For as nearly as basketball realizes the ideals of an individual sport—due to the outsized impact a single transcendent player can have on his team’s fortunes and the fact that opposing greats can and often do line up right across from each other to test the potency of their powers in direct opposition to their rival’s—this NBA Finals series was never the Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James showdown. Curry may have wrestled away the mantle of the league’s best player from James’s hands after last season’s Finals, then ran away with it during the Warriors’ and his own historic greatness during this year’s regular season, but very early on in this series it was evident that James, with his otherworldly talents across the entire spectrum of basketball abilities, remained a cut above Curry as an all-around player. Thus, Curry vs. James wasn’t the defining matchup of the series.
While Curry and James never truly challenged each other head-to-head for any sustained period during the Finals (though one of the handful of iconic moments these Finals did produce involved Curry trying skitter past James for a layup, only for LeBron to spike the ensuing shot through the floorboards of the Cavs’ arena and informing the reigning two-time league MVP not to attempt something similar or else risk getting his shit wrecked once again), the Finals were not without a player seeking to validate himself by gunning at one of his supposed betters. The headline story of the Finals—rightfully—is about James removing all doubt that he is anything other than the NBA’s most massive force around which the rest of the league orbits and bends to his whim. But this title would not have been possible without Kyrie Irving and his attempts to prove he’s better than Curry.