7:13pm PT by Tim Goodman
The NBA Finals: Great TV (So Long As the Warriors Win)
Even before it starts next Thursday, the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers should be a very easy sell as a great TV event.
You’ve got the reigning MVP in Steph Curry, the four-time MVP in LeBron James – two of the greatest and most entertaining players on the planet (surrounded by other great players) – plus the battle of two franchises with previous sad-sack stories (the Cavs have never won an NBA Championship and the Warriors, in their California incarnation, last won it 40 years ago). There is also the LeBron story of trying to win one for his hometown team, the we-just-discovered-this fact that Curry is also technically from Akron, two franchises with insanely loyal fans and, in the adorable-du-jour category, media sensation Riley Curry.
It’s can’t-miss television.
You don’t have to love basketball to realize this could be a Roman Candle kinda thing. Just turn the cameras on and let the fireworks go off in all directions.
All of those words – all of that previous verbiage building up to the Finals – that’s all fine and good as a table-setter column from a TV critic. You know, that objective “boy, this will be amazing and enjoyable for everyone and we can all have that shared cultural experience through television” thing.
Except, no. I'm biased. I adore the Warriors. I have zero interest in Cleveland getting a damned thing out of this. For that matter, the entire state of Ohio.
Look, the Cavs got to the Finals in 2007. That is very recent. I don't care that they lost. They got in. The Warriors have made it to the finals exactly never since the last time they won it, when people were wearing shirt collars that touched their knees. That's a long time ago, people. Huge-Afros-and-plaid-suit era Oakland. And since the Warriors resided in San Francisco for some unmemorable years prior to that, this lack of basketball glory has been a Bay Area-wide nightmare.
Oh, we (and please don’t be one of those killjoys who thinks fans can't say “we”) have been in the playoffs before. But always the longest of long-shots, the late seed darlings who can toss up 137 points but not much else. Playoffs are a tease. Getting to the Finals is the promised land.
I understand that some fans of other teams who live in other regions of the country will find no sympathy in the plight of a Warriors fan. I mean, other teams suck. They really do. Look at the Lakers, for example. (Boy, that felt great....) There are terrible teams galore. Nobody is going to feel sorry for Warriors fans.
For a lot of reasons. And they won’t feel sorry for me, either. For a lot of reasons. Like, say, I’m also a Giants fan and three World Championships in five years is a thing. It’s a real thing. And people who are not Giants fans do not like that it’s a thing. I’m also a 49ers fan and, despite last year, things have been relatively amazing, as I’ve grown up with them and, oh, yeah, (mumbles in hand) five Super Bowl Championships.
I know. I get it. It’s not like as a fan in the Bay Area suffering over sports teams is a way of life.
But let’s leave out every other factor and just focus on our one basketball team. One. It’s all Warriors or nothing here. And there’s been a whole lot of nothing through the years. There have been awful, heinous years. There have been hopeful years (the Run-TMC era, but hey, if you have to reference an OG rap group to remember the glory days, well...). There were sideshow years (Manute Bol). There were the choke-the-coach years (Latrell Sprewell). There were the never-ever-seeing-highlights-on-SportsCenter-years (so many of those). But Warriors fans always filled the arena (now dubbed Roaracle instead of Oracle, mostly by TV announcers just learning it). Warriors fans filled seats when there wasn't much to watch except the other team. But the team slowly started to get there. The slow evolution, the putting together of just the right pieces, was all coming together in the last, say, three seasons. The Warriors were a very good team last year. But they're a pretty great team this year.
The best record in the NBA. An authoritative drive through each round. A Championship would cement the team's greatness. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Riley Curry – it’s all there, people. All the ingredients. It's so close. If you tilt your head just right, you can smell a whiff of destiny.
Standing in the way? King James – arguably the best player in the world and definitely its most influential current-day figure on the court, as recent history suggests. There is no bigger roadblock to destiny for Dub Nation than LeBron James.
So he’s the villain, clearly, right? I mean, the guy has already won two titles! Don’t be so greedy! Who cares if there's some fairytale Cleveland story about the prodigal son returning to write the perfect story. Nobody wants to see that!
Well, OK, that’s not true. But I don't want to see that. And as a TV critic, I can tell you with some authority that LeBron leading the Cavs to victory is a boring story. It'll feel redundant. It'll be anti-climactic. Only James disciples and people in Ohio and ESPN will love that ending. That's a terrible ending.
If you're going to tell a story – and an NBA season is like a long story for every team involved – it has to be cinematic and have multiple layers of richness. It has to be original and endearing. LeBron getting yet another ring is not original or endearing.
It has to be the Warriors.
Even if you're a Clippers fan, you know that. Even if you have a James Harden poster in your bedroom and you hold a grudge against Curry for being MVP, you know that.
Pulling for the best guard tandem maybe ever is better than pulling for LeBron, right? It's a slam dunk (see what I did there?). Sure, stories could be told about other players on the Cavs other than LeBron, but that won't happen and you know it. There's always the "overcoming Kevin Love's injury" story, but nobody likes a feel-good story that will be used as an excuse if they lose. And let's be honest – nobody cares about the whole win-one-for-Cleveland small-market story except people in Ohio and, specifically, Cleveland.
There are so many better storylines with Oakland. From the obscure (in praise of New York's David Lee for coming to a team no free agent wanted to come to, thus helping us feel validated and loved even though we've outgrown him) to the predictable (Riley Curry is precocious and Steph's a great dad and everybody's so good looking in that family, etc.). I can already see The Draymond Green story on Oprah's network. On the bench, there are good stories that can be told. And as a city, how could you not root for Oakland? It has overcome Gertrude Stein, San Francisco's disdain, a history of terrible mayors, astonishingly high murder rates and the Warriors themselves to become a truly amazing place to live, work (hi!), eat and enjoy sports, despite the fact that the A's owners want to flee and, well, the Raiders.
Anyway, we'll fix the ragged parts in post.
The point is this: the NBA Finals are going to be amazing. You'll want to make this appointment television. But if the Cavs win, the whole thing will be ruined.
You see that, right?