In June, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship for the second year in a row. Whooo!
Let me stop here and say that I’m biased. I’m a Warriors fan – I was a student at Berkeley when the Warriors had won their first Championship in 30 years.
More importantly, this is the fourth year in the row that the Warriors faced the Cleveland Cavaliers (hereby to be referred to as “Cavs”) in the championships. For a moment there, it wasn’t sure whether either of these teams were going to make it to the Finals. In both Conference Finals, the Warriors and the Cavs faced teams that had better records at the end of the regular season – the Houston Rockets and the Boston Celtics, respectively. The Warriors and Cavs cinched their spots in the Finals only after winning a Game 7 by a margin of less than 10 points.
But, the Warriors and the Cavs were to face each other again in the Finals, and some NBA fans weren’t very excited. They felt that they had seen this before and the Finals wouldn’t be compelling or fresh. However, for me, the Warriors and the Cavs appearing in the Finals for the fourth year in a row felt like it was an archetypical battle between good and evil. Not that the Finals was a showdown between good and evil, not at all, but it was a clash of dualistic values because of what I feel the teams represent.
Am I confusing you? Let me try to explain.
To me, the Warriors represent a team, while LeBron is the Cavs.
On one side, there’s an ongoing narrative that LeBron is the reason why the Cavs have been able to make it so far. He carries the team. The strategy is built around him as the leader. LeBron overshadows his other teammates (this has even become a joke on SNL – see video below), and it is likely the reason why Kyrie Irving eventually left the Cavs for the Celtics.
It’s natural to think of LeBron as the Cavs because he consistently delivers. He beats record after record, and more often than not, he ends games as with highest number of points, assists, and rebounds for his team. He is extremely skilled and talented, often debated as one of the best players in NBA history.
On the other hand, the Warriors and their successes in the last couple of years can be attributed to them playing as a cohesive team. Coach Kerr takes an egalitarian approach to the Warriors’ strategy: “I feel there’s a power in everybody touching the ball and everybody sharing in the offense.” In the regular season, the Warriors led the league in assists per game at 29.3, and an indicative stat of team performance is not about the points or shots, but about the number of passes.
There’s incredible but diverse talent on the roster: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson are the most talked about players. Yet, their bench players–Andre Iguodala, Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, etc.–cannot be overlooked. They have demonstrated their abilities in crucial moments throughout the season.
So even though it was a match-up between two teams–the Warriors and the Cavs–it was really between a team and an individual. (Much love to Kevin Love though!) It’s an age-old dichotomy in team sports, in workplaces, in school, in many areas of our lives.
So, when the Warriors won the NBA Championship, I was overjoyed not only because the Warriors are my team and they swept (It’s not often the Finals are swept!), but because it just reinforced how I think basketball (and other things in life) should be played.
If the Cavs were to win, then are we saying about competition? That you can work hard as a team but then a single person can come by and beat you? Also, this puts incredible pressure on the person to constantly perform well and carry the team. What does this say about our values? Is it more beneficial to be a team player or to be the absolute best?
I don’t think that teams should be built around a single player, and even the Cavs demonstrated that it was unsustainable. I’m not saying here that LeBron doesn’t believe in teamwork, but the outcome of the games depends on the LeBron. Towards the end of Game 1 of the Finals, JR Smith made a mistake that essentially cost the Cavs the game. In anger, LeBron punched a white board, injured himself, and “pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand”. Without LeBron playing at 100%, the Cavs ultimately lost the next three games, and thus, the championship.
This event led many people to speculate what the outcome of the Finals would have been had LeBron not injured himself. But, I don’t think that should be the focus. I think the lesson here is that NBA teams can’t be built around one player. It may be a great story that one person can overcome such a team that is the Warriors, but it also impressive for talented players to be able to sacrifice their individual glory for the benefit of their team, like how Curry, Durant, and other Warriors do. Actually, the Warriors have been labelled the “happiest team in sports” because of how they win together.
The Finals with the Warriors and the Cavs is allegorical because it is pitting arguably the best player against arguably the most well-rounded, cohesive team in the history of the NBA. Teamwork won out this year and last year, but it’s a match-up that we see and probably will continue to see in all team competition over and over.
Go Warriors! #StrengthInNumbers
Over and out.
PS. Sorry that this post isn’t more timely; it’s been sitting in drafts (along with many others) for a while. Hoping to post more soon!