The NBA Finals are finally set. The matchup will look familiar. For the third year in a row, the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers. Two years ago the Warriors won. Last season, despite trailing 3 games to 1, LeBron James led his Cavs to 3 straight wins and delivered the long-suffering sports fans of Cleveland their first pro sports title in over a half century.
Listening to sports talk radio, and talking with folks I know, lots of people are not pleased by this third straight engagement. Some say the dominance of these two teams is not good for the NBA. One thing is certain, their respective runs to the Finals were quite dominant this year. The Warriors head to the Finals a perfect 12-0 this post season. The Cavs arrive 12-1, a mere 3-pt loss to the Celtics being their only blemish.
I couldn’t disagree more with those complaining about two-team domination in the NBA. This rivalry is the closest thing I’ve seen to my childhood days of watching the Celtics vs. the Lakers. Sure, Dr. J. and his 76ers got a title in ’83, and the Pistons closed out the ’80’s as the best team, but the decade otherwise belonged to only two teams. Every year in the 1980’s it was either Magic and company beating Boston, or Larry and company beating “Showtime.” Looking back, no one in their right mind would say their rivalry was bad for the NBA. In fact, I didn’t know of anyone who thought it was bad back then either.
Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ run to six titles was the highlight of my NBA fandom. Yet the Bulls didn’t have a true NBA Finals arch rival. They beat the Lakers, Blazers, Suns, Sonics, and Jazz twice. Granted, they had a rivalry starting to brew with the Jazz, but Bulls management thought it was a good idea to break up the team after winning 6 titles in 8 years. No, the Bulls rivalries were never with the teams they faced in the championships. Their rivalries were with teams in their own conference: The Pistons at first, then the Knicks, and eventually the Pacers.
Same deal for these awesome guys. Duncan and company won five titles, but always against different foes. Like the Bulls, they never had a true “Lakers v. Celtics” type of Finals rivalry.
That’s why I’m enjoying this new inter-conference rivalry. Though I’m not a fan of either team per se, I wasn’t a fan of the ’80’s Lakers or Celtics either. I was however, a fan of all those great matchups Magic and Larry led against each other. Much the same, I’ve enjoyed watching these two teams go at it in the last two championships. In my perfect NBA world I’d like to see the Chicago Bulls and fellow I.U. alum Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks play each other in the Finals every year. Until that happens (ok, never) I’m going to embrace and enjoy this rivalry. I hope it continues for a few more years. Championships are best when the best are playing each other!
Prediction: Warriors in 7 games.
Series MVP: Kevin Durant.