As the Golden State Warriors paraded around San Francisco at the end of last season, there was palpable frustration coming from NBA fans.
Having watched a fourth consecutive Warriors-Cavaliers final, everyone seemed to have own qualm with the repetitive narratives. Some of the irritation was directed at Kevin Durant for joining a 73-win team; others were upset with the disparity of level between the league’s two conferences.
But perhaps most notably, the narratives were either growing thin or old. LeBron James’s dominance was astonishing, but by the Finals, the result was a foregone conclusion.
The NBA needed something new. Now, they finally have it.
Since the Toronto Raptors made franchise history with their Eastern Conference Finals win against the Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday, the news cycle has spun in multiple directions. First, analysts called for a sweep. Then, people considered the impact of Kevin Durant’s injury; the predictions shifted closer to five and six games. Finally, the narrative seems to have landed on its feet: this year, for the first time in two years, there’s a wide level of uncertainty with what happens next.
The expectation of witnessing the unprecedented is back, with Steph Curry’s Finals MVP opportunity finally ringing the doorbell. Yet, the Warriors’ opposition has a perennial superstar on the other end of the floor, a Toronto team showing to have the ability to disrupt a league-leading offence. The past two finals—especially last season—had the former, but far less reliable version of the latter (apologies, J.R.).
With a longer period to sink their teeth into the finals previews, media members have debated over potential lineups and matchups, with few having a clear read on what’ll take place over the next two to three weeks.
While the series has enough talent and depth to keep basketball geeks on their toes, the big-picture implications of the result—and whether the championship truly matters to both squad’s long-term trajectory—has dominated the majority of this week’s commentary.
For the first time in history, the league has two players—Durant and Kawhi Leonard—who, regardless of whether they walk away with a championship, are assumed to move elsewhere in the offseason. Durant seems destined for New York. Leonard, despite remaining more ambiguous, has many believing he’s on his way out (even if Toronto completes the upset).
Upon all this rests the greater meaning of what fans get to watch this year. On one end, it could spell the end of an era for arguably the best team in league history. On the other, it’s the opportunity for the greatest one-and-done season in league history.
This isn’t a finals defined by what comes next. This is a series of endings, one where fans on both sides are looking to appreciate the greatness they have for short amount of time they have left.
This isn’t the older brother vs. younger, unproven sibling narrative. There’s no simple analogy for what’s on tap this June—the foreground and backdrop offers enough content to keep a media outlet afloat for four months.
But most of all, both team’s fanbases are seeming to understand one thing: enjoy it while you can. After a combined nine finals games in two years, it’s the theme the NBA has been desperately.
This series is already a success—the hype surrounding both teams is deafening. Now, there’s only one thing to do.