One year ago today, the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland to win Game 6 of the NBA Finals. It was a series in which Golden State was heavily favored to win, but one that was hairier and more treacherous than most had anticipated, thanks largely to the brilliance of LeBron James.
Nevertheless, the Warriors sealed their historic season in front of once-again-beleaguered Cleveland fans, as those back in Oakland gathered to watch the game at their home arena, exploding as the final seconds ticked away.
One of the main reasons ineffable sports moments matter so much to us is because they come out of nowhere, marking a unique time in our lives and therefore cannot be repeated. When Golden State won that championship last year, the Warriors' first championship in 40 years, fans celebrated like the world had shifted on its axis, like they were having an experience that could not be duplicated. It'd never be better than this; it'd never be like this again at all.
And here we are, one year later, and everything in that first paragraph may come true yet again. Golden State is playing in Cleveland in a Game 6 tonight (9 p.m. ET on ABC). The Warriors boast more talent but are struggling to put the Cavs away. You can even go to a watch party at Oracle. (It's twenty bucks, but tickets are still available.) History has repeated itself, and it has done so precisely on schedule.
Game 6 is a little different than last year, though. LeBron has a better supporting cast, with a point guard who's as likely to break out for 40-plus points as he is. Stephen Curry looks a little injured. The Warriors had fallen behind 2-1 last year before solving the Cavs and blitzing three straight wins, as opposed to a shakier situation in the wake of a home loss and Draymond Green's suspension. Also, we are a year closer to the sun running out of hydrogen and becoming a red giant star, growing beyond earth's orbit and destroying all life on this planet.
Otherwise: same deal! And it would seem awfully silly, when you break it all down, if this season ends in the exact same way that it did last year. Everything that happened this season that didn't involve the Warriors -- the Cavaliers' coaching drama, the Thunder's near-miss in the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs' monster season, Kobe Bryant's retirement, a whole lot of players getting punched in the nards -- would end up being noise, just background to the Warriors' triumph, sound and fury that ultimately didn't change a thing. We finished up right back where we were last year.
But all that changes, of course, if the Cavaliers -- currently two-point favorites, it's worth mentioning -- win tonight. Then it all shifts. I can't remember the last time one NBA Finals game had so much future history riding on it. Either we repeat the past, or we are plunged into a confusing, and potentially exhilarating, new reality.
If the Warriors win tonight, it's the same old same old, which is wonderful for the Warriors, and their fans, and anyone who likes the historical consistency of the NBA team with the best record in NBA history ultimately topping it off with a championship. It's potentially devastating to LeBron, who would lose his third consecutive NBA Finals and his fifth overall and, worse than all that, take one more year off his career clock and wonder how, exactly, he's going to put different pieces around him to make this easier next year. He also may shoot Kevin Love into space.
But if the Cavaliers can win tonight, a Sunday night Game 7 would have everything on the line. The Warriors are suddenly facing the end of their dream season against an opponent they were widely thought to be able to handle easily. LeBron has a real chance -- and, mind you, he hasn't lost a Game 7 since 2008, in his first go-around with the Cavs -- to pull off the greatest achievement of his career. Cleveland would be one game away from that championship that has eluded them for more than 50 years. The Cavs would have figured out a way to beat the Warriors with Draymond Green at full power. (With everything riding on him.) Steph Curry -- sorry, unanimous MVP Steph Curry -- would have one game to avoid having every retired perimeter player who called the game around him soft giving him grief for the rest of his career. A Game 7 would feel like a referendum on everything. It would feel apocalyptic.
Imagine how differently we'd feel about Green, or Love, or Irving, or Klay Thompson, or even J.R. Smith, if this gets to a Game 7? We spend a ton of time talking about players' "legacies" while they're still playing, and it's probably unnecessary; the whole thing about legacies as that you don't know what they are until what you're assessing is over. But these are not academic discussions either. The immediate future of the NBA, the machinations, the strategies, the whole vibe, will change because of what happens in one game. The NBA will be different tomorrow, and next season, and for years afterward, after what happens tonight. That's not legacy-trolling. That's just understanding stakes and ramifications. That's one game altering everything. That's, you know, sports.
Of course, if the Warriors win, we're right back where we were last year. Which is its own sort of history.
At 9 p.m. tonight, you're going to sit down to watch a basketball game. When it is over, the world you live in will be different than the way it was when you started. That's the only reason to do any of this. This is all any of us could hope for.