This wasn’t an easy road.
Every Golden State Warriors fan has the agony of the 2016 NBA Finals burned into their skull. Such a traumatic sports experience should make me hate LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for all eternity.
But, a little more than a year later, I’ve healed. As the Cavaliers were falling apart the last couple months, I felt sad for them. Maybe, the era of LeBron James, possibly the Greatest Of All Time, willing himself and his team to the NBA Finals was over. My subsequent realization that the great Warriors-Cavaliers era is at its end made me question the legacies of both.
The narratives behind Warriors’ meteoric rise and domination over the past three-plus years are so uniquely tied to those of LeBron James’ Cavaliers. Of course, they’ve faced each other in the Finals three times, and the gargantuan legacies they’re attempting to fulfill cannot be completed without the other failing in their efforts.
The Warriors are trying to become the most dominant team of all time. Their 2016-2017 season was probably the best of all time, but rising above the greatness of Michael Jordan’s Bulls won’t be that simple. The only way the Warriors can cement their status as the greatest dynasty is more championships.
Meanwhile, with his return to Cleveland, LeBron James tried to grow his own championship team after two titles in Miami. He succeeded, and has a good argument for the best basketball player of all time. One more championship could guarantee it.
These two titans need each other: the Warriors need to beat the GOAT, LeBron needs to beat the best team of all time. It’s a connection that basketball fans will be talking about for forever.
This season, things have been different for both teams. I attribute a good amount of the Warriors’ spotty regular season play to a lack of purpose: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green don’t have to redeem their poor play in the 2016 playoffs, and Kevin Durant doesn’t have to prove his decision to sign with Golden State was right. They’ve done it all, and they just have to do win championships .
But part of their lack of energy is, I suspect, because Cleveland has looked so terrible this season. Even though the Cavaliers were clearly worse than the Warriors last year, the Warriors’ respected them and played their hearts out in every game. This year, the Cavs lost Kyrie Irving and added a bunch of washed up old dues to their roster — the Warriors beat them twice and had no reason to fear that.
Yet after a gutsy roster blowup this trade deadline, the Cavs destroyed the second-seeded Celtics on Sunday. Cleveland’s younger, more athletic additions fit the modern NBA much better than the washed combination of Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, and Derrick Rose. They seem to be having more fun, and are certainly better situated to come out of the Eastern Conference this playoffs.
I am sincerely glad for them. A good Cavaliers team is the perfect foil and motivation for the Warriors, and the Warriors might actually take things seriously from here on out. Anyways, watching LeBron James play basketball is a gift, and it’s worth appreciating it while we still can.
Just like the Joker needs to keep Batman alive to have purpose in his life, the Warriors need LeBron James and the Cavaliers to be their epic archenemy. May LeBron James re-sign in Cleveland this summer, and the Warriors win three more Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals. They are yin and yang to one another.