Basketball, like life and like death, is a fickle, volatile temptress; success therein is entirely ephemeral and unpredictable, like those first bangs and pops in the cosmic soup one Planck second after the Big Bang. For a fleeting instance, a couple weeks, a month, a season, a team crests gloriously at its acme. Inevitably, it all falls back down to earth (the soldiers at the Alamo in 1836 made a huge initial downpayment, explaining the Spurs' notable exception).
The NBA is a peculiar league. Somewhere between the NFL's current utopian parity with communistic equilibria of talent and the MLB's historical oligopoly of champions featuring the plutocratic Yanks, you'll find the NBA's current positioning on the sliding scale of team talent equity. The Goldilocks of American professional sporting leagues. Parity inherently favors the ones at the bottom, hungry maws salivating over the prospects of future victory; while simultaneously making the path for today's winners ever more perilous...I've heard the summit of Mount Everest is disappointing. There's trash left from those who'd been there before. There's people right on your tail, and you can sense them willing you to hurry through your turn and step down so that they can have their time at the peak.
With all that said, can we quantify how long the Warriors have on Mount Everest? This is a question that requires some compartmentalization and some classical divide and conquering. Well, first off, there's no way of telling the future. But, as is the calling card of the internet, that didn't stop someone from trying...
Smart People and Wild Guesses
Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight posted an article about six months ago talking about every NBA teams' chances of hoisting Larry by the turn of the decade. You can pour over it at your leisure, but there're some interesting bullet points:
- by 2014 records, the Thunder had the best future outlook of any team--with 0.84 projected championships by 2019
- while 0.84 doesn't sound impressive in a vacuum, that's the 13th best team outlook for a 5-year sample in 40 years
- the Warriors clocked in at 5th in the league with 0.28, a cool 0.08 ahead of other powerhouses like the Timberwolves
Obviously, injuries hampered the Thunder last season, rendering them toothless in a grizzled, war-weary Western Conference. All it took for the 13th-most hopeful team in 4 decades--ranking them at approximately the 0.0108th percentile--was two injuries and a foot cast. Again, ephemeral, fleeting, cut-throat. Winning in the NBA is a catwalk made of air. Eventually, no matter how cunning you are, gravity will catch you. Ask Paul George--even in the absences of warning signs (Greg Oden, Brandon Roy), fate will gladly end an entire fanbase's enthusiasm with a push and a pull.
Sometimes it's not fate that makes the conscientious decision. The Cleveland Cavaliers were projected to win 1.2 championships after their impressive showing in 2009, which is significant because that's the same number as the Bulls in 1996. In reality, City of Chicago 2, City of Cleveland 0. Mostly because some role player names LeBron James skipped out of town to play pattycake with Pat Riley and Dwayne Wade a season after the projections were so high on the Cavs' future. Putting numbers on future odds is a facade of erudition, borrowing the ethos of scientific calculations to cover the fact that it doesn't get us any closer towards prediction.
Which leads to...
Time on Mount Everest is Time Borrowed
Basketball is all about streaks. One free throw, two, three, 38. Championships also come in streaks, too. As in, in the last 30 years, 8 different times has a team at least repeated once they won their first title. In fact, 19 of the championships won in the past 3 decades have come as part of a repeat or threepeat. It's not just the Celtics beating up on a bunch of Jackie Moons, winning 9 times in a decade, either. Its different squads, besting each other 3 in a row, then the other returning fire with a salvo of 2, then another team comes in and wins a pair.
So what does this all mean, in terms of time borrowed? It means the grind of wear and tear can be temporarily eclipsed by the groove of habit and camaraderie. It also leads back to parity: nothing is ever static in the NBA; groove is eventually disrupted by trade or free agency or gravity. But groove can momentarily transcend that, in manic bursts of a couple years. Or three. But never, since guys stopped lacing up Converse to play on the court, has it ever reached 4.
That groove is just borrowed time. Injuries staved off, movement temporarily halted. Mental wear and tear supersedes and transcends, brings it all back down to earth. Like gravity.
You'll Neve See the Warriors Win Another Championship in Your Lifetime, and That's Okay
All this is to say, the Warriors were still the best team in basketball last year. Their roster looks to be one of the best this next fall, too. Other teams, on paper, look to have gotten better. Others might've gotten worse. Few tread the water, but the Warriors may well be one of them. They could yet turn out to be a one year aberration, the firecracker that fizzled and crackled once in the dark July night. They might yet get into a multi-year groove--continuity and general head-on-shoulderness would suggest they have the potential.
This piece's title is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that people saying either way have all been wrong before. And that they, like a bouncing basketball, the 2009 Cavaliers, and yes, even this iteration of the Golden State Warriors, will eventually fall to gravity.