The NBA Finals are set to kick off this Thursday June 1st as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors face off for the 3rd time in as many years. The novelty of this trilogy is one that sports talk shows and media will overemphasize throughout the NBA Finals, but does it spell bad news for the NBA?
The NBA Finals trilogy of the past 3 seasons is not something new to the world of American Sports as it has occurred in each of the other 3 major American sports leagues. The MLB saw the New York Yankees and New York Giants face off in the World Series for 3 consecutive years from 1921 to 1923. The Montreal Canadiens faced off against the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup for three straight years from 1954 to 1956. And the Cleveland Browns faced the Detroit Lions for the NFL Championship from 1952 to 1954 (First Super Bowl wasn’t until 1966).
So, for the first time in over 60 years of American sports two teams will be facing each other in the championship game for a third consecutive year. What makes the NBA Finals match-up unique is that it occurs in an era where there are 30 teams in the league. Compared to the 16-team league of the MLB in the 1920s and the 8-team NHL and 12-team NFL of the 1950s this could be concerning.
Not only are the Cavaliers and the Warriors back in the NBA Finals for a 3rd year, but they haven’t really been challenged on their way through the NBA Playoffs. This year Cleveland is entering the Finals after going 12-1 in the Playoffs while the Warriors went a perfect 12-0. In 2016 and 2015, Cleveland went a combined 24-4 in the three Playoff Series before the Finals while the Warriors went 24-9. Putting together all 3 NBA Playoffs, the Warriors posted an .800 winning percentage while Cleveland posted a lucrative .878 winning percentage.
To put that in perspective, let’s take a look at some of the best NBA dynasties of all time. The LA Lakers set the record for best postseason record in 2001 when they went 15-1 to win the second of 3 NBA Titles. Not including the NBA Finals, the Lakers went 33-10 (.767) during the playoffs during their three-peat. Another Lakers team to three-peat were the Minneapolis-based team of the 1950s who went 12-4 (.750) during the playoffs. There is no argument as to who was the most dominant dynasty in all NBA history as no team has come close to matching the dominating run of success that the Boston Celtics had from 1957 to 1969. The Celtics won 11 NBA Titles during that 13 year span, winning 8 in a row from 1959 to 1966. During their run of 8 consecutive NBA Titles, the Celtics went 35-19 (.648) and 15-7 (.681) during their best 3 year span of 1964 to 1966.
Although they missed out on the three-peat, the Miami Heat of 2012 to 2014 had a dominant post season performance equaling the other dynasties mentioned, but even their playoff record of 36-13 (.734) doesn’t look outstanding by comparison. In fact, only one team has a three-year playoff record that matches that of either the Golden State Warriors or the Cleveland Cavaliers and that team is the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. During their first three-peat from 1991 to 1993 the Bulls posted a playoff record of 33-8 (.805) while the second three-peat from 1996 to 1998 went 33-7 (.825). Both winning percentages posted by the Bulls surpass that of the Golden State Warriors, but still pail in comparison to the Cleveland Cavaliers winning percentage of .878.
Not only have the Warriors and Cavaliers dominated the NBA Playoffs the past 3 seasons, but they are also dominating the regular season. The Cavaliers are ahead of the competition in the Eastern Conference with their combined record of 161-85 (.654). The next best team in the Eastern Conference is the Toronto Raptors at 156-90 (.634). The Warriors have posted a record setting 207-39 (.841) in the last three seasons while completely dominating the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs record of 183-63 (.744) puts them at a distant second.
So, with this 2 team show for the past 3 years is it any surprise that the 2016-17 NBA season has seen the worst ratings in NBA history? The current 3 year reign of Cleveland and Golden State immediately follows a 4 year reign by the Miami Heat which saw the Heat in the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2014. Ratings during the 2011 season were at 3.3 and have steadily dropped to the low of 1.9 during this current season. The NBA has always been a sport of dynasties having 15 instances in which a team had made the NBA Finals in 3 or more consecutive seasons since 1946. 9 of these instances have occurred since 1986 compared to twice in the MLB, once in the NFL and none in the NHL in that same time period.
To all the fans of an NBA team not named the Warriors, Cavaliers, Heat or Spurs I hope the current reigns end soon and give us the other teams a chance to win an NBA Title. Until then, sit back, relax and enjoy the two-team show in their third act.