Golden State will next face Cleveland in an NBA Finals rematch. While there’s a noticeable difference in the racial disparity between Oklahoma City and Cleveland, there’ll be similar chatter concerning cultural significance when the Warriors and Cavs lock horns for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

And with the Cavs' own unique representatives of the tantalizing, funky and soulful African-American athletic aesthetic in LeBron, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert's high top fade and others, not only will we be treated to a fantastic NBA Finals, but we’ll also get to marvel in more undeniable expressions of black greatness.