By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If there’s one thing that sports has always given us, it would be the ability to concoct the most cockamamie concepts of comparisons.
Even though it’s completely asinine to do so, we all gleefully compare different teams from different eras and even different sports. We time-travel and hypothesize, inserting one player with a baseball bat in 1998 onto a football field in 2011 without even the slightest of hesitation, all in the name of #DEBATE.
It is without a doubt the silliest thing we could do with our time, yet it’s often what consumes us the most.
In that regard, the Golden State Warriors’ collapse in the Finals may just be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of questionably toasty takes.
There is, of course, the A-to-A comparison of the 2016 Warriors and the 1996 Bulls. They’ve been “duking it out” in stupid columns and pointless debates ever since Golden State got off to that 24-0 start to the season, and it carried through the entire regular season. The Warriors pulled it off — they went 73-9, besting the Chicago Bulls for the best record of all time.
It was, as the kids say, on. It was so on.
Who’s the best team of all time?! Would the 2016 Warriors beat the ’96 Bulls? Would Steve Kerr dismantle Phil Jackson in hand-to-hand combat? Would Steph Curry fight off a flu better than Michael Jordan? (Answer: Steph would have never even gotten sick. (And I know the flu game was in ’97 but leave it alone; we’re doing the takes here.) (You just got parentheses-ceptioned, folks.)) What do the spreadsheets tell us?!
We needed to know!
Fortunately, plenty of columnists and opinion-makers weighed in.
One of the most remarkable headlines during the Warriors’ playoff run came from the inimitable New York Daily News: “Warriors hold best record, but ’96 Bulls never faced elimination.”
But that was hardly the only take on the matter, and now that the Warriors have completed the collapse and have become the first team to ever blow a 3-1 Finals lead, the takes they are a-flowing.
Dennis Rodman was quick to hop on a tricycle for a victory lap:
The great race for greatest team in NBA history is, unfortunately, no longer on. Nothing’s on. It’s off.
Now, instead of comparing two basketball teams separated by 20 years, the Warriors have already jumped into a whole different preposterous level of comparisons. The discussion’s now moved on to figuring out where, exactly, the Golden State Warriors fit in the discussion of BIGGEST CHOKES OF ALL TIME, a story which can clearly only live online in the form of a 28-photo slideshow.
It’s a list that always seems to start with the 2007 New England Patriots, but that’s an apples-to-carburetor comparison. The ’07 Patriots would have beaten the ’07 Giants four out of five times. Maybe even nine out of 10 times. But it’s a winner-take-all championship over in that sport of football, so that doesn’t really mean anything. Yet in this comparison, it makes little sense because the Warriors lost four of seven and three straight to the Cavaliers. It was much more of a slow bleed than the Patriots’ catastrophe, which is to say that any team can have a bad night, but it’s much worse to have four.
(If the Warriors hang a “Best Regular-Season Record In NBA History” at Oracle Arena, we can have another conversation about this next fall.)
We also saw Curry, the first-ever unanimous MVP, dance around Kevin Love in the final minute as if Kevin Love was some sort of defensive juggernaut. It looked like an 11-year-old trying to dribble around his father on the playground. It was grisly. Say what you will about Tom Brady’s performance that night in Glendale, but the man took his licks and didn’t play scared of anyone. He didn’t fold at the sight of Kawika Mitchell. Steph looked scurred. OF KEVIN LOVE!
(Do you see how I just made an awful, irrelevant comparison? It’s so easy!)
There’s plenty more to draw from besides the ’07 Patriots, too, as Jason McIntyre from The Big Lead pointed out in great detail with this headline that leaves nothing to the imagination: “Warriors Join 2007 Patriots, 2001 Mariners, 1996 Red Wings: Record-Setting Regular Season, No Title.”
Who can forget those ’96 Wings? Curry would be Sergei Federov, Klay Thompson would be Steve Yzerman, and I’m thinking Andre Iguodala would be Dino Ciccarelli. (Forget about creating a comparable player for Slava Fetisov; you’re not going to be able to do it! Don’t even think about it, buddy!)
(Kidding aside, that Big Lead story is actually pretty interesting as it notes that in all four sports, the teams that own the records for most regular-season wins ended their seasons without championships. It speaks to how much of a grind maintaining that type of success for the duration of a full season can be. There’s an interesting story there.)
One outlet that deserves credit for being ahead of the curve is the Montgomery Advertiser, which asked on May 25 if the Warriors’ fall was greater than the ’07 Patriots. The Montgomery Advertiser dug the hole and threw the Warriors in the box way back on May 25, before the Warriors went Lazarus on the Thunder and nearly won another title. It was a risky move, but the powers that be in Montgomery are no doubt reaping the pageview rewards down in Alabama this morning.
But the good old Montgomery Advertiser wasn’t even alone in that regard. MassLive.com did it on May 24, Tedy Freaking Bruschi did it on May 25, and The Big Lead also did it on May 25 with another insanely literal headline: “2015-2016 Warriors on Verge of Becoming 2007-2008 Patriots: Greatest Regular Season Team to Not Win a Title.” (Jason, my main man, we’ve got to tighten these headlines up a bit.)
People were, apparently, eager to see this one play out.
The victorious Cavaliers aren’t immune from the comparisons either. That great Cleveland curse that is now snapped? Well, those vibes are about to flow West across Lake Erie and Lake Michigan, and they’ll soon fill an old ballpark on the North Side of Chicago.
The result itself isn’t the only thing being compared. No — we also have to compare how the Warriors lost, or specifically, how politely they spoke to nerd reporters after losing.
Oh! Rick! No! Nooooooo! You’ve done it, Rick. You’ve delivered the best take yet. We can advance no further as a species than where we are at right now. Way to spoil it for the rest of us.
You look at the whole thing and you find that it’s a strange compulsion, the desire to twist different sports and different eras and all sorts of history when in reality, two teams played a game. One team won, and one team lost. In this instance, the Cavaliers proved to be better than the Warriors. The outcome had nothing to do with Mercury Morris or David Tyree or Michael Jordan or Chris Osgood or anyone else from sports over the past however many years. It had to do with LeBron James channeling his dominant side for three remarkable games. That’s really it.
At the same time, you might be interested to know that the only team to beat both the Warriors and Cavaliers on their respective home courts this regular season was none other than the mighty Boston Celtics. Which gets me thinking … are the 2016 Celtics the best basketball team to ever get toasted in the first round of the playoffs? Is Isaiah Thomas the greatest player to have a name that sounds like Isaiah Thomas? Would Brad Stevens be able to handle himself in a no-holds-barred triple threat match against Kerr and Jackson? It might be time to start writing.