I love basketball. I’m the kind of person who finds a reason to watch an LA Lakers vs. Brooklyn Nets game in the final month of the season. Even the worst player in the NBA is among the best players in the world—and it’s fantastic to watch the best do some work.
LA/Brooklyn might be bottom shelf basketball—but it’s the bottom of a very nice shelf.
But I’m still not really watching these NBA Finals.
I wish I could enjoy them. I like Steph Curry (two time MVP), I like Zaza, I think Kevin Durant (former MVP) is a joy to watch, I marvel at the shooting of Klay and Kyrie. I respect Kerr.
I’m even—despite the history—a huge LeBron James fan. I’ve all but forgiven him for The Decision, for the time he mocked Dirk when he had the flu, for the haphazard quasi-dynastic run with a team I can’t stand in Miami. He’s one of the greatest to play this game, and I love watching him add to his resume.
Kevin Love is a fantastic player, as is Draymond Green. Andre Iguodala is a former Finals MVP and current Sixth Man of the Year candidate. This is a series so filled with great players, that these guys are just the afterthoughts in a series filled with All-NBA talent.
All this talent, and it’s rarely worth watching.
I’d like to compare it to an All-Star Game—but that’s not fair—because the effort is there. The Cavs, especially in game three, played like a full-tilt steam engine. They played as hard, as efficiently, and as desperately as any team I’ve ever seen—but they forgot to keep it up over the last 90 seconds, and that’s all it took to swing the game nine points, and put them down in the series three games to none.
Kevin Durant is about to win that championship he’s chasing—and he’ll win it with none of the growing pains or humility that LeBron had to suffer when he went ring chasing in Miami. None of the structural collapse of guys like Karl Malone in LA. Just show up, win a trophy. It might as well be Team USA vs. Team Cleveland.
The other day someone wrote that while Jordan and Pippen had to learn to play together, the enduring image of this year’s Finals is going to be a poster of the 73-win Warriors with Kevin Durant photoshopped on top of Harrison Barnes’ face.
Is that fair?
Absolutely not. Kevin Durant is a lot of things, but he’s not Juwan Howard. He didn’t show up and ride the bench to a title. In Game 3 of these Finals, with the Warriors down by four points in Cleveland, with 75 seconds to go, Kevin Durant scored a layup on Tristan Thompson. With 45 seconds to go, Kevin Durant hit a huge (internet-shaking) three to put Golden State up one:
Everyone talks about how Durant left OKC for the team that beat him. But, there’s another narrative here for me. A much bigger and pettier revenge story.
Durant passed over Western Conference Finals revenge in order to avenge a much deeper loss: The time LeBron James helped destroyed him 4-1 in the NBA Finals in 2012. It’s like that scene in a movie where a guy gets impaled on a spear, and the spear-holder thinks he’s won—but then Durant just grabs the spear and starts walking up toward the tip, and cuts his enemy down. That enemy is LeBron James—and not only has he made the Cavs pay—he’s gone right at LeBron as often as possible, just to make his point.
Walking away from Westbrook and OKC, and to Golden State, that was an 82-game walk up a spear’s head, and now he’s about to have his revenge, even though it will cost him—or at least his current legacy— dearly.
Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe he’s done everything anyone could expect of him to earn his place on this Warriors title team. Maybe, when our best players use free agency in the same way mid- and low-tier players use it, we should stop tacking on cultural penalties that only apply to the best.
But we won’t.
Even as I type every logical thing onto the page—I know that I’ll never see this Durant title as “earned’’ in the way Dirk’s was earned, or in the way LeBron had to earn his way back from a 3-1 deficit last year.
Durant is going to smash the hell out of the piñata wearing a Cavs jersey—but only because Curry, Green, Kerr, Iguodala, and Thompson pointed him right at the thing, and then took off his blindfold just in case.
There are a lot of people who believe that Durant had to leave OKC to get away from the ego and the shot selection of (likely NBA MVP) Russel Westbrook. Which, sounds cute on paper—but also sounds a lot like whining that your BMW is an older model than your friend’s BMW.
Dirk Nowitzki won a title with irrational-confidence god Jason Terry. The man with the ego to take on LeBron James in the NBA Finals, while sporting the world’s most irrationally pre-emptive championship tattoo of all time (fan tattoos don’t count, they aren’t in the news cycle every night).
Great players have managed to win with guys who shoot too much—and most of them have way less talent than Russell Westbrook.
Maybe none of them are quite as virtuosic as Steph Curry—but that’s why this feels like cheating.
That’s why this entire series feels like a denouement and not a climax for the NBA season. It’s why my favorite post-season moments were Boston vs. Washington, or Jazz vs. Clippers. Not the best in the world vs. the best in the galaxy—but a hell of a lot more entertaining.
Basketball is about entertainment. Like it or not—that’s how it is. That’s why, fair or not, Durant will have to answer for this championship run with a little piece of his legacy. Not all of it. Maybe not even much of it. Maybe he’ll sew things back together before he’s finished in the NBA.
But, for now, his cardinal sin is that he robbed us of drama, he robbed us of metaphor, and he robbed us of mystery. The entertainment has been replaced with the single-minded chase for a title.
And it’s so easy to be pissed about that—but we created the environment. We’re the ones who say, “Nothing matters but a title.” Well—if winning is all that matters, bow before your new kings. Golden State has found a way to win harder and better than almost any NBA team in history—and they aren’t done yet.
But, if you don’t like all this winning—then maybe change the way you define success in the NBA, in sports, and in life. Because if this isn’t enough for you, then maybe winning isn't all that matters.
It’s never been all that matters to me, and that’s why the last three games have been hellishly boring.