That is how this NBA Finals will be marketed, a tradition for the NBA dating back to Magic vs. Bird. The NBA markets personalities over teams, so you get Jordan vs. Stockton/Malone, or Kobe vs. Duncan, and on down the list. Now there is LeBron — the biggest star in the game over the past five years, both nationally and internationally — and Stephen Curry, the guy who has stolen that crown. Their teams meet in the Finals for the second straight year, both have a lot of legacy on the line, and you can feel loathing in the air.
Both guys played down the idea of a rivalry the day before the NBA Finals tip off.
“I don’t think me and Steph — when you talk about rivalries, you talk about Carolina-Duke, you talk about Ohio State-Michigan,” LeBron said. “It’s hard to say LeBron and Steph. If there’s a smaller scale or another word for a rival.”
“It’s really annoying for me to be — that’s not what I’m playing for, to be the face of the NBA or to be this or that or to take LeBron’s throne or whatever,” Curry said. “You know, I’m trying to chase rings, and that’s all I’m about. So that’s where the conversation stops for me.”
There may not be animosity between LeBron and Curry, but both have a legacy points on the line here.
Curry and the Warriors won last year, took personally the idea that had been a fluke, went out and won 73 regular season games, but if they come up short now they will be seen as a team that couldn’t finish off that run.
LeBron has been in Samsung ads for a year telling us how it’s all about “winning one for the ‘Land” and that ending Cleveland’s championship drought. By going back to Cleveland he bet part of his legacy on winning a title there, and while he doesn’t have to win it this year, he will need to eventually and there are only going to be so many swings at the piñta.
So there is pressure.
Just don’t call it a rivalry.