I was in the back left corner of a dark bar in Washington, D.C., when the Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals. A friend from Cleveland dropped a full bottle of beer and shouted “WE DID IT!” He put his arms around me and our other friends, and we all jumped up and down, shards of glass crunching underneath the soles of our shoes. I watched LeBron cry on TV and realized I was crying, too.
This is one of my most vivid memories from the past 12 months, which suggests I should probably get a life outside of sports and bars. But you remember it, too, don’t you?
If you’re a Warriors fan, you felt pain rather than elation. But you still felt something. Last year’s Finals were so exciting that no matter where we were, viewers around the country screamed “OHMYGODTHEYDIDIT,” or “NOOOOO,” or “SUREILLHAVEANOTHERSHOTOFFIREBALL!!!!” when we finally found out how it ended.
I’m not from Cleveland. I’ve always admired LeBron, but I have no legitimate ties to him, his team, or the city in which they play. I wasn’t even rooting for the Cavs when last year’s Finals started, actually. I was all in on the golden boys of Golden State, the suave Splash Bros who make buckets rain supreme (get it?). I wanted to see them finish the greatness they started.
But halfway through Game 5, I started to realize the magnitude of the lead they were blowing. I started to grasp how spectacular it would be the if the Cavs could win for the first time since the advent of the printing press.
So I switched alliances. I was like Justin Bieber — an emotional pendulum of a fairweather fan for that series. The swings were wild, and I was so alive. The tension, the dunks, the blocks — they were visceral!
The same two teams are playing each other in the Finals this year, yet I’ve felt nothing.
The same matchup that was so deeply exciting and invigorating has been dulled by the fact that we knew the Warriors will probably continue to demolish everything in their path. There’s also no “Let’s root for Cavs because they haven’t won in a thousand years!” element to this series. There isn’t an underdog. There are just two damn good teams.
I initially didn’t think much would make me feel more invested in the Finals. But then I read Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp pray that we’ll get a complete sweep. He argues that would be the best way to end this already wild, three-year-long rivalry:
“This is why I’ve wondered about 16-0 since the beginning the playoffs. If the Warriors could make it through the West unscathed, sweeping the Finals would obviously be the most emphatic statement of all. Destroying the Cavs, demoralizing them, sending LeBron into a midlife crisis—all of that would be right there for them after what happened in last year’s series and all the trash talk that followed. It’s a response that even Warriors haters would have to respect.”
It’s the last line of that paragraph that really stunned me. A Warriors sweep would be the ultimate dunk on everyone who’s hated on them — like Russell Westbrook’s never-ending shade or the Halloween party LeBron threw where “3-1” was written on a kick drum — over the past 12 months.
What a sweep wouldn’t do is quiet the noise or the debates; it would, in fact, make the cries of “super teams are bad!” louder. That’s valid to some extent: the best sports stories are full of intrigue. As humans, we want to give shape to events. We crave stories, and we want them to be interesting, so not knowing what will happen is the whole point of sports, right? We can’t know the ending, because the ending happens in real time. Unless the NBA truly is rigged for money (lookin’ at you, Ayesha Curry), no one can leak the results. You can’t script a last-minute buzzer-beater.
All of the handwringing about super teams stems from the fact that this season should’ve come with a SPOILER ALERT. When Durant signed with Golden State, it was like someone told you the ending to a movie you were really excited to see. We knew we’d get to June and witness the Warriors turn into your friend from elementary school who beat everyone at Sega all the time. You hated that stupid friend.
The debate about spreading talent through the league is old and never-ending — parity is sometimes good, parity is sometimes bad. But we’ve always fluctuated between dominant teams (the Celtics in the 80’s, the Bulls in the ‘90s, the Lakers in the ‘00s, LeBron’s Heat) and stretches of time where the level of play has been more even. People complain about both, and while you could say that it’s because we always think the grass is greener on the other side, I think it actually comes down to degrees.
The noise gets louder when we swing too far towards equality or too far towards extreme dominance. Yes, great teams are great. The basketball Golden State plays is transcendent. But two things can be true at once: we can appreciate the skill and marvel and it, while also thinking, “Man, I miss the not knowing.”
Too often in sports (dare I say… in life?) do we decide that a thing is Good or Bad; sometimes things just are. There are good parts of that thing and bad parts of that thing, and sometimes you just have to try to let two realities exist at once. That’s where it feels like we are with the NBA right now.
We’re all still watching this beat down, of course, because it’s a) the Finals, b) still great, if lopsided, basketball and c) no matter how done a deal something feels in sports, there’s always an off chance that something absolutely nuts happens.
But it’s the diminished likelihood of that wild storyline that’s bumming some people out this year. I know, I know, 3-1 lead, yadda, yadda, yadda, but this all feels different thanks to Durant.
So, short of another improbable Cavs comeback, the most satisfying narrative arc would come from exactly what Sharp suggested: a Warriors sweep. It would inspire breath-holding of its own. Imagine watching Game 4 if the Warriors go up 3-0. Imagine the Warriors winning Game 4. Imagine the moment you realize a team just went undefeated in the playoffs for the first time ever.
If we can’t have competition against the teams currently playing, at least give us competition against history. A sweep would be unprecedented, and it would also be the most savage comeback the Warriors could execute after a year of knowing that they blew a 3-1 with a 73-win regular season record and the first-ever unanimous MVP. It would make you feel.
At the very least, it would mean that Curry could host his own Halloween party and write “16-0” on the kick drum.