In the NBA, grabbing hold of historic achievements is getting harder and harder by the day. As the league nears its seventh decade, the magic numbers are becoming more and more embedded into the fabric of the sport and popular culture itself. With every passing year, the Boston Celtics achievements of the 60s and 70s become less history and more fabled legend. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 is the stuff of mythology. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s six MVP trophies feels like an unbreakable record.
With baseball and hockey, two sports that have decades on the NBA, many records seem as transcendent as the games themselves. 56 games in a row. 511 wins. 2,857 regular season points. All unbreakable. Unbeatable. In these sports, witnessing history has become a rarity.
Basketball is slowly climbing into the same transcendent air. Bill Russell’s Celtics slip further and further away. Those that witnessed Michael Jordan’s meteoric rise are now in their 40s. Bird-Magic began nearly forty years ago. It was inevitable. Witnessing history is becoming a fleeting feeling in the NBA.
The 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors don’t care about that.
This Dubs team grabbed what was fleeting by the throat and thrashed it around like a Great White Shark in the middle of the barrier reef. They won 24 straight games to start the season. They didn’t lose at home until March. They won the most road games ever. They didn’t lose to the same team twice, a league record. They didn’t lose back-to-back games, again, a league record.
They won 73 games.
From this vantage point, at this moment in time, this is the greatest team we have ever witnessed. Saying that this team dominated the regular season does a disservice to the verb that merely means to “have a commanding influence on”. Command isn’t strong enough. Control? That might work.
Offensively and defensively, we may have never seen a team work at the peak of their powers like this one. Nearly every player isn’t just great–they’re great while perhaps playing the greatest basketball they’ll ever play. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala are all revolving around their primes. Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli may be on the precipice of theirs. They all come together to make not only one of the most effective offenses we’ve ever seen, but one of the most aesthetically pleasing. The flawless ball movement, the effortless shot execution, the fluidity of their attack moving up the court are all compounded by the joy these men display simply playing the game.
More to the point? They want it. They want history. They want to be in the record books. They aren’t shy about admitting it. They know the gravity of their accomplishments.
And so should we.
Just as the Warriors know the weight of history that lays on their shoulders, so do the Cleveland Cavaliers. Except, for the Cavs, it’s not just one season’s worth of accomplishment. It’s 52 years worth.
The city of Cleveland hasn’t seen one of its professional sports teams win a title since the 1964 Browns. It’s a curse that no city with at least two franchises has endured, ever. The city has seen a remarkable 159 combined seasons of title-less misery, more than any other town by a long shot. And it’s not just that they haven’t won—it’s that they’ve lost in devastating fashion. So devastating that their worst moments have been immortalized by taking everyday words, capitalizing them and punctuating them with a simple period.
The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot.
There are dozens more grievous wounds that don’t even have catchy names. The 1997 Indians. The 1989 Browns. The 2008-2010 Cavaliers. All so close to a championship only to have it taken away from them within arm’s reach.
The 2015-2016 Cleveland Cavaliers are nearly as close as any of these teams have ever been to winning a title. After inching closer to the Warriors with a 120-90 route in Game 3 last night, the Cavs are just three victories away from the Larry O’Brien trophy.
In some ways, the weight of history for the Cavaliers is heavier than anything Golden State could shoulder. LeBron, Kyrie, Love and company are the latest would-be saviors to a city starved for a winner. They are the latest great hope. Winning a title for this Cavaliers team would be historic on many levels, but none that any of us could understand that aren’t from Northeast Ohio. The Cavs know the gravity of their potential accomplishment.
And so should we.
It’s hard to have a rooting interest in these Finals. The Warriors are such an incredibly likeable team that most people have taken turning on Draymond Green—the ultimate underdog success story—as their best choice for a foil. These Cavaliers feature LeBron—a divisive sports figure, an understatement, to be sure—but has his presence mitigated by the fact that the Cleveland Sports Curse could be ended in a mere week.
Regardless of what happens in these Finals, the outcome will be memorable. But for any real, dedicated basketball fan? There’s no choice but to root for the Golden State Warriors.
What we’ve witnessed from them this year has been historic. But in order for it to remain in that rarefied air, the Warriors have to finish the job. Without winning the NBA championship, the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors become a caveat. They become an asterisk. No one will ever be able to talk about their achievement without saying “yeah, but then…”
If the Warriors don’t prevail against the Cavaliers, this season will lose most of its meaning. The 73 wins will stand in the record books, but in the hearts and minds of those that witnessed it, we’ll know that the numbers will be hollow.
If the Cavaliers win, they’ll end a curse that haunts not just their sport, but three. They’ll become immortal in the annals of American popular culture. In Cleveland, they’ll ascend from just a team of 15 guys to a host of deities in mesh jerseys.
But if they lose? They won’t even be the worst Cleveland sports tragedy of the last twenty years. They won’t even be the most painful Cavaliers loss of the last ten. They’ll fall into irrelevancy. Yes, we’ll have lost the chance to see history were they to prevail. But, as the saying goes in Northeast Ohio, there’s always next year.
For the Warriors, there isn’t next year. The time to make history is now, and now alone.
With the title, these Warriors will become immortal and what we’ll have witnessed will be historic without peer. Without the title, their accomplishments will be vaporized. They don’t have next year to try win should they lose. They won’t have another shot at crystalizing their place in the record books. They have one chance and it’s right now. If they lose to the Cavs, we’ll be debating for the next 50 years whether this team was better than the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.
I don’t want the debate. I want to know that I saw the greatest team of all-time. I want to know, without a doubt, that their achievements were absolute.
The hoophead inside of me needs the Golden State Warriors to win these Finals. I need to know that I didn’t just feel like I saw the best team ever. I need to know that I saw the best team ever.
I need the Warriors to grab history.