Our Infatuation with Rewriting History

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Updated: September 20, 2021
history

It is only natural that our minds attempt to readjust previous events and their outcomes when given new information about the parties involved. Especially as fanatics of the game and the narratives interwoven into a sport we love, our takes and the stock in our predictions carry with them a considerable amount of attachment. Even after the fact, we carry the L’s we’ve collected and take the victory laps on our boldest predictions. Years removed from the draft class, and I still relish my pick for Tatum at 1 but have yet to bury how high I was on Phoenix taking Josh Jackson at 4. I can still taste the sweet flavor of the Jokic & Murray stock I purchased right before the Bubble, and yet can’t shake the losses I’ve taken on the Celtics stock I bought in abundance after Boston acquired Irving. One place though, through our mental gymnastics we can change the past, is with a team’s success or failure in a recent playoff run.

As history has shown us, the outcome of a series and especially the outcome of the postseason as a whole can be extremely circumstantial. A small anomaly can fracture the framework of the ecosystem of the league in a way that shifts all previously held assumptions for the playoffs. A single ACL or Achilles, even just a bad rolled ankle and hampered star can not only knock out a title favorite from the bracket but advance a team that very few analysts had as their black horse to come out of the conference. As a result of this, many things that happen are perceived by viewers as something that shouldn’t have if things happened the way they were supposed to happen. Let’s take a look at the current examples of teams whose level of success in the upcoming playoffs may play a part in rewriting history.

The 2020-21 Phoenix Suns

It was a team that everyone seemed to want to get behind in the moment it was happening. Their success and Finals run felt good to be part of as a basketball lover. Even for those of us who are not the biggest CP3 fans, the underdog-ball-moment roster was cinematic and almost felt like those 90’s sports films that we’ve seen so many times they’ve all blended into one. However, when our expectations had risen with the 2-0 lead in the series in Phoenix’s favor and we were all let down as the wheels came off in Milwaukee, all those cute narratives were replaced with questions. Was it a fluke? Was it circumstantial? What if the Lakers were healthy? Could they have handled Kawhi in the Conference Finals?

To clarify before proceeding, these types of questions could be applied to nearly every Finals run in the modern era. Even sacred teams like the 96’ Bulls or 2017 Warriors had breaks in the playoffs go their way. However, due to the overwhelming number of circumstantial aids the Suns received (R-1 Bron/AD, R-2 Murray, R-3 Kawhi), their Finals appearance is now on trial. Fair or not, if the Suns get wiped out in the first round, it will completely invalidate the 2021 playoffs and eliminate all the legacy points CP3 acquired by finally getting to the NBA Finals. This is where things get even more unfair, if they get knockout in the 2nd round by a healthy Nuggets, Lakers, Clippers, or Warriors squad, it might even be worse than getting knocked out in the 1st round. The first 3 due since they were the teams they went through last year and were heavily depleted by injury. To lose to the Warriors though would be catastrophic because they were not present due to Klay and more importantly with legacy, Curry’s dominance over Chris in the playoffs going back to the Lob-City days would create narratives that if they had been in the playoffs even without Klay they might have taken them down last year. Lastly, if any team sweeps the Suns, even if it happens in the Conference Finals, it will nullify their Finals run from last year.

Again, to be clear, narratives by definition are not only bias but often times irrational. They create a logic and framework of thought meant to prove a point even if there isn’t one to make. There is a chance that the 2020-21 season was the last year of Chris Paul’s belated prime and he has a tremendous drop off next year just due to old age. If that were the case, the success or failure of the Suns this year should have no bearing on what they accomplished last year. But that’s just not how narratives work.

The Golden State Dynasty

Another interesting narrative that could manifest from this upcoming playoffs is the perception of the KD-Curry Warriors and their dynastic dominance over the league. For many people, the 2 rings they won together are two of the softest and least respected titles ever collected. Outside of the perception and value of the titles, the Durant era of the Warriors casts a cloud of confusion of how to value the homegrown trio of Dray, Klay, and Curry. If Klay returns at least a version of himself that resembles the player he was prior to the injuries and the Warriors never make another Finals, it will not only further invalidate the KD rings but also nullify the widely assumed notion that without the Durant signing they would’ve made at least 1 more Final’s appearance. However, if in the next 2 years Golden State just makes it out the West to the Finals, those assumptions will gain traction and tremendously boost the stock of Klay, Curry, and Draymond all time. Not only that, it would seriously diminish Durant’s stock if he never makes it to Finals in a Nets uniform.

Considering all these rosters are drastically different and are several years and Achilles injuries apart, they should have little impact on our perception of what was and what would’ve been…but that’s just not how it works. If Curry wins another title and Durant doesn’t, he will be ranked higher all-time by most major media-produced lists and vice versa.

 

Part Two of the article is focused on the Lakers and Lebron’s Legacy and how it may be shaped by the upcoming playoffs:

Rewriting History Pt. II

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