Thank goodness for Russell Westbrook.
The Oklahoma City Thunder star provided arguably the only real drama all year in the National Basketball Association with his pursuit of Oscar Robertson's triple-double record.
Commissioner Adam Silver denied a parity problem in his televised Game 3 interview with Michelle Beadle, which is understandable. As the commissioner, he can't really be caught saying, "Yeah, it's too bad 27 of our teams aren't capable of competing for a championship."
He can't say that -- I can.
Monday night concluded one of the most ho-hum seasons I've ever witnessed in professional sports, a true exercise in televised boredom. And I say that as a fan of one of only three teams with a shot at a national championship.
It's not that Silver was all wrong in his interview. He said it's great basketball -- and he's right. Golden State is exquisite. The way the Warriors play defense -- Steph Curry stripping the freight train that is LeBron James on a fastbreak and Klay Thompson harassing Kyrie Irving all series long -- is gorgeous, and any basketball purist should be able to appreciate that. It's like watching a how-to movie for basketball -- how to set screens, how to defend, how to get back in transition. It's beautiful basketball.
The problem is sports are not just about quality but suspense -- and that has faded away.
At least to me, sports are at their best when I'm not sure what will happen. That's what makes sports different than so many other entertainment options. I knew Ross and Rachel would get married, I knew Harry Potter would beat Voldemort, and with half the movies and musicals out there, you can find out what will happen by reading the book.
Sports is supposed to be different. I never could have predicted the Indians' run to the World Series -- trust me, I didn't -- and that's what made it so magical. I never thought the New York Giants could beat the undefeated New England Patriots -- and now that's one of my favorite sports memories. That magic is absent in today's NBA, where we all figured the Warriors would win -- and now they have.
Yup, it's pretty simple. Before the season, the Warriors, with new star Kevin Durant, were heavy favorites. We knew the Cavaliers would win the East. Maybe San Antonio would challenge Golden State in the West -- but probably not. It would be Warriors-Cavaliers for the third straight year -- and Golden State would almost certainly win. It lacked the drama of the first year of Cavaliers-Warriors, when Golden State exploded onto the scene with its new, exciting brand of basketball, or year two, when the Cavaliers ended Cleveland's longtime drought after Oklahoma City and Golden State waged a memorable battle in the West.
No, 2016-2017 was different -- and not in a good way. The regular season felt like a waste of time, an endless mess of games leading up to Warriors-Cavaliers. The Cavaliers, at times, treated it as such, giving up one regular-season lead after another, including in the Eastern Conference standings to the Boston Celtics. Did it matter? Nope, the Cavaliers smoked the Celtics in the East finals.
The 2016-2017 postseason wasn't much better. There were arguably three exciting moments this entire postseason: Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the first quarter of the NBA Finals and Game 3 of the NBA Finals. (Sure, Washington and Boston had a great series, but it's not like either would beat Cleveland.) If the Cavaliers hold onto their lead in Game 3, at least the Finals would have had some intrigue. Instead, the Finals became like the rest of the season -- lacking any mystery.
Sports has always had dynasties, but I can't remember the last time a professional sport suspended all suspense like this. Sure, the New England Patriots have won a lot -- but the New York Giants stunned them twice -- and the Atlanta Falcons were a delightful story in 2016. And the Patriots winning the Super Bowl wasn't exactly a foregone conclusion. Sure, they were favorites entering the season, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos looked dangerous, and the Falcons pushed the Patriots to the brink. Baseball, too, had mystery. Yes, the Chicago Cubs were a favorite, but the Cleveland Indians went on a stunning Cinderella run, upsetting the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays before taking a 3-1 lead in the World Series. Beyond rallying from 3-1, the Cubs' story, even as favorites, was exciting, given their century-plus drought and the fact that they were swept the year before by the New York Mets, which seemed to point to an "anything can happen" mantra. And hockey well, if you watched any of those games in Nashville, that speaks for itself. Even college football, arguably one of America's biggest sports, ended in a crowd-pleasing upset, as Clemson beat big, bad Alabama.
The point is, whether Silver cares to acknowledge it, the NBA trails its competition in suspense. This year, we wondered, would the Cavaliers have a chance against the Warriors? Would the Spurs have a shot? That was about it. And that was with the Cavaliers as defending champions. What do we have to look forward to next year?
All of which is tremendously sad, because the first NBA postseason that I can remember was in 1999, when the eight-seed New York Knicks went on a stunning run through the East. The next year, my beloved New York Mets, with arguably the worst roster in World Series history, somehow made it to baseball's biggest stage. That's what made me fall in love with sports -- the upsets, the intrigue. If only that was the case anymore in the NBA, where three teams entered 2016-2017 with a realistic shot at a championship, a number that shows no sign of growing and is becoming perilously close to one.