Shaquille O’Neal recently argued that the NBA should cancel the remainder of the current season, suggesting that whichever team was crowned champion in a shortened or altered playoff format would have an asterisk next to its achievement. Whether he is correct in that opinion or not, you can be sure there are plenty of people who share it.
However, it’s important to remember that not all asterisks are created equal.
Injuries happen. They’re an inherent aspect of sports. To argue that an injury should produce an asterisk is the ultimate loser mentality — as if injury risk isn’t equally shared by all those in participation. The Houston Rockets and their fans can cry all they want about putting an asterisk next to the Warriors’ victory in the 2017-18 Western Conference finals due to Chris Paul missing the final two games with a hamstring injury, but in doing so, they conveniently leave out the fact that Andre Iguodala sat out the final four games of that series. You can’t have it both ways.
Asterisks should be reserved for situations in which cheating occurs, or when a team or player receives a distinct competitive advantage for something outside of the stated rules of game. The Houston Astros’ sign stealing? Yep, that would qualify in my opinion. Apparently Rob Manfred disagrees.
Bleacher Report’s NBA staff recently produced what it believes are the league’s eight biggest asterisks since 1990, but the legitimacy of the asterisk definitely varies by each individual case. The Sacramento Kings losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals carries far more deserved asterisk potential for instance than, say, the Rockets winning back-to-back titles in the mid-90s while Michael Jordan was playing baseball.
Of the eight nominees, two involve the Warriors, though one is far more deserving of an asterisk than the other.
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First, let’s begin with the one that doesn’t deserve one whatsoever.
Just like there isn’t an asterisk on the Warriors’ series victory in the 2017-18 Western Conference finals, there isn’t one on the 2016-17 Western Conference finals either, nor should there be. Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin, however, disagrees.
“When Zaza Pachulia stepped under Kawhi Leonard four minutes into the third quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals, causing him to reinjure his ankle, it didn’t just swing that series — it had widespread implications around the league,” Highkin wrote. “The Spurs had a 21-point lead over the Warriors when Leonard went down, and without him, they collapsed and lost the game. From then on, without their best player, San Antonio had no shot, and Golden State easily swept the next three games to reach the Finals, wherein they beat the Cavaliers in five games to win their second championship in three years.”
Leonard is a phenomenal player, and Highkin is correct in recounting that the Spurs had the Warriors in a deep hole early in Game 1 of the series prior to being injured. But last I checked, there are four quarters in an NBA game, and playoff series are a best-of-seven format. Even if Leonard doesn’t get hurt and the Spurs win Game 1, they still have to beat the 2016-17 Warriors — arguably the greatest team of all time — three more times.
That team went 16-1 on its way to the title. Get that asterisk the hell out of here.
The other nominee that involves the Warriors — the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 title — certainly is more deserving of an asterisk than the first, but even still, it probably falls short of the requirements.
“Fresh off a 73-9 campaign and armed with the league MVP in Stephen Curry, the Warriors looked demonstrably stronger after Games 1 and 2, which they won by a combined 48 points — the greatest such number through the first two games of any Finals,” Bleacher Report’s Preston Ellis wrote. “But near the end of the Warriors’ Game 4 victory, LeBron James and Draymond Green got into an altercation. Green’s groin swipe was upgraded to a flagrant foul, which resulted in a suspension, while James was issued a technical foul for his clothesline and step-over.”
“Should the two have earned matching technical fouls, Green — who then wouldn’t have accrued enough flagrant points in the postseason to trigger an automatic suspension — would have suited up for Game 5 and could have helped close the series in Oakland,” Ellis continued. “Instead, Andrew Bogut left a three-point game early in the third quarter with a knee injury, and the Cavaliers ran away with a 15-point victory.”
In furthering the case for an asterisk, Ellis also made mention of Curry’s ejection in Game 6, which was the result of several questionable calls. And while he is correct that in almost any other situation, you would expect the punishments to be handed out equally between players, that’s never going to be the case when it comes to the biggest superstar in the league — nor has it ever been. Yes, the punishment distribution was questionable at best, but Green put himself in a position to be suspended with all of the flagrant points he accrued prior to that game.
Did Curry get hosed on some calls in Game 6? Absolutely. But what else do you expect in a clinching scenario on the road?
The fact of the matter is, though the officials didn’t exactly help them out, the Warriors had multiple opportunities to avoid blowing a 3-1 series lead. They didn’t. They lost. Then they got Kevin Durant.
No asterisk. No complaints.