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The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are on a catastrophic collision course, barreling toward one another like locomotives in the world's most terrifying word problem.
Two trains leave their stations in Oakland and Cleveland on Oct. 25. Both are traveling 10,000 miles per hour, fueled by revenge, weapons-grade pride and a hunger for history. They blow through crossings, obliterating obstructions, gorily cow-catching the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors, flattening the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics en route to their predestined head-on meeting.
How many planets will tilt off their axes when they collide?
The impact will produce the thermal energy of ___ hydrogen bombs.
T/F: Staring directly at the blast will cause Raiders of the Lost Ark-level face-melting.
Please show your work.
Except, somehow, this cosmic, imminent spectacle isn't doing it for everyone. For some, the inevitability of a Warriors-Cavs supernova in June isn't worth the death of drama from October to May.
For these people, none of whom you should ever invite to a party, the fatalism of the 2016-17 NBA season has exactly as much intrigue as a standard math problem. Which is to say none.
For them, watching the Warriors and Cavs sweep their way into the conference finals is a negative. Seeing them cut down the Spurs and Celtics is somehow unappetizing.
Forget that noise. We need this. We need Cleveland and Golden State to meet a third time with everything at stake.
We need it because even after meeting in the last two Finals, there's so much left undecided.
Start with the 1-1 split begging for resolution. Nobody likes ties, and if the Warriors and Cavs never met again, that's what we'd all be stuck with.
And even worse, it'd be a tainted draw.
In 2015, Kyrie Irving played just one game before succumbing to a knee injury, and Kevin Love's separated shoulder cost him the entire Finals. Last year, Stephen Curry wasn't himself after suffering his own knee injury in the first round. Draymond Green got himself suspended for a pivotal Game 5, which the Warriors lost en route to the most conspicuous Finals collapse in memory.
If you stopped there, with the need for closure only a rubber match could provide, you'd already have a compelling justification for craving one more Finals meeting between these two superpowers. You'd have enough to drown out the Debbie Downers shouting about predictability.
But there's so much more.
We're speeding toward an era-defining crossroads, one that will either add to LeBron James' already unassailable legacy or make him a footnote in another one.
Imagine how we'll view James' entire career (and particularly its latter stages) if he's the guy who takes two out of three titles from the Warriors. Try to envision the level of heroism we'll attach to that feat.
If James carries the Cavs to a Finals victory, he'll have toppled a 73-win monster, watched it reload with another MVP and then done it again. It'd be like James climbing Mount Everest, seeing a taller mountain sprout up right next to it and saying, "Screw it, I'm summiting that b---h, too."
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
If you measure the greatness of a champion by the strength of his challengers, James twice defeating the Warriors would put him on a level entirely his own.
Michael Jordan beat an aging John Stockton and Karl Malone a couple of times to close out his title-winning days.
LeBron stomped out Curry and Kevin Durant in their primes. He offed the mother of all superteams. Twice.
There's no comparison there. James would become the most celebrated champion of the modern era.
Flip it, and you get a Warriors dynasty gaining full validation. If the Dubs knock off James twice in three years, bookending the winningest three-season run in league history, they'll cement their status as one of the greatest teams ever. And given the relative youth of their core, they may only be getting started. Vanquishing LeBron twice would inoculate them against criticism that subsequent title wins came in a post-James era lacking top-flight competition.
For that matter, Golden State could effectively create the post-James era.
Ron Schwane/Associated Press
In this scenario, James retains some of his mystique. He'd still be the only mortal to make a god bleed.
If you want to make this meeting a referendum on Durant's career, you've got that option, too. Will he stand as a symbol of ego subjugation? Will a ring validate his acceptance of a lesser role on a greater team? Or will he finish this season with the same number of titles as Russell Westbrook?
The results of this inevitable Finals rematch (The Threematch?) will irreversibly shape our conversations about:
- The greatest player of all time
- The greatest team of all time
- Two other MVPs
- The broader history of the sport itself
All this at the cost of a perfunctory regular season and a few postseason series wanting for mystery?
Worth it. Worth it a thousand times over.
This preordained collision isn't boring because it's sapping the intrigue from the lead-up. Instead, think of it as building momentum toward the conclusion we all need.
And like any good train wreck, no one—not even those fun-averse detractors whining about competitive balance or the intrigue-sucking force of fatalism—will be able to look away.
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Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Accurate through May 18.
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