At last, Thursday night, the NBA Finals begin, and one thing is guaranteed: Somebody's gonna have one hell of a party in the next fortnight. This is not another one of those seasons where denizens of San Antonio, or Los Angeles, or Boston, or Miami, have another spirited but also familiar parade to celebrate yet one more championship. Eight franchises -- the Spurs, Bulls, Lakers, Rockets, Pistons, Mavericks, Heat and Celtics -- have won every single NBA championship since 1983. That's a lot of dominance over a vast period of time.
That'll change this year. The Golden State Warriors last won a championship in 1975, a team led by Rick Barry, Butch Beard and Clifford Ray. There isn't a single active NBA player who was alive when the Warriors won that title over the Washington Bullets. It was so long ago, that the Warriors weren't even their home arenas' priority; they had to play their games at the Cow Palace in Daly City, rather than the building now known as the Roaracle, because the Ice Follies already had the place booked and arena executives weren't willing to reschedule. For the NBA Finals. (Even the Cow Palace refused to switch off a karate tournament, which led to a bizarre 1-2-1-1-1-1 home-and-home scenario, one that didn't come into play when the Warriors swept.) That's how many years it has been since the Warriors won the title: The NBA Finals were less of a priority than the Ice Follies.
And Cleveland, of course, has never won a championship, not just in basketball but also not in any sport since 1964. (And NFL championships before the Super Bowl hardly feel like they count anymore, so we're really talking about nothing since the Indians' World Series in 1948.) The Cavaliers have only made the NBA Finals once, in 2007, when they were swept by the Spurs; their next NBA Finals individual game win will be the franchise's first.
This is all to say: Someone's going to be super happy later this month. But if you're not specifically a fan of either of these teams, whom should you root for? Let's take a look at the best three reasons to cheer for each squad, your NBA Finals Rootability Guide.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The fans have suffered enough.
In case you have forgotten, and you probably haven't, here is where the Warriors were just three years ago.
Those fans were angry, and justifiably so. At that point, Golden State had won just one playoff series in 21 years and had only reached the playoffs once since 1994. The Warriors seemed to be actively antagonizing their fan base, and the response was only logical; any of us would have done the same, no matter how angry about it Rick Barry might still be. That was the pivot point, though. After that, Curry exploded into a superstar, the new guard took over, the Warriors shored up their defense and have turned into the juggernaut they were this season. (Statistical analysts consider this one of the best regular-season teams of all-time.) That whole time, though, Warriors fans stuck by their team, even when they were booing them; that arena has been deafening and shaking even for some lousy teams. This is the culmination. This is what they were waiting for. They've earned it.
It's a step forward in basketball's evolution.
One postseason subplot has been the ongoing kerfuffles that ensue every time Phil Jackson pops up on Twitter and starts sounding like your cranky uncle at Thanksgiving. (Goink!) The fundamental conflict -- and the deep worry, if you happen to be a Knicks fan -- is that Jackson's old-school team-building values contrast with the direction the game is going, with the Warriors representing the vanguard. Shoot three-pointers, space the floor, stick to core defensive principles and matchups and, mostly, be efficient. The revolution in the NBA has already happened, and Jackson was on the wrong side of it; the time when you could criticize a team like, say, the old Mike D'Antoni Phoenix Suns for not being a "playoff" team is behind us. Winning basketball is winning basketball, and no one has done it better than these new-world Warriors. Now they just have to win the championship, and we can put Jackson's "three-pointers are stupid and lazy" nonsense to bed forever.
Stephen Curry is the most likable person in sports.
Is there a player who, when he's on, is more of an unceasing beam of sunshine in the entire world of sports than Curry? The guy represents why this is so fun; you can't not cheer for him. (Though both Tom Ziller and Bethlehem Shoals argue that it's only a matter of time until we all turn.) He makes crazy backyard HORSE shots, and then he smiles and looks like he's just having the most fun as you could possibly have. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, but Curry is the one you most imagine yourself being, the one kids replicate in the driveway. He's the reason we watch.
Their fans have really suffered enough.
Because the Cavaliers have been considered a championship contender from the minute that LeBron James announced he was returning to the franchise that drafted him, and because the Cavs (and, really, LeBron) have sort of been the Eastern Conference bully all season (even with the Hawks ending up with a better record), we've sort of lost touch with the fact that this is the Cavs. You can get LeBron and let him put together a superteam, and it doesn't change the fact that Cleveland is as anguished as any franchise in NBA history. (I had them No. 2 in last year's Tortured NBA Fanbase Rankings.) When I went to Cleveland in 2013 for the Leitch Across America series, I noted, after talking to dozens of local fans, that "to suffer as a collective is one of the most truly communal, engaged experiences you can have." Cleveland fans know this better than any other city's fans, and if the Cavs win this series, they will finally have that championship they've been so desperate for. I don't know how you couldn't be happy for them.
LeBron is an all-timer, and we judge our all-timers by championships.
This is James' fifth consecutive NBA Finals, and the sixth of his career. He has done this with great supporting casts and amazingly weak ones, but no matter what, he has been the best player on those teams, the one who has carried them all that way. None of those teams make the NBA Finals without him; none of them come close. But if the Cavs lose this series, you'll hear it: "James is 2-4 in the NBA Finals." (This will typically be followed by the exhausting: "Jordan wouldn't have done that.") It's not fair that James will be judged on whether or not he can take an inferior supporting cast and defeat perhaps the best team he has ever faced in the NBA Finals (by far, says Tom Ziller). But that is what is going to happen. No one will be mad at Curry if the Warriors don't win this series. But if the Cavs lose, "What's wrong with LeBron?" will be the topic of every soul-destroying sports-cable-news segment for the next five months. At some point, I'd like to be able to turn my television back on.
J.R. Smith will have a celebration for the ages.
This reason is probably enough on its own. It'll be a summer of pipe.
The Warriors are probably the popular favorite, but no matter what happens, we'll never forget it. That's all we could hope for.