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Wednesday Musings: Trilogies

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How stories shape our opinions of the NBA

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The trilogy arc is one of the most common, and theoretically satisfying, narrative devices in use. In our modern day cinema world, we often measure storylines in trilogies, with movies aping the success that Star Wars and Indiana Jones were able to achieve in creating money-printing franchises.

The problem is that writing a trilogy is hard. Too often, the best part comes right in the middle, as that is where you are allowed to be a bit more subversive with your story. The hero can fall, characters (especially mentors) can die, and you can let plot lines hang until the finale.

The final chapter is tasked with provided a conclusion, wrapping up the plot and giving the characters their proper farewell. The evil must be vanquished and sent to the nether realm (at least until closing credits screen) and the protagonists return home having learned their life lessons, picking up a wife/husband, and returning to the day-to-day. That’s a lot to fit into one story.

Tomorrow will begin the final chapter of the Warriors-Cavaliers trilogy. Of course, it is perhaps better titled Warriors-Cavaliers III, as who knows when this franchise is going to end.

We seem to have figured out who the heroes and villains are of this story. The protagonists come from the true heartland of America, representing the journey of individual greatness returning to his home in order to lift up his city. They are the underdogs, battling against Basketball’s Goliath, the super team that no one wants.

The villains play basketball the wrong way. They are the “jump-shooting team,” and from the maligned West Coast. One of their stars gave up trying to win on his own and decided it was easier to join them. The confluence of events that allowed them to accumulate their star power was not supposed to happen.

However, before we all forget, we have heard this story before, with even some of the same players, yet their status was reversed.

LeBron James was the villain, leaning into that status with the Miami Heat. The superteam that supposedly broke the league and tested the boundaries of the power that one player can exert. They had their own rivalry against the team that played the “right way,” the San Antonio Spurs, and were beaten by superior passing and shooting. The athletic superteam found the edges of their roster barren and could not keep up.

There are going to be a lot of different stories that emerge over the course of this NBA Finals. The main one that has developed so far is that the NBA essentially could have skipped that middle swath, starting from Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors to today, as we all knew what the end result would be. However, that is a reductive argument, as we will never know what would have happened in a world where Kawhi Leonard doesn’t get hurt. This story even acted as a self-fulfilling prophecy for a team like Boston, who decided that it would sit this one out and reload for next year.

It’s important to remember that the stories that are told, and later remembered, only happen because we make them so. The difference between the histories is often razor thin. Last year could have easily been the story of how LeBron James was never going to be able to overcome the competition from the West. His championship victory days were over. The Warriors would be the King for the foreseeable future.

But that alternate universe did not happen. Instead, the Warriors have arrived at the finals loaded for bear and are perhaps one of the best, if not the best, team the NBA has ever seen in the playoffs.

So as this potentially final chapter of the Cavaliers-Warriors trilogy begins, let’s be cognizant how malleable the stories are.