On the NBA Finals: What Did You Expect?

Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates after being announced the Finals MVP after their victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Five of the 2017 NBA Finals on June 12, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE / Getty Images

It started out with a kiss. How did it end up like this?

Save for David West’s and Tristan Thompson’s single thrilling moment of forbidden romance, the NBA Finals were mostly devoid of any real drama. Fueled by a magic toaster, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title after defeating Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in five fairly leisurely games. The Warriors are champions because of course they’re champions. This is a team that won 73 games in a season, then replaced Harrison Barnes, who’s thoroughly mediocre, with Kevin Durant, who’s considerably better than ok.

Seriously. What did you expect?

For the past year and change, sports have largely defied any semblance of reason or logic. Last season, these very same Warriors blew a 3-1 lead (a 3-1 lead! It’s important that we not forget that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals) to the Cavs. The Chicago Cubs also trailed 3-1 in the World Series before winning their first championship since the Paleolithic era. In the Super Bowl, Donald Trump’s beloved New England Patriots stormed back from a 28-3 deficit and made every non-Bostonian with a soul very unhappy. In the NHL, the Nashville Predators, the team with the worst record in the playoffs, catfished the Western Conference before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. In European soccer, too, Leicester City rode a mixture of pixie dust and Thai orgies to the 2016 English Premier League title. So even as the Cavaliers stared down the barrel of a 3-0 deficit, it was tempting to believe that they still had a chance. They didn’t.

The Warriors provided proof that things are still allowed to make sense, that it’s possible to win a championship without surmounting the seemingly unsurmountable. The 2017 Golden State Warriors are probably the best team in NBA history. This is just a statement of fact. They have four of the most singular talents ever to play basketball in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. More impressive than the sheer accumulation of talent, though, the Warriors exist in absolute harmony, their four stars perfectly complementing each other, forming a terrifying hydra of lights-out shooting and impenetrable defense. Some teams may have won more regular season games than the Warriors’ 67 this season, and some teams have equalled their 16-1 postseason record, but nobody has ever matched the combination of the Warriors’ metronomic consistency and peak-level dominance. You can argue for the 1995–1996 Bulls if you want, or the Showtime Lakers if you’re old and terrified of change, or the We Believe Warriors if you’re Stephen Jackson and irrationally confident (which is the most entertaining type of confident, by the way), but why would you want to be so flagrantly wrong?

Noted idiot Colin Cowherd called the Warriors a “millennial team.” And while this is yet another dumbass feather in his dumbass cap of codswallop, it also kind of makes sense, in a backwards kind of way. I have no idea what a “millennial team” is, but the Warriors are, without a doubt, the end-product of the trends that have defined the NBA’s last decade. On the court, they’re the truest representation of pace-and-space, a rapid deluge of three-pointers and dunks paired with a largely position-less, switch-friendly defense. Off the court, their construction is a reflection of the current prevailing attitude towards team building. Following the precedent set by Lebron James and other recent free agents who demonstrated their free agency, Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors thanks to the sudden cap spike, forming the superteam to end all superteams.

Although the Warriors’ current run is remarkable — two titles in three seasons, 207 wins over that same time frame, the employment of the two players who have won the last three MVPs — their future is equally bright. At 29 years old, Curry is the oldest member of their four-man core — a nucleus poised to stay intact for the near and distant future once Curry and Durant sign long-term contracts this summer. Even the most optimistic, parity-loving Mr. Brightside among us can see that the Warriors are going to win every title until the oceans swallow us whole.

Beyond their success, the Warriors are interesting to watch and ponder because they’re paradoxically the most and least human team ever. Here is a cauldron of fiery emotion and pride — Draymond Green’s shouting, Steph Curry’s shimmying — even as the players coldly, clinically dismantle their opponents. They play joyful, reckless basketball with algorithmic efficiency, ruthlessly scoping out three-pointers and dunks; they’re a self-driving car programmed by English majors.

It’s easy to see the Warriors as NBA villains, a loathsome band of privates-pummelling braggarts and heartless mercenaries, a sneering monolith that myopically views itself as a plucky upstart. That’s probably fair; they are villains, in a traditional sense. Still, their title was a cathartic release. For the better part of a year, the Warriors have been under the electron microscope of public opinion. Their dominance was so absolute and undeniable that it became a given, shifting the surrounding discussions from being about basketball to being about anything else. Everything they did or had done to them was saturated in non-existent meaning and symbolism — Do Curry and Durant get along? Is Russell Westbrook’s latest outfit a veiled jab ? Are they doing things the “right way”? — until the meta-levels of conversation consumed the elemental ones. They became less of a basketball team, and more of an empty vessel onto which people projected whatever it was that they wanted to project.

But for a moment, though, none of that mattered. The layers of inane subtext were blasted away by a plume of blue and gold confetti. The Warriors won and, for now at least, that’s enough. Stephen Curry held his daughter Riley in his arms; 19,000 Warriors “fans” tunelessly belted “We Are the Champions;” Finals MVP Kevin Durant found his mother, the real MVP, at center court and celebrated and cried. And, for once, it was only a kiss. It was only a kiss.