When the Miami Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh back in the summer of 2010, teaming them with Dwyane Wade, they held a welcoming affair for the trio at American Airlines Arena. You might remember this. After the smoke had cleared and the band stopped playing, during the Q&A portion, LeBron was asked about a “not one” championship remark he had made earlier. “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” he replied, as Bosh and Wade cracked up. The Heat played in the next four NBA Finals, winning twice. Then Bron went home, Bosh got sick, and Wade felt disrespected. Six years after the summer party, nothing remains of that trio except two championship banners.
What does that have to do with the Golden State Warriors? Just that nothing lasts as long as you think it will. Look at the Houston Rockets, who won back-to-back titles in the mid-’90s with an in-his-prime Hakeem Olajuwon then never made it back to the Finals. Or the Orlando Magic, who reached the 1995 Finals with a young Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway tandem before it all blew up in their face. Many would-be dynasties just as quickly become never-was.
Maybe these Warriors will be different. Maybe they’ll be more like Michael Jordan’s Bulls, who won six titles in an eight-year span. As of right now, two games into these Finals, it’s hard to envision any team making the necessary changes to compete. If LeBron James’s Cavaliers can’t do it, who can? But that’s more a reflection of how we think the that present will just continue unbroken into the future. Reality often isn’t nearly as kind.
Sure, the Warriors seem like they’re set up for an unprecedented run in the modern NBA, akin to what the old Boston Celtics did back when Bill Russell was throwing outlet passes to Bob Cousy, Sam Jones was burying jumpers off the glass, and the NBA consisted of nine teams. They can re-sign Steph Curry to his long-deserved super-max deal, and Kevin Durant appears willing to take (slightly) less than his max to keep the band together. All of their stars are under 30.
great teams never last as long as it seems they will. And we never seem to realize it until it’s too late.
But the same forces that conspired to bring the Warriors together could just as easily break them apart. With Curry on a (relatively) cheap, $11 million a year deal right now, everything fits. With him and Durant on super-max deals, and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson re-upping to new max deals of their own, the Warriors tax bill alone could exceed their payroll. Even the revenue from the lavish new arena going up in San Francisco might not cover that. And even a tech billionaire could balk at the bill.
There are also outside pressures that form as teams succeed. Role players want bigger roles, understudies want to become stars, co-stars decide they want to lead teams of their own. And of course there are injuries—Durant has missed considerable time over numerous seasons, and Curry has his own well-documented history with his ankle, but anything can happen. Just ask Kawhi Leonard.
The Warriors are in the Finals for the third straight year, and because it seemed inevitable from the start, it seems inevitable in the future. The feeling of inevitability that preceded their actual success made their success feel inevitable, although it was anything but. Yes, they went undefeated in the playoffs and as of yet are undefeated in the Finals but—again, ask Kawhi—things can turn on an ankle.
So root against the Warriors if you wish, continue to despise Durant’s decision to join the team that beat his last year. But as you watch them shred the Cavaliers with impossible-to-defend screen and rolls and precision-run fast breaks, at least try and appreciate the pure basketball excellence of it all. Because great teams never last as long as it seems they will. And we never seem to realize it until it’s too late.