In a few short days, the Golden State Warriors will host the Cleveland Cavaliers in what seems to be the most anticipated NBA Finals in recent memory. It also just so happens to be the third consecutive year these same teams will meet in the championship round, the first “Threematch” in NBA Finals history. While there is no doubt these are the two best teams in the NBA, each steamrolling their way to the Finals (one loss between both teams), it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they would meet for an epic rematch. This was assessed to be almost certain dating all the way back to November.
While this season has been tainted by a disgustingly atrocious lack of parity around the league (and no, that is not Kevin Durant’s fault) as well as the whole “resting” players debacle, this Finals matchup exemplifies those issues. Both teams intentionally benched players down the stretch of the season in order to focus on the playoffs and dominated any opposition over the last five months. Hell, we mind as well have crowned Cleveland the 2017 Eastern Conference champions a year ago given how downright pathetic and laughable the conference is. I think Nike is even printing “2018 Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers” T-shirts already. I’m just saying, there’s a reason Cleveland had zero cares about not getting the one seed. You can make the same argument for the Western Conference. Not only did Golden State break a five-decade record for most wins in a season, but they have compiled the most wins over a three year period in NBA history. If that doesn’t just shout sustained dominance, I don’t know what does. I know Kawhi Leonard was injured when they met in the playoffs, but I’ll give anyone a nice, ice-cold 12-pack if you can look me in the eye with a straight face and say the result would have been any different had he played. These two teams were on an inevitable path to meet in a clash of the titans no matter who they played. Now I’ll be the first to admit the Eastern Conference doesn’t hold a candle compared to the Western Conference, but let’s really break down this whole parity issue, shall we?
Major League Baseball (MLB) has the same number of teams (30) as the NBA, but plays a 162-game season over a 7-month stretch. With that kind of schedule, of course the top six or eight teams are going to have relatively close records because no one or two teams can maintain excellence for that long. The National Football League (NFL), which has 32 teams, plays a 16-game schedule, and is credited to be the most favored American sport, as it’s ratings clearly dictate every year. But a much shorter schedule (cough cough Adam Silver) makes every game relevant. Teams aren’t usually eliminated from playoff contention until the final weeks of the season and even then, we all love watching a team play spoiler. If you have no chance at making the playoffs, but can prevent you’re rival from getting there, that’s motivation. That’s buy-in. That’s good television. The NFL also has much stricter rules on the salary cap and free agency preventing teams from stockpiling superstars. But in the NBA, half the league is eliminated from playoff contention mid-way through the season. There is really no chance to play spoiler when there’s still forty games left. So the NBA, sitting in between the MLB and NFL, is kind of set up for these issues to arise given the current system. But it begs the question, is what Lebron doing any different than Tom Brady? On paper, they have very similar career milestones in their respective sports, but does anyone really think Tom Brady and the Patriots are bad for the NFL? Sticking with the basketball theme though, most long-time NBA fans will tell you that the league was at its best in the 80s when the dominate Celtics met the seemingly unbeatable Lakers three times in that decade alone. Of the 20 spots in the NBA finals during that period, the Lakers and Celtics, just two teams, claimed 13 of them. How many Hall of Famers were on those teams? Can anybody really argue how this is any different?
Now say what you want about this lackluster NBA season of healthy players sitting, a flawed MVP evaluation process, parity issues, decreasing television ratings and rapidly declining attendance records, but I’m willing to bet all of these same people complaining will have their eyes glued to ABC come June 1st. And I don’t blame them. Because at the end of the day, all this debate about NBA parity operates with one key assumption. That the league SUFFERS from having two dominant teams. Think about this for a moment. What if I asked, “Don’t these two teams’ utter domination make these finals that much more entertaining and exciting?” This is almost like an All-Star game that actually matters, and we get at least four games even though we all know it’s going seven. There’s no way this star-studded cast will disappoint. You’ve got storylines everywhere you look. Lebron James chasing MJ’s legacy, Steph Curry trying to not only put his name in the G.O.A.T discussion, but proving to people he doesn’t choke when it matters most, the pressure on Kevin Durant who happens to be chasing his first ring, Kyrie vs. Steph, the brewing rivalry between these teams, Steve Kerr’s health, Kevin Love vs. Draymond Green, the new NBA bad boy. Need I say more? These finals, albeit predictable and predestined, have the potential to make us forget everything wrong about this season. Because come June 1st, nobody will care about Lebron and Co. “resting” down the stretch, or the ever-argued MVP race, or Kevin Durant’s free agency move. All that will matter is the first best team in the league is playing the second best team in a series to determine a champion, to define legacies.
This is the Finals every city deserves, and the one it needs! I guarantee it won’t disappoint.