As we have throughout the last several years, WFNY will use the last two weeks of December to discuss the most important stories of the last twelve months. Stay with us as we count down the biggest and most discussed topics of 2016. Our “Best of 2016” rolls on as we start to count down the top 10 stories of the year.
The Bay versus The Land. King versus Steph. Seven of the last eight MVPs on the same floor. All-Stars galore. The Trilogy. The Rubber Match. You could spin off an entire spool of jargon, but it all set the stage for the first time in NBA history when the same two teams met for three consecutive seasons to decide who the champion would be.
In one way, it was Cleveland quickly regaining that sense of jubilation that permeated the city for an entire summer after the Cavaliers won the championship in June of 2016. In another, it was Oakland looking for revenge after the Warriors were the first team in the history of the league to blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals that very month. It was nearly eight months in the making, but it was the inevitable—the Cavaliers and the Warriors, for a maximum of seven games, to see who would be the ones to wrestle the Larry O’Brien Trophy away for another year.
The magnitude of the series and the players involved would evolve into a global story line for several weeks. While this would be the first NBA Finals series to feature the same two teams in three consecutive years, it joined elite company across the other major sports. In 1921, 1922, and 1923, The New York Yankees faced the New York Giants in the World Series, featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, Wally Pipp, Frankie Frisch, and “High Pockets” Kelly. The Cleveland Browns, back when they were a real football team, battled for championships in 1952, 1953 and 1954 against the Detroit Lions. This was well before Otto Graham, Marion Motley, and Lou Groza weren’t just names on the side of FirstEnergy Stadium. And there were the four consecutive matchups between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, Jackie Robinson versus Mickey Mantle. And this doesn’t even get into Ali-Frazier, potentially the best “trifecta” in the history of sport.
After the Cavaliers thumped the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James became just the 15th athlete in any of the four major sports to play in seven consecutive Finals. For added perspective, he was the first outside the Montreal Canadiens’ dynasty of the 1950s and the Boston Celtics’ of the 1960s.
The Warriors and Cavs were beyond dominant through the first three rounds, combining to go 24-1 in the playoffs heading into the Finals. Think about this for a second. Dominating in the regular season is one thing. Winning 24 of 25 games against competition that is said to be the cream of the league’s crop is another. There were the Cavaliers and Warriors, and the rest of the NBA.
There were thoughts of “what would have been” had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love been available for the 2015 version. There was that entire “best player in the world” thing where players from both teams sat at the dais the summer before talking about James and Curry following the Cavs’ win in 2016. There were the regular season matchups—the Cavs winning on Christmas Day as Kyrie Irving drained a turnaround jumper over the outstretched arm of Klay Thompson. There was the Halloween Party—the gravestone cookies and the band of skeletons with “3-1 LEAD” on the kick drum. There was Draymond Green tweeting about 3-1 leads after the Indians gave one up to the Chicago Cubs in that year’s World Series.
There were lyrics being scrubbed…
…wives firing off trash talk…
High Road. invisible bridge used to step over said person when open floor is available left to right.
— Ayesha Curry (@ayeshacurry) June 12, 2016
…and Green actually saying something worth listening to.
“I think it’s a great thing for the league, contrary to popular belief where everyone says it’s boring,” Green said. “I think maybe people just fail to realize that you just have two great teams and don’t appreciate that. Everyone wants to say, ‘Ah, man, this is boring’ and this that and the other, but you usually don’t appreciate something until you don’t have it anymore. And so, I think maybe there’s just a lack of appreciation for greatness. But then when you look at a situation, most people have never reached greatness. So maybe there’s just not an understanding of what you’re watching. I think you’ve found two great teams. We’ve played that way, and maybe people don’t appreciate it because of a blowout or because of a sweep.
“But people may want to be careful, because I think right now you’re witnessing greatness.”
Think about this for a second: For all the times the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, and Chicago Bulls were at the top of the NBA mountain in the 80s and 90s, never did two of those teams square off in three straight NBA Finals. Magic and Bird is held in lore, but they never did it. Jordan had Drexler and Barkley and Malone and a variety of other would-be foes out west. Kobe and Shaq beat three different teams. Pop and the Spurs did the same.
There will be a point when fans look back at this series and all of the eventual Hall of Famers who played on the same court for a two-week span. They will look back at Cleveland as the place where Kevin Durant hit his redemption shot in Game 3. They’ll look back at Game 4 as the boat race that it was. They’ll look back at the entire series, place it properly in the company of all other trilogies in professional sports, and realize that 2017 was a summer where greatness unfolded before our very eyes, no matter how you try to spin it.