Unless you’re a fan of the Warriors or the Cavaliers, you’re probably dreading the upcoming NBA Finals. Hating it actually.
Assuming each team will get through the conference finals — which they should, easily — we’re looking at a Golden State vs. Cleveland NBA Finals … FOR THE THIRD YEAR IN A ROW.
But here’s why it’s good for basketball.
It was just less than a year ago when we witnessed possibly the greatest comeback in the history of the NBA Finals. Cleveland, down 1-3, after a 50+ year ‘ship drought for the city, and LeBron steals three wins in a row, capped off with the most famous block in Finals history against a 73-win team to take the trophy — You’re telling me you wouldn’t want more of that?
Golden State won the Finals in 2015 with a hobbled Cleveland squad who were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Cleveland won round two last year with a hobbled Steph Curry. What’s round three going to be like with both teams at full health? It’s scary to even think about.
And shall we mention the newcomer into the equation, Kevin Durant? The 8-time All-Star is still in the prime of his career, averaging 25 points and 5 assists a game while surrounded by a trio of other All-Stars. It’s insane.
Although it was last year when Golden State broke the all-time single season record for most wins (73), they somehow made themselves better this year by adding Durant.
If LeBron beats this Golden State team, with Durant, with Klay Thompson, with Draymond Green, with a healthy Steph Curry — this would be his greatest accomplishment. Still not MJ great, but no question would put him atop the list as a second greatest wing of all-time. And LeBron knows this. It’s going to be a battle of epic proportions. Real must-see reality television. (Full disclosure, I’m a Bulls fan from Illinois.)
And if you’re asking, ‘hmmm, when is the last time two teams faced each other three consecutive times in the NBA Finals?’
The answer is never.
This Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry will easily go down in NBA history as one of the greatest rivalries of all-time. In fact, when looking at NBA Finals history, only two other eras compare. Both of them involve the Celtics and Lakers.
1969 NBA Finals: Lakers’ Wilt Chamberlain (13) tries to block shot by Celtics’ player-coach Bill Russell (6) during 1st qtr. action at Boston Garden.
There were the Celtics-Lakers rivalries of the 60s:
1962 Finals: Boston over Los Angeles
1963 Finals: Boston over Los Angeles
1965 Finals: Boston over Los Angeles
1966 Finals: Boston over Los Angeles
1968 Finals: Boston over Los Angeles
1969 Finals: Boston over Los Angeles
AKA Bill Russell and co. beating the hell out of the likes of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, and by 1969, Wilt Chamberlain as well, who also had trouble getting past Russell in the Eastern Conference when he was in Philly. But as you can see, not once did this rivalry have three consecutive Finals.
And then there was the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 80s, Magic vs. Bird. The most transformative decade in basketball history.
1984 Finals: Celtics over Lakers
1985 Finals: Lakers over Celtics
1987 Finals: Lakers over Celtics
Magic Johnson #32 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up to shoot over Larry Bird #33 of the Boston Celtics during the 1985 NBA Basketball Finals at the Boston Garden. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Do you think people were upset about seeing another Magic vs. Bird matchup? Were they clamoring for another Moses Malone – Ralph Sampson matchup? Hell no.
Starting five years before Jordan entered the league, many give the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry credit for making the NBA what it is today. If you’re any NBA fan at all, you’re aware of the greatness; they belong on the Mount Rushmore of basketball; and yet even their great rivalry didn’t see three consecutive Finals.
We’re going to get it with Cleveland vs. Golden State. Or, depending how you look at it: LeBron vs. Steph. LeBron vs. the Golden All-Stars. LeBron vs … the world.
LeBron is chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan, Steph Curry is the little guy who isn’t in the Slam Dunk contest and Kevin Durant is ‘evil’ for leaving Oklahoma City. But we may never see a rivalry like this in our lifetime. It’s far past the time to give credit where credit is due.
Durant is a future Hall-of-Famer. Steph Curry is the greatest shooter in the history of the sport. And LeBron will likely be at the top of every major statistical category by his retirement, and will also be on the Mount Rushmore of basketball after entering his 7th straight NBA Finals — which, oh yeah, hasn’t been done since Russell.
I’m not a Cavs fan or a Warriors fan. I get it. Hate it all you want. But if you don’t watch Cavs vs. Warriors Part III, you’ll be missing history.
Josh Helmuth is the editor of Crave Sports.