When we look back at 2018's championships, the Golden State Warriors' clean sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers for yet another title sticks out among the others.
Amaze. Inspire. Surprise. You’ll be hearing those words a lot in the coming weeks—together, they cut to the heart of why we love sports in the first place. So in the days leading up to the naming of SI’s Sportsperson we’ll be looking back and shining a light on the athletes, moments and teams (and one horse) who did one—or all—of those things in 2018. There can be only one Sportsperson. But it has been a year full of deserving candidates.
The 2018 NBA Finals will go down in history, but not in the public memory. When we reach back to that series years from now, we’ll find J.R. Smith’s all-time blunder and yet another title in a modern dynasty. Some might recall an echo of a Kevin Durant dagger three. But lost will be the tenor of the series, which didn’t develop enough competitive friction to avoid slipping away entirely. LeBron James and the Cavs never really stood a chance, in large part because the Warriors wouldn’t allow it.
Leave it to Golden State to make the NBA Finals—the most storied competition in their sport—a formality. Their clean sweep against Cleveland was almost mechanical, boasting all the drama of a factory machine stitching the Warriors’ logo into a mass-produced championship hat. In a given season, only one or two teams (if that) can offer any real resistance against Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. To even get to that point, those challengers have to spend all year tailoring their systems and rosters to somewhat counter the most dominant team of its era. Realistically, even a long shot requires multiple superstars, smart operations, good luck, and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Consider this: An in-game blow-up between Durant and Green became an enormous story, led to a team-imposed suspension, cast serious doubt into the chemistry and future of the team, and still the Warriors are regarded within the league as the prohibitive favorites to win the title. Golden State has built a team that, functionally speaking, is drama proof. For the purposes of deciding the championship, it almost doesn’t matter that Durant and Green took personal shots at one another, nor that the Warriors are currently playing their worst basketball in years. Put this team in a playoff series and the combination of Curry and Durant remains an impossible solve. Put a title on the line and Green, no matter his reactionary bent, will keep his priorities in order.
Incredible as it is to build this kind of superteam, the work of maintaining it may be the greater achievement. “Y’all got no clue,” said David West, then a newly minted champion, of all that had gone on behind the closed doors of the Warriors’ locker room last season. “No clue. That tells you about this team that nothing came out.” Now we have some clue of what might ail a team this good, and all the more reason to respect the Warriors for making it look so damn easy.