Every championship won in the history of the NBA was earned. Full stop. There is no such thing as putting an asterisk beside a championship in the record books. Headcannon is great — especially when surrounding a property that self-imploded like Game of Thrones — but it has no real place in sports history. Saying the winner of the 2021 NBA Finals, be it the Phoenix Suns or Milwaukee Bucks, will have an asterisk beside their name in NBA history isn’t just disrespectful, it’s also stupid.
Despite claims all over Twitter — the most reliable source for NBA takes, of course — this NBA Finals will count just the same as every other NBA Finals in history, no matter how many people cry on the internet about it.
The 2021 NBA Finals Counts…Just like Every Other Finals Has
Let’s Play Pretend
Remember playing cops and robbers with imaginary weapons in the yard with your friends as a kid? (Tell me you’re an American without telling me you’re an American.)
“I got you!”
“No you didn’t, you just missed me!”
That’s how you all sound when you try to rewrite NBA history. Except in this case, there are basic facts to dispute the claims of a missed shot. In fact, there’s a bullet hole in your left arm for all to see. A championship banner is a little less violent, though, so at least your bad takes aren’t life-or-death.
However, both are still childish.
But the Injuries!
Fair enough. A playoffs full of so many injuries will surely lead to a faux-champion. After all, when all the top talent is sidelined, any old scrub can win 16 games in a four-round tournament against the best basketball players on the face of the planet. So let’s take a deeper dive into said injuries.
To be objective, there has probably never been a season that has seen so many A-list players sidelined during the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Trae Young, Giannis Antetokounmpo (though his team managed to win the East in his absence), and countless others all watched their teams from the sideline at some point this year. Heck, even LeBron James and Stephen Curry were banged up for huge chunks of the regular season. That’s a lot of athletic tape.
But, let’s not act like injuries in the playoffs are a new phenomenon. Let’s travel back in time for a moment.
The Search for the Last Legitimate Championship
Before we continue, let’s also consider other reasons championships have received asterisks in the recent past. The Orlando Bubble obviously doesn’t count as a real title. The Los Angeles Lakers’ “Mickey Mouse” ring is about as legitimate as a ring pop from the corner store. And don’t forget Kevin Durant‘s fake rings, since he joined a 73-9 team to get them. So, with those asterisks in mind, let’s backtrack.
- In 2020, the NBA shut down. When they came back, it was in the Bubble. Of course that ring doesn’t count. Asterisk.
- In 2019, the Golden State Warriors were without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson at times in the Finals. Kawhi’s crazy playoff run ultimately doesn’t count. Asterisk.
- In 2017 and 2018, Durant and Co. were cheating by assembling one of the greatest teams of all-time. Asterisk.
- In 2016, we all know the Warriors would have won if Draymond Green had not been. suspended. And, not to mention, Curry was hurt the whole Finals and played through injury. LeFraud strikes again. Asterisk.
- In 2015, the Warriors only won because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hurt. LeBron James couldn’t do it by himself. Asterisk.
- In 2014, Dwyane Wade hasn’t fully himself after battling injuries most of the year. Had he been fully healthy, the Miami Heat would have three-peated. Asterisk.
- 2013 could count, unless you take into consideration that the Heat were a superteam. Then we can strike down 2012, too.
So the real defending NBA Champions are actually the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, led by Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki!
In Conclusion (The Only Non-Sarcastic Section of this Piece)
Championships are hard to win. If they weren’t, the best team would win every year. The fact that they don’t is part of what makes sports like basketball so much fun. No one wants to see players go down with injuries. Not even opponents. To be the best, competitors want to beat the best. It’s no fun taking down the Lakers without Anthony Davis. It’s not the same beating the Nets without James Harden and Kyrie Irving. But that’s life. That’s basketball.
Every championship run takes hard work, dedication, team chemistry, big-time shots, historic moments, and plenty of luck. Kawhi Leonard’s lucky shot against the Philadelphia 76ers; Ray Allen‘s three to tie Game 6; Winslow touched it (for my NCAA fans). There’s almost always some bit of luck sprinkled into a title run. It’s hard to win one with luck, let alone without it.
Whether it’s the Suns of Bucks cutting down the nets and hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next week, it will be earned. To act like the 2021 title will simply be given to the last man standing is just wrong. Were these the best teams this season? No, probably not. But did they earn their right to be here? Absolutely.
Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals is set for July 6th at 9 P.M. ET/6 P.M. PT on ABC.
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