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The unpredictable nature of legacy

LeBron James’ legacy is falling into place, and the Warriors will have to wait for more of their pieces to fall.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, @theshrillest — a mandatory Twitter follow for basketball, culture, politics, and learning about that one time they ran out of chicken at Popeyes — posted a tweet-drizzle that has stuck with me:


The cookie crumbles, and this whole structure of incredible scope — thousands of livelihoods, millions of obsessed fans, and billions of dollars — are ultimately judged and remembered by how a couple of crumbs landed. Shrill says a Cavs win would cause us to think of 2015 as a fluke, but only because of the injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving (even in the absence of proof that their contributions would have led to a different outcome). The Cavs come back healthy and beat a team with half of a Stephen Curry and an abbreviated Draymond Green, and again we’re left wondering what if.

The Warriors then sign Kevin Durant — a brilliantly orchestrated and fortuitous no-brainer. But it barely matters in a vacuum: it just adds to the greater context of the story, which, even if the Warriors win the next five championships, will have been written thusly:

LeBron James was the goddamn king.

And it just very easily could have been a different story. If any one little detail, or even our perception of a detail, were to have played out differently, then we’re talking about how Curry and Green rightfully and viciously captured the crown and tainted LeBron James’ legacy forever. Instead, Bob Myers is Littlefinger and Kevin Durant is a trio of dragons we might not have needed.

This all serves as a reminder of how tenuous our understanding of reality really is. A sprinkle of misfortune here, a swift (but accidental!) kick to the groin there, and suddenly a legacy is etched into granite.

And hell, maybe it plays out the way it does because it has to play out that way. I’m not one to discount the possibility that fate and predestination are the true dictators of fortune, as trite as it might be to apply such things to something as relatively meaningless as the game of basketball.

Regardless of how his legacy was going to shake out — and sure, there are still plenty of cookies to crumble — LeBron James is very arguably the greatest to ever play the game. Maybe it wouldn’t even be a discussion if a couple of details in Michael Jordan’s own legacy were rearranged. Maybe Scottie Pippen kicks Magic Johnson in the balls, or Jerry Kraus manages to sign Hakeem Olajuwon in free agency, or Jordan slips in a puddle of Chris Gatling’s sweat — suddenly the entirety of the NBA’s most sacred lore is a different read.

But thus it was written, and Jordan’s legacy has survived the test of time. LeBron James’ legacy hasn’t been published yet, but no matter what happens in 2017 there is material for a happy ending.

And the Warriors? Well, 2016 happened. They lost a 3-1 lead, and then added Durant. If some cosmic force had watched the 2015 NBA Finals and then pulled up a chair to start writing The Story of GSW, they’d currently be throwing their pen aside in writer’s block frustration. This is the Dubs’ third straight Finals, and they might not even have reached their zenith. By the end, 2016 might just be a one-sentence tale of trial and tribulation at the outset of the most convincing streak of dominance in professional sports history. Just know that that one sentence will include the words “3-1” and “LeBron James,” with a hotlink to the tale of his legacy that fell into place.

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