Championships deserve context. Or they don’t. Depends who you ask.
The Raptors secured the franchise’s first NBA title Thursday night, but how the media, fans, and former players view their run to the Larry O’Brien Trophy figures to be different. Because while Toronto deserves all the praise for ripping off 16 wins in the playoffs, their title came at the expense of a compromised and severely depleted two-time defending champion Warriors.
So that begs the question: Should the Raptors have an asterisk attached to their championship?
Members of the media will probably differ on this one. Generally, a journalist wants to be able to see both sides of the story and if you’re painting a picture of the 2019 NBA Finals you can’t accurately do it without mentioning how banged up the Warriors were. Golden State was literally the walking wounded in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Most glaringly, the Warriors were without the services of Kevin Durant except for 12 minutes of action in Game 5. And before Durant heroically returned only to be tragically betrayed by his own body, the Warriors were without Klay Thompson for Game 3 when they got run out of their own building. Then Thompson was lost in the second half of Game 6, with what turned out to be a torn ACL, when the Warriors desperately needed his hot hand to carry them in the fourth quarter.
you can’t tell the story of the 2019 NBA Finals without talking about Golden State’s injuries. And every Raptors supporter and Warriors hater that doesn’t want to hear it just has to deal with it.
Those were the two most high-profile Warriors injuries. Andre Iguodala had his own calf issue he dealt with. Kevon Looney was in and out of the lineup with an injury that limited him. DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t the Boogie we all remember having returned from a serious quad injury suffered in the first round—and he was already limited thanks to his own Achilles injury suffered last season. And Steph Curry was dealing with an extremely painful situation with his fingers suffered earlier in the playoffs.
We point out the injuries not to offer up an excuse for the Warriors—everyone that’s still playing at this time of the year is hurt, nicked-up, dealing with something, and sore as hell as the Raptors would attest—but to highlight how the Warriors clearly were nowhere near full-strength. And it cost them a three-peat and their place in NBA lore. Will that cost the Raptors some of their championship shine in the eyes of NBA fans and former players alike?
Fans are fickle and you can practically guarantee two separate camps on the question of an attaching an asterisk to this title. Raptors haters and Golden State supporters alike will gleefully point out the injury discrepancy. Raptors fans and Warriors haters aren’t going to stand for that slander.
What about former players? What do the guys who balled out for a living really think about the Warriors injury situation hanging heavy over Toronto’s newfound glory? I talked to two retired players, each former All-Stars, to get their two cents. I got different answers from each.
For one former player, providing context for a championship is irrelevant. “A chip is a chip,” he says, rationalizing that most fans and NBA observers are barely going to remember who played and who didn’t in the 2019 NBA Finals five years from now. How many times does Kyrie Irving's and Kevin Love's absences from the 2015 NBA Finals get mentioned nowadays? Same goes for Draymond Green’s suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals and its ultimate effect on that series. You remember the winners. Circumstances are often forgotten.
Another former player says the opposite. Talking amongst fellow former players, when he brings up specific championship runs of the Hall of Famers they often get picked apart. It’s cool that a legend got his title, but what about all the injured stars his squad dodged during that run? The Rockets won two in a row in the 90s, but Jordan was busy playing baseball/making a comeback. The Spurs won their third title in five seasons in 2008 with a sweep of the Cavs, but that team was LeBron James and a bunch of nobodies.
So does Toronto’s title deserve an asterisk? Not in our humble opinion because that’s a level of petty we’re quite comfortable avoiding. All you can do is beat the teams in front of you and it’s not like Toronto is ever going to apologize for winning. Nor should they. The Raptors are champions and deserve all the credit for all the roster/coaching moves over the last several years, rolling the dice on acquiring Kawhi Leonard, and, of course, executing in key situations during the championship run. But, real talk, you can’t tell the story of the 2019 NBA Finals without talking about Golden State’s injuries. And every Raptors supporter and Warriors hater that doesn’t want to hear it just has to deal with it.