Last year the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers played each other in the NBA finals for the third consecutive year. The meeting marked the first time in NBA history that the same two teams had played each other in the finals three times in a row. In fact, it has only happened one time each in professional baseball, football, and hockey, and has never happened in the WNBA. So why after three years is it not only likely the Cavs and Warriors will play each other again, but all but inevitable? The answer is superteams.
When the Cavs and Warriors first met each other in the NBA finals in 2015, they were already powerhouse teams. Lebron James, fresh off of two NBA championships and four straight trips to the finals with the Miami Heat, had returned to his hometown, while the growing legend of Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ dynamic offense was just beginning. Steph Curry won the MVP, and the Warriors won an NBA best 67 games that regular season, propelling themselves to their first championship in 40 years.
Neither team made too many big moves that off-season. They both knew they had what it takes to make it back to the finals, and Cleve- land hoped that with everybody healthy this time they would win.
In the 2015-16 season the Warriors won their first 24 consecutive games, and it became clear that they were not just the best team in the NBA that year, but maybe the best ever. They finished the regular season 73-9, the best record in NBA history, and despite a shaky playoff, ultimately reached the finals to defend their title. The Cavs on the other side faced little opposition reaching the finals and arrived with a vengeance. In seven tight games, the Cavs won the NBA championship, and a rivalry between two superteams had begun.
The 2016 off-season was not anything like the last. Kevin Durant, the 2014 MVP and arguably the second-best player in baskeball, signed with the Warriors, the team that had just come off the most successful regular season campaign in basketball history. The move was shrouded in controversy as the rest of the NBA and its fans realized that an already historically good Warriors team had just become unstoppable. To respond, the Cavaliers made a number of trades during the season, but when the Warriors won the 2016-17 NBA championship in six games, it seemed inevitable. The Warriors had a super- team.
This offseason the Cavaliers have signed the 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade and the Boston Celtic’s main duo of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, more than making up for their loss of Kyrie Irving. There is no other team in the East that even comes close to having that kind of manpower. In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder have added all-stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to go along with the 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook, and the dynamic duo of James Harden and Chris Paul on the Houston Rockets is a deadly offensive threat; and they have no shot at beating the Warriors.
The truth of the NBA today is that one of the teams I have just mentioned will win the championship this year, and in all likelihood, it will be either the Cavs or Warriors. Unlike in baseball or football, where every year brings new players, new stars, and exciting twists, basketball will have no such surprises this year. Lebron James will make his record-breaking eighth consecutive finals appearance, and for the fourth year running, they will play the Warriors.
This rivalry is perhaps the most fierce and entertaining in sports today, and the last three years’ finals have had the highest viewership since 1997. The 2016-17 regular season, in contrast, had the lowest ratings since 1995.
Fans are realizing that their teams just won’t make it, and so they stop tuning in. I am a Knicks fan, and I won’t watch the regular season. I know we won’t win this year, and I know fans of 20 other teams who think the same thing. Players around the league are realizing that if they want to win, they have to join a super team. So off they go looking for a title, leaving their teams and their fans without stars or a chance. I will watch the goliaths battle it out along with the rest of basketball fans this June, but meanwhile, the rest of the NBA might just be wasting away—waiting and watching as they hope that someday, maybe it will be their turn to rule the basketball world.