By Ryan Clark
CLEVELAND – Sitting courtside in the middle of a gaggle of reporters from all over the world, Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach and former Xavier star James Posey thinks about a question and smiles. He’s been asked if this NBA Finals is different from the other appearances he’s made—different because this time, he’s competing against a good friend.
Posey, a 1999 graduate, is trying to win his fourth NBA championship—he has two rings as a player, one as a coach—and his Cavs are squaring off against the Golden State Warriors, who just happen to have a forward named David West, another former Xavier star who is trying to win his first title.
So, James, is it difficult this time around?
“It’s about winning at the end of the day,” Posey says, laughing. “We can have that friendly relationship later.”
Come to Cleveland
West, who graduated from Xavier in 2003, has become one of the major stories of this year’s Finals, which isn’t short on plot lines.
Two years ago, West turned down nearly $13 million to leave the Indiana Pacers. He says that after being close several times in the playoffs, he wanted to join a team that had a better chance of winning a World Championship.
He looked at many teams, and heard from one friend in particular. “We talk a lot on the phone,” Posey says, “and I called him up and gave him my pitch.”
Posey told West to come to Cleveland, where he could play with LeBron James and win a championship. Instead, West went to San Antonio and eventually lost to Golden State in the playoffs. So, before this season, West decided to move again, this time to Golden State, where he became a role player on one of the most successful teams in NBA history.
Committing to X
As the pair of Xavier legends faces off in the Finals, Posey took time off during a practice and remembered the very first time he recruited David West. For that, he said, we have to go back to 1998.
“I was just finishing up my third year, and I hosted David on his recruiting visit to Xavier,” Posey says. “We ended up touring campus, going to dinner and going to a little on-campus party. We talked a lot about what to expect as a player and a student.”
Turns out that recruiting pitch was a little more successful than his last one. West committed to Xavier, even though Posey decided to leave early for the NBA rather than stay for another season.
“I have thought about what our team could’ve been like if I’d stayed,” Posey says. “We would’ve been pretty good.”
On the Big Stage
An hour later on the other side of the court, West talked to reporters about focusing on the present, where he’s two wins away from winning his first professional championship.
“I’m 36 years old. I’ve been playing basketball for 30 years of my life,” he says. “(The Finals) is the only stage I haven’t been a part of. I knew I needed to make it here, so this was an opportunity I had to take.”
Golden State holds a 2-0 lead as the series has shifted back to Cleveland, and West says his role for the Warriors is much different from previous NBA squads.
“Here you have to find a niche, a role,” he says. “Whereas on other teams I had to be more of a scorer, on this team it just depends. Sometimes you have to be a facilitator, or a leader. This team is so versatile, you have to be able to do a lot of things.”
“He has unbelievable leadership,” says Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr. “He’s taken (Warriors forward) Draymond Green under his wing, especially. He’s so smart. I love talking to him about basketball—and anything else, really.”
Fans are Divided
But there’s a clear divide for those Xavier fans who also root for the Cavaliers, especially in Cleveland.
Maria Gross, president of Xavier’s Cleveland Alumni Chapter, is a Cleveland native. She graduated from Xavier in 2009 with a nursing degree and now works as an Alzheimer’s Research Nurse at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
She also happens to be a huge fan of Xavier and the Cavaliers. But even when it comes to David West, the Cavs are No. 1 in her heart.
“I’m very proud to be an XU grad but also very proud to be a Clevelander,” she says. “It’s awesome to watch David West play in the NBA Finals against the Cavs. However, as much as I want West to succeed in the Finals, I still want the Cavs to win again and become the 2017 NBA Champions. I’m rooting for David West, but no one else from Golden State, for obvious reasons.”
Live in the Moment
Posey, also a Cleveland native, knows just how Gross feels.
“To win the title last year, it was amazing what it did for this city,” he says. But on a personal level, he says there are a few things that both he and West are bringing to their respective teams, characteristics that trace back to what they learned at Xavier.
“Being organized is so important,” West says. “Being disciplined. Managing your ego. Keep learning. Live in the moment. It’s always about the journey, every single day.”
“Coach Prosser demanded we work hard and always be prepared,” Posey says. “That’s things I always tell these guys. You know, some of these guys didn’t go to college. Some went for one year. I can really share with them what I learned. When you’re prepared, you have confidence. Nothing comes easy. You have to be a hard worker. You have to have a positive outlook. That’s what Xavier gave me.”