By Nancy Armour |
Imagine griping about being tired of seeing the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals again. How it was boring to see Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell pitted against each other for yet another year. How it would have been nice to see someone – anyone – besides Magic and Bird at the season’s end.
And yet we yawn and grumble at the greatness right in front of us.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals and it’s enough to set some folks’ teeth on edge. They assume it won’t be a compelling series because we’ve seen it before – three times. They want fresh faces and fresher legs. They crave something different.
Different, however, is no guarantee of better.
If LeBron James isn’t the greatest player in NBA history, he’s in the conversation. Steph Curry might be the best pure shooter while Kevin Durant has become one of the game’s greatest closers. To see them all in their prime, matched up against one another, is a gift.
Yet some fans would like to return it for the mystery box because it has prettier wrapping paper and a big, fancy bow.
So what that the Cavaliers and Warriors have played so often there are no longer any secrets? That means games will be won on skill and smarts rather than surprise. The Cavaliers know what to expect from Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and the Warriors know what they’re going to get from James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver. Roll the ball out and let them play, and savor what results.
Decades from now, there will be documentaries made and books written about this rivalry, just as there were about the Lakers-Celtics in the 1960s and again in the ‘80s. These series, these rivalries, transcend the game and, by doing so, elevate the players to iconic status.
Coming two years after the Lakers moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, their Finals rivalry in the 1960s – every year from 1962 to 1969 except 1964 and 1967 – solidified the NBA as a sport with nationwide appeal. The West Coast was no longer a remote outpost in the sporting landscape; it had one of the NBA’s best teams, and one of its best players.
The rivalry in the ‘80s, quite simply, transformed the game. The Lakers’ fast-break offense is now a staple of the game, at every level. Magic was a point guard in a power forward’s body, shattering the notion that a player’s size and shape had to dictate his position. Bird’s outside shooting opened up the game.
It’s impossible to know yet what lasting impact the Cavaliers-Warriors rivalry will have on the game – though it’s no longer crazy to think a team can build an offense around the 3-point shot. But it will leave its mark.
Years from now, we’ll look back on these four years and recognize how rare it was to see the greatest players of their generation, and some of the best the game will ever see, going against each other with the title on the line. How special it was to see two teams with very different styles trying to figure out how to one-up each other.
The Cavaliers and Warriors might not have been the NBA’s best teams this season. But they’ve proven themselves to be the best in the league when it mattered, and neither can be begrudged its place in the Finals.
To those who are tired of the Cavaliers and Warriors, who were hoping for someone new in the NBA Finals, you will get your wish soon enough. At 33, James is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Keeping the Warriors’ core together for the duration will take some creative accounting.
But know this: Greatness is never fully appreciated until it’s gone. The Cavaliers-Warriors will eventually be seen for what it is, one of the NBA’s all-time best rivalries, and we’ve been lucky enough to watch it in real time.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.