The thing about having known for more than a calendar year how the 2017 NBA Finals would go is that by the time it actually happened, man, the Well of Takes was sending up buckets of straight-up mud. The basketblogs are bad this week, my friends! They’re bad.
The function of these historically dominant Golden State Warriors is to help LeBron James in his “pursuit of greatness,” according to this dog’s breakfast by The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks. The premise is that, since LeBron probably was never going to convince, uh, bloggers (I guess?) that he is definitively greater than Michael Jordan was, “the best thing that could’ve happened to LeBron” is to butt up against the best team of all time: If he beats them, he has a historic achievement on his résumé, but if he doesn’t, nobody can really blame him.
The first thing to note, here, is the classic Bill Simmons construction, wherein the actual event itself—the basketball being played on the court by the professional basketball players, the game or series or season or career—exists in service to and derives all its meaning from what it makes a blogger think about how the participants compare to earlier athletes on that blogger’s conceptual Pantheon Of Sports Greatness Or Whatever. Do you think LeBron James would say that the 73-win Warriors adding the NBA’s second-best player and making themselves an essentially unbeatable juggernaut was a better “thing that could’ve happened” to him than, uh, them not doing that, and maybe the path to winning some championships remaining a little easier to traverse for a couple more years? It doesn’t matter, because in this construct LeBron James is neither a basketball player nor a person: He is a collectible item with a trade value, and the only question that matters is whether a blogger can trade him straight up for a Jordan.
Here’s my favorite sentence from this Ringer blog: “No matter what happens from here, LeBron’s legacy is secure.” Is it, now? I would submit that, if you are writing a blog about how LeBron James requires the opposition of the greatest team of all time to help him in his “pursuit of greatness”—that if you are claiming that LeBron James is still in pursuit of greatness and not himself a pretty fair definition of the idea—you had better be prepared to make a persuasive argument that his “legacy” is ... not secure. Otherwise the entire rest of your blog is superfluous. The best thing that could happen to LeBron James is for another team to make it all but impossible for him to win lots more championships, for the sake of his legacy, which is already secure no matter what. Then what the fuck are we talking about?
Here’s another tortured postmortem, by the otherwise very good Matt Moore of CBS Sports. The extremely hilarious conceit: What most people do not realize about the Warriors—the team that launched something like 5,000 insufferably fawning “They care! And share! They care and share and care!” takes over the past three years—is that they aren’t just the most talent-loaded team of all time, but actually, they play smart and unselfish teeeeeeeeeeam basketball, too. So maybe the lesson for the rest of the NBA isn’t to try to match this superteam’s unprecedented concentration of talent, but to model its sharing and self-sacrifice and teamwork. Because, uh, I guess the key to beating the Warriors is to play the same way they do, but with worse players?
I like the mental image this conjures of Gregg Popovich—whose San Antonio Spurs incubated both Warriors coach Steve Kerr and the style of fast-paced, unselfish, creative, Europe-inflected small-ball Kerr ported over to Golden State; whose 2016-17 squad was, if anything, even more fanatically decentralized and teamwork-oriented than the Warriors; and who took a 21-point lead on those Warriors in Game 1 of the West finals before one of Golden State’s many ring-hunting veteran mercenaries slid a foot beneath Kawhi Leonard’s jumpshot and knocked him out for the rest of the playoffs—watching last night’s game in utter bafflement. “That’s it! Small ball! Passing! Constant motion! Defense and self-sacrifice! Why didn’t I think of it sooner??????? Trying to beat the Warriors on raw talent alone was my only mistake.”
Listen. There’s lots more stuff like this out there this morning, as the internet’s very many tired and wrung-out basketbloggers strain to wring counterintuitive insight and/or poetry out of an outcome—to last night’s game, to the 2017 Finals, and to the decision to add Kevin Durant to a team that won 73 games and came within a minute of a championship the season before—that contained about half as much dramatic uncertainty as counting the days on a calendar. I’m not going to round it all up, here. It is very silly. One of the best basketball teams of all time added Kevin Durant and improved. Do them the honor of acknowledging the dull obviousness they sought and accomplished. The lesson, here, is: If you can add Kevin Durant to your team, don’t be a fucking idiot.
The team with more great basketball players played better than the team with fewer great basketball players, and won. That’s what usually happens. What it means is that the Golden State Warriors are NBA champions now. What it portends for the future of the NBA is a nice long break, and not one minute too soon.