This NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors isn’t just a rematch, it’s a remake. It’s the new-millennium version of Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird.
We never got to see LeBron versus Kobe Bryant in the Finals — LeBron laments that as much as anyone — but one of the side effects of LeBron’s run of six consecutive Finals is that he can claim multiple meetings with Tim Duncan and now Curry. He knows enough about the way the NBA works to value the importance of familiar faces screened onto Finals T-shirts, to realize what it means for TV ratings when the promos can list the sport’s biggest names.
“I think it’s great, It’s great for our game. It’s great for you as an individual, just the competitive side of it. To be able to face the greats along your path is something that you’re going to wish you could get back when you’re done playing”, James said.
“I’ve been fortunate to go against Duncan and KG (Kevin Garnett) and Ray Allen and the great Piston team. Now Steph, the great Steph, and the Warriors team. So I’ve been fortunate.”
He made sure to mention his Finals matchups with Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as well. If LeBron’s idle thoughts at a morning shootaround in February can become headlines, anything less than a full recital of previous foes while he was at the podium on the NBA Finals media day might be construed as a slight. But his meetings with the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder don’t belong in the same category. Those were one-offs.
Granted, LeBron versus Curry won’t carry the historical importance of Magic versus Bird, a rivalry that catapulted the NBA from its drug-plagued, tape-delayed-championship nadir to a platform for international stardom enjoyed by Michael Jordan and all who followed. There also isn’t the black/white dynamic of Magic versus Bird, an underplayed, yet undeniable aspect of their duel.
Then again, LeBron versus Curry does comprise the intraracial dark-skinned versus light-skinned debate discussed by Michael Eric Dyson on The Undefeated. And there’s the poverty versus privilege aspect as well, an angle LeBron might have inadvertently played up Wednesday when he mentioned his inner-city, single-mother upbringing.
More than anything there is the stark difference in playing styles, the representation of what the game was and where it’s going. LeBron harkens back to the Magic, who was revolutionary as a 6-foot-9 point guard in his day, but now is a template for a more traditional style. As LeBron’s 3-point accuracy has decreased he has become more reliant on the old standby of bullying his way to the hoop. Almost half of his shots this season came within 3 feet of the basket; only 20 percent of his attempts were 3s, according to Basketball Reference.
Curry, meanwhile, launched 55 percent of his shots from 3-point land. He is like an X-Men character, a mutant version of Bird, the feared marksman. Bird, whose rookie season in 1979-80 coincided with the introduction of the 3-point shot in the NBA, attempted 1,727 3-point shots in 13 seasons. Curry attempted 886 — more than half of Bird’s career 3-point attempts — this season alone.
While LeBron fits our standard view of athletic ability or rather, exceeds it, Curry is forcing a redefinition of the term. One NBA talent evaluator told me that after watching the nimble Curry flourish in the league, he now considers agility and dexterity as athletic traits equal in strength and speed.
Curry and the Warriors surpassing the 72 wins of Jordan’s Bulls might have been the beginning, not the culmination. Maybe Curry and LeBron can eclipse the rivalry between Bird and Magic, meaning these Finals wouldn’t be the remix, they would be the new standard.
But there’s a catch:
LeBron Raymone James
He was born on December 30, 1984. Lebron is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He has started at the small forward and power forward positions. James has won two NBA championships (2012, 2013), four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), two NBA Finals MVP Awards (2012, 2013), two Olympic gold medals (2008, 2012), an NBA scoring title (2008), and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award (2004). He has also been selected to 12 NBA All-Star teams, 12 All-NBA teams, and six All-Defensive teams, and is the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer.
Wardell Stephen “Steph” Curry II was born on March 14, 1988. He is an American professional basketball player for the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Many players and analysts have called him the greatest shooter in NBA history. In 2014–15, Curry won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award and led the Warriors to their first championship since 1975. The following season, he became the first player in NBA history to be elected MVP by a unanimous vote and to lead the league in scoring while shooting above 50–40–90. That same year, the Warriors broke the record for the most wins in an NBA season.