Would we have wanted it any other way?
After the Warriors defeated the Sacramento Kings over the weekend, it set the stage for a rivalry that NBA fans are all too familiar with—Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James. The greatest shooter ever vs. the greatest scorer ever.
Number 1 on the all-time 3-point made list vs Number 1 on the all-time scoring list.
These are the two greatest players of this generation. And tonight, part 5 of their legendary rivalry tips off.
The best part about it? This matchup just might be the most important yet. But to understand why, we need to go back 8 years ago to the start of it all—the 2015 NBA Finals.
In 2015, James was clearly the face of the NBA. He was the best player in the league, coming off his fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. He had two championships and looked poised to win his third by returning home to play with Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But when the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the finals, suddenly he wasn’t the best anymore. The NBA now belonged to Curry.
Score: 1-0 Curry
The following season, Curry showed why people crowned him the new face of the league.
He won his second straight MVP, becoming the only person in NBA history to win it unanimously. The Warriors as a team would make NBA history, breaking Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' record by winning 73 games. They would go on to advance to the NBA Finals, with a chance to become "the greatest team ever," and guess who was there waiting.
The 2016 NBA Finals will go down as maybe the greatest NBA Finals ever.
Curry and the Warriors went up 3-1. It looked all but over. The Warriors looked unstoppable, and everybody thought they would go back-to-back as champions. And then LeBron James happened.
41 points in Game 5.
41 points in Game 6.
But James would save his best performance for last.
He finished with a 27 point Triple-Double and had "The Block," which many people consider the greatest defensive play of all time. Kyrie Irving would hit the game-winning three, and the Cleveland Cavaliers went on to beat the defending champions, securing James' third ring, and taking back NBA crown.
The next two matchups would go in Curry's favor because of the off-season addition of Kevin Durant, a top-3 player in the NBA at the time. The addition of KD made the Warriors unstoppable. They would go on to beat James and the Cavaliers in the next two NBA Finals.
Score: 3-1 Curry
Now, in present day 2023, both superstars know that this series will be legacy-defining.
Curry is the reigning NBA Finals MVP, having won his fourth ring last year. And finally got the monkey off his back by winning a Finals MVP.
James won his fourth ring in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. He led his team through "The Bubble," which some may call the hardest championship run ever. Most deservedly, he took home his fourth Finals MVP.
Now, with each player eyeing their fifth title, it’s only right that they will have to go through one another. And unlike the previous two matchups that featured Kevin Durant on the Warriors, both teams are evenly matched this time.
If Curry defeats James, he will then have the opportunity to surpass James in championship titles, further cementing his legacy.
He will also solidify his position as the greatest player of this generation.
On the other hand, if James beats Curry, he will silence critics who believe that Curry is better than him. He'll be considered this generation's Michael Jordan.
If not better.
As fans, it's bittersweet. While both players are not done yet, they are closer to the end than the beginning.
This playoff series will be bittersweet for James and Steph too.
One will face bitter defeat while the other will celebrate a sweet victory.
Vae Victus—to the victor go the spoils and woe to the vanquished.
The winner of this series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors will earn the opportunity to compete for a fifth NBA title. They will earn the bragging rights. And they will earn the respect of fans, media and their fellow NBA players.
James and Curry are the two faces of this generation. But this series will determine who will be considered number 1.