The NBA has a serious problem on its hands.
For the third straight game in one of the most anticipated NBA Finals in recent memory, the Golden State Warriors ripped out the hearts of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and with it, the hope of NBA fans around the nation.
The first two games of the series were disappointing — an unending display of offensive firepower from Golden State that left the Cavaliers’ heads spinning. But Game 3 was downright disheartening. You could feel the demoralized hope leaving Quicken Loans Arena with the dumbfounded fans. You could see the disbelief in LeBron James’ body language after Kevin Durant hit a dagger three-pointer with 45 seconds left to put the Warriors ahead, part of an 11-0 run used to win the game in the final minutes, 118-113.
If you listen close enough, you can hear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gulp as he uneasily takes a sip of water. He would never admit it, but I’m sure deep down he knows that Golden State’s place on top of the NBA hierarchy could be detrimental for the league.
It doesn’t look like anyone is capable of knocking them off any time soon, either.
What we saw on Wednesday night was the Cavalier’s best punch. LeBron and Kyrie Irving combined for 77 points on 31-for-56 (55%) shooting, and Cleveland led for most of the fourth quarter. J.R. Smith managed to knock down five three-pointers, Kyle Korver found the bottom of the net a couple of times, and Kevin Love was feasting on rebounds in the paint.
But in the blink of an eye, none of that mattered. With just over 3:00 left, the Warriors decided enough was enough, and initiated the run that ended the game, which in turn effectively ended the NBA season.
In a single game, we saw the second-best team in the NBA’s A-game vs. the best team’s B-game. The outcome was only briefly in doubt.
If you’re Adam Silver, this is a problem.
The Warriors are one game away from going 16-0 in the NBA playoffs, something that has never been done before. They are 48 minutes away from finishing the season winning 32 of their last 33 games, and obliterating every opponent standing between them and the Larry O’Brian Trophy. There is no longer parity in the league, and that could be a huge issue.
Not even King James, arguably the best basketball player in the history of the game, can come close to beating them. You may not see it now, but this will have serious implications on the future of the league.
Let’s start with how this will affect the broadcasting partners. ABC and ESPN own the rights to the NBA Finals, and it is in their best interest for the series to be drawn out as long as possible so they can in turn receive the most revenue from ad sales and viewership numbers. If the Warriors continue to make a mockery of their opponents (and they show no signs of stopping), then that means more sweeps, and significantly less opportunities over the next several years to display your product and satisfy your marketing contracts.
“But this athletic excellence is sure to be entertaining to fans, right?”
I don’t believe so. At the root of all sports is the desire for competition. Athletes, and most fans, are competitive by nature, and the clashing of formidable foes drives ratings and increases viewership. What we love about sports is the unknown outcome. At the moment, the only unknown in this series is Golden State’s margin of victory.
Many will point to the fact that these have been the highest-rated NBA Finals since Michael Jordan capped his second three-peat in 1998 over the Utah Jazz, but don’t be so quick to think that this means we are satisfied with the product in front of us. I watched Game 2 with a small group of friends, and while the Warriors put the finishing touches on their 132-113 blowout, some gripes and grievances were aired.
It was mostly a mixed bag of “this literally isn’t fair,” and “why are we even watching this?” A number of expletives were hurled in Durant’s direction as well, with his move to the three-time Western Conference Champions seen as “bush-league” and several other things that I would get in trouble for mentioning here.
But I honestly can’t dispute them. I am all for mobility in professional sports, so long as they don’t detract from the overall product. When LeBron went to Miami in 2010, he did so to surpass the Boston Celtics — he didn’t join them to chase rings. His move created a clash with the San Antonio Spurs in back-to-back Finals, which gave us one of the greatest moments in Finals history. LeBron’s newfound role as the NBA’s villain increased viewership and drove ratings numbers.
For me, KD’s move should be seen in a different light. After choking away a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals in 2016, Durant joined that same historic 73-win team that beat him. Now, one of the most likeable players in the NBA is seen as the villain, and it feels wrong. The Warriors seem impervious to defeat, which feels unfair. The best player on Earth is putting up historic numbers this post-season, and he still seems to be completely out-matched.
Some say what we are watching is nothing more than a changing of the guard, and that LeBron is simply passing the torch to KD and the Warriors, but I don’t agree. Last summer, Kevin Durant broke the game of basketball with is free agency move. He now plays on a team with two league MVP’s, four NBA All-Stars, one goal on their minds, and nobody standing in their way.
It is hard to see the immediate effects of this shift in the league because most people are vindicated by numbers, and the numbers are historically good at the moment. For the time being, fans will still tune in to see what crazy circus-shots Steph Curry hits or scoff at Draymond Green’s demonstrative tantrums after each and every foul call, but those are just snippets of the game that keep us momentarily entertained.
At its core, the reason that we keep coming back year after year is to get lost in the uncertainty, and to watch the outcome of the series unfold in front of us. Right now, it is looking like “Warriors in 4,” and I’m willing to bet a lot of money that it will be the same result next year, the year after that, and the year after that.
It may be just me, but I don’t see a whole lot of fun in that.