Choosing Between Greatness and Hope: Who to Root for in the NBA Finals
This NBA Finals is a special one. Not just because of its intriguing individual matchups or its international flair. No, this championship series is so great because deciding who to root for is a true test of ethos.
In Golden State we find basketball nirvana. The Warriors have gone to the Finals for five straight seasons, shattering offensive records in the process. Golden State is a symbol of excellence, a team of the highest caliber and distinction.
Toronto is very different. The Raptors are in the Finals for the first time ever, largely thanks to shrewd team-building, a risky composition, and yes, a healthy dose of luck. Toronto is a team built on hope, on ambition.
That said, the Raptors aren’t true cinderellas. Their visit to the Ball is a bit more nuanced than strictly magical. Likewise these Warriors are incredibly loveable. What’s a fan to do?
Rooting for the underdog is a timeless tradition in sports. In some ways, it speaks to a larger American mythology. However cherishing the exceptional is an equally rewarding pursuit. (No, I’m not just saying that as a Patriots fan.)
Much has been written about how the Warriors have changed NBA basketball. How their offense and style is modern. How Golden State has been, to borrow a Silicon Valley favorite, disruptive. The degree to which this is true, though, is what is so amazing about the Dubs.
In punching its ticket to the Finals, Golden State became the first team in half a century to advance to the NBA championship five years in a row. When the dust settles, these Warriors will undeniably land among the best basketball dynasties of all time. And that’s tremendously exciting.
To root for Golden State is to celebrate the extraordinary. Dominance like this has been absent in the NBA for generations. A third straight title and a fourth in five years would be quite an accomplishment for an already very decorated run.
(It would also mean that LeBron James - who went on his own preposterous run of eight straight Finals appearances - was the sole force capable of upending these Warriors.)
We love Jordan’s Bulls. We love the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. And the Lakers and the Celtics of the 80s. And on and on. Rooting for the Dubs whole-heartedly in this NBA Finals is an exercise in celebrating the sort of greatness that makes the Association so compelling.
The history of the NBA is one defined by legacies and dynasties. What’s so amazing about the Warriors is just how demanding a dynasty they have proven to be.
Every so often, however, the tides turn. In these rare moments, we see heroic champions emerge. Consider the 2011 Mavericks or the 2004 Pistons. Truly great teams gone just as soon as they arrived.
For small market teams or franchises carrying the baggage of years losing or titlelessness, these singular champions provide more than just hope. They provide guidance. With the right formula, any team can find itself at the top of the NBA mountain.
What Toronto has accomplished is immense. To trade for Kawhi Leonard was a perfect storm of circumstance and audacity. Throw in in smaller but similarly brilliant moves for players like Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol alongside smart selections at the draft, and Toronto quickly but very smartly built itself a contender.
There’s no player on the Raptors drafted higher than No.15 (Leonard). Players like Kyle Lowry have been with the club for many seasons, through thick and thin. This is a triumph of patience and of smart thinking.
The Raptors aren’t some Johnny come-lately Mid-Major that backed its way onto the biggest stage. No, Toronto earns immense credit for what they have built. But the opportunity to even do so is a fleeting one in the NBA. Just ask the Celtics or the Rockets; greatness is no guarantee.
Toronto’s shot at a title is a testament to the sort of hope necessary to survive in the NBA. Not too long ago the Warriors were themselves a laughingstock, all before taking a shot on a kid from Davidson with shaky ankles changed everything.
Selecting a rooting interest in the 2019 NBA Finals is therefore a choice between two diametrically opposed storylines. It is not David vs Goliath, but instead a battle of ethereal greatness or improbable glory. Either way, buckle up.