The inevitable NBA Finals post-Game 7 talking points
Everyone is pumped for tonight’s Game 7 between the Cavaliers and Warriors, as well they should be. Besides an NBA championship, there are legacies for the players and the teams, both short-term and long-term, on the line.
One game shouldn’t define a player or a team, at least not while that game is fresh in our minds. Everyone falls prey to recency bias. Time is the best way to determine whether or not something is the greatest. The problem with time, however, is that it takes its sweet damn time, and nobody wants to wait that long for a clear picture to develop, so let’s just make a bunch of declarations now, OK?
That is how sports talk works. You need to present opinions on the impact of a just-completed event and its space in history immediately. This is a corrupt way of judging something, but it’s the world we live in. And for this series specifically, there are very clear questions that will be asked about each team and some of its players no matter who comes out victorious.
While I have no idea what will happen on the court in Oakland, the chatter subjects in the minutes, hours and days following the final buzzer — barring the occurrence of some non-basketball-related event during the game, like an alien invasion — are pretty obvious. I’ll cover those topics now and give you my take so you don’t have to waste your time listening to others debate these issues after the fact.
If the Warriors win …
Is this the greatest team in NBA history?
On a single-season basis, I think so. Best record and winning percentage of all time. Although they were pushed to the brink in two playoff series, that shouldn’t weigh as heavy as the credit earned for ultimately winning against tough opponents. This team has shown its mettle in the playoffs. That should be commended. They annihilated the competition in the regular season, posted the second-longest winning streak in NBA history (dating back to 2014-15) as well as the association’s longest winning streak to open a season. They did it with purely sublime shooting, perhaps the best we’ve ever seen.
Are these Warriors, 2014-present, the greatest team in NBA history?
Similar question but with a grander scope. And the answer is a definitive no. Again, time is required. These Warriors have now won back-to-back NBA titles with whom I believe is the best shooter to ever play. But how can we compare this run with Russell’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, etc., when it is currently in progress? Who knows how much Curry’s Warriors will accomplish in the years to come? This is like taking the rough cut of Star Wars: Episode VIII and comparing it to “The Empire Strikes Back.” Let’s wait for the finished product, please. Until Golden State’s ride ends, it is wholly unfair to measure them against the sport’s dynasties. But you know that if they win tonight, everyone will do exactly that.
If the Warriors lose …
Does not winning a championship invalidate their record-setting regular season?
This topic was broached on a recent episode of “Pardon the Interruption,” and my immediate response was no. And yes. You can have it both ways.
The “no” response has to do with my personal view. Going 3-4 against a quality team with another one of the game’s legends is nothing to be ashamed of. What occurs over a three-week span during the game’s most intense challenge shouldn’t erase what was achieved over the course of six months. That regular season really should tell you more about how good this specific Warriors team was than a handful of games versus a singular, elite opponent. Even more so because the Warriors didn’t simply set those new marks for wins and winning percentage; they did it in dazzling, awe-inspiring fashion. They looked like Baryshnikov participating in a high school ballet recital. They outclassed the opposition in an incredible, fluid, beautiful manner. Losing the absolute last game of the season shouldn’t make us forget it.
But it sort of will, which is where the “yes” response comes in. That has to do with how history views things. In baseball, the 1927 Yankees are synonymous with greatness. Having the best hitter in baseball history, Babe Ruth, and the best first baseman, Lou Gehrig, on the roster certainly helps that team’s legacy live on. Conversely, no one talks about the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who had a better winning percentage than those Yanks and tied the all-time record with 116 wins. Seattle’s general lack of October success through the years causes them to not be held with such esteem, but that specific team’s playoff failure — they lost in the ALCS to the Yankees — has caused the record to be forgotten outside of Seattle.
The 2014 Kentucky men’s basketball team was about to go down in history as an undefeated juggernaut until it lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four.
How about that 18-0 New England Patriots team of 2007 that ended up at 18-1?
All of those teams are winners who just didn’t win the grand prize. Fair or not, history tends to marginalize those teams because they weren’t the last team standing. As good as the Warriors are and have been, a loss tonight will insert a “but” into the story whenever people reminisce about them.
If the Cavaliers lose …
LeBron James is now 2-5 in NBA Finals. Does that mean he can’t be the greatest player of all time?
If Cleveland loses, I will feel so bad for the city and for James. The city deserves a championship, and James deserves some slack. But unless he goes for 40-10-10 tonight, he probably won’t get any. So many scribes and talking heads will point to James’ sub-par NBA Finals record as a reason why he can never be above Jordan. Who cares that in 2007, 2015 and here in 2016, his squad just wasn’t as good as its opponent? Or that he has always needed to get more help from the supporting cast? It’s all about LeBron. He is the King and he wears that moniker, so he opens himself up to the credit and the blame to extremes.
However, this question is as pointless as comparing the Warriors to the great teams of the past; it can’t be answered until James’ career is over. And he’s only 31 years old.
Remember when Tom Brady lost his second Super Bowl a few years ago. People then tried to disqualify him from the “greatest ever” conversation because, well, Montana had never lost two Super Bowls! Peyton had never lost two Super Bowls (although he would later on)!
And look where we are with Brady today. He barely ages, still puts up huge numbers, has won his fourth NFL title and, yep, is in the middle of every “greatest” convo. Maybe he indeed is.
LeBron is already an all-time basketball great. An uncanny physical specimen the likes of which the NBA has never seen. Perhaps he’s already the greatest mismatch of all time.
But is he greater than Jordan? Instead of jumping to stupid conclusions, how about we just wait for James to finish his career. He’s got a lot of basketball in front of him. Let’s enjoy that first and then sculpt the basketball Mount Rushmore.
If the Cavaliers win …
Before we get to any questions, congratulations to Cleveland. That city hasn’t celebrated a major team sports championship since 1964. The No. 1 song in the week of that Browns championship was by The Supremes. We were almost a decade away from having a designated hitter in baseball, and most hockey players didn’t even where helmets yet. Through “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” Jordan’s shot over Ehlo, the Browns’ move to Baltimore and their wide ineptitude since their second edition was born, Cleveland has suffered long enough. I can’t imagine what the party will be like, but it won’t stop for quite a while.
Is this LeBron James’ greatest achievement?
Yep. Without a doubt. Given the opponent, the deficit, the road victory to clinch it, his ties to Cleveland and the fact that’s it’s freaking Cleveland winning a championship, there is no debate needed. Next question.
Where does this win, with all of its sentimental significance and adversity, do for LeBron James’ place among the all-time greats. In other words, where does he rank now?
If you’re read this far, you already know my response. Winning helps any athlete’s legacy. But unless James announces his retirement after the game, this is, of course, a question for the future.
I would be the worst sports TV/radio pundit ever.