Regardless of the outcome of this year’s NBA Finals, pitting the Golden State Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a Brazilian will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy for the second consecutive year. After becoming the first Brazilian to capture an NBA title last season, San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter literally brought the championship home, visiting Rio, São Paulo, and Barueri with trophy in hand.
For this iteration of the Finals, Golden State’s Leandro Barbosa storms the hardwood hoping to replicate the feat, while Cleveland’s injured Anderson Varejão is forced to cheer for his undermanned squad from the sidelines. Through two contests, Barbosa has contributed 7 points and 4 rebounds, in slightly less than 15 minutes, but his veteran presence has had a calming effect on the Warriors when he is on the court.
Growing up in his native São Paulo, Barbosa was introduced to basketball by his older brother Arturo. A stern coach, Arturo ran Leandrinho through endless drills, often correcting his ball-handling by striking his hands with a stick. A scar on Barbosa’s left thumb serves as a reminder of those sessions in Brazil, where he revealed to his mother Ivete, “Mama, I have a dream. I am going to play basketball in the NBA.”
Drafted by the Spurs with the 28th pick of the 2003 NBA draft, Barbosa was soon traded to the Phoenix Suns. The Brazilian Blur blossomed under Coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced system, coming off the bench and averaging 18 points a game in 2007, when he was awarded the league’s 6th Man of the Year award. During his prime, only Philadelphia 76’er Allen Iverson rivaled Barbosa’s quicksilver speed with the ball.
Following his success with the “7 seconds or less” Suns, Barbosa embarked on his NBA journey, playing with the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, before returning to Phoenix, and ultimately joining the Warriors. He averaged 7 points a game in his first season with Golden State, flashing glimpses of his youthful acceleration.
As the Finals shift to Cleveland, Barbosa and the Warriors bench will play a key role against the shorthanded Cavaliers. Prior to the championship series, Dallas Mavericks forward and aspiring blogger Charlie Villanueva picked the Warriors to win the title in seven games. With a pair of gritty overtime contests in the rearview mirror and each team tasting victory, the NBA championship feels surprisingly up for grabs.