Kind of like the Houston Rockets, who won their two NBA titles during a time when Michael Jordan was off playing baseball.
That'll be at least part of the legacy of a Raptors 2019 title that seems increasingly likely after Friday night's dominatingput the Raptors one win away from the franchise's first championship. Or it'll certainly be some of the inane words that come out of the mouths of talking heads in the days afterward.
As dumb it is, it makes sense why this asterisk would exist. Kevin Durant, who through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs was looking like the best basketball player on earth, hasn't played a minute in this series, due to a calf injury suffered in the Western Conference semifinals. Klay Thompson missed Game 3 due to a hamstring injury, as did Kevon Looney, due to a rib injury.
Boo hoo. You don't feel sorry for the Warriors, the team with the embarrassment of riches, the team with an All-Star at every spot. And you shouldn't. They knew when they signed Durant that their depth would be an issue. This was always the risk.
But even if the Raptors end up dispatching a clearly less-than Warriors squad, whether it be in embarrassing fashion in a five-game series or in a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire seven-gamer, please, do all sports fans a favor and don't put an asterisk next to their title.
Every title needs a ton of greatness and at least a little risk. You think LeBron's 2016 title with the Cleveland Cavaliers was all based on his individual, greatest-of-all-time greatness? No. Way. There was Kyrie hitting The Shot, there was Kevin Love impossibly defending Steph Curry, and there was an enormous amount of…yeah…luck.
Were the Cavaliers the best team in the NBA that year? No.
Were the Cavaliers lucky, starting with Draymond Green's unfortunate punch to the nether regions? Absolutely.
Were they still champions? Yep.
There's no asterisk on that banner.
This is not to anoint the Raptors as the 2019 champs, obviously. There's a long way to go before they get to hoist the trophy. Forty-eight minutes of NBA Finals-winning basketball is a really long time and a really impressive achievement. Kevin Durant can come back in Game 5, go supernova for three games, and lead the Warriors to their third straight title. That would be the best storyline that could possibly come out of these NBA Finals. It's unlikely, sure, but ask the Warriors themselves about what it's like taking a 3-1 lead for granted.
But it sure feels like the way things are going, Jurassic Park will be celebrating sooner instead of later. I don't need to go too deep into the history of it, but only 11 teams have ever come back to win a seven-game series after being down 3-1. The Warriors, obviously, have the juice to do it. But Durant or not, it still feels highly unlikely.
If the Raptors win this, in five games or in seven, with Kevin Durant on the court or without, you'll hear these types of sentences on overhyped sports debate television shows, mark my words: That the Raptors weren't really the best team in the NBA this season. That the Raptors never had to face the best version of the best team of this generation. That they somehow took a shortcut to win it all.
These sentences will be utter B.S.
Here's why: It's not just because injuries are part of the game. Obviously, they are. In fact, these injuries are evidence why you ought not put an asterisk next to a Raptors' title. Must I remind you that the Warriors first title came with Kevin Love missing the entire series due to injury and with Kyrie Irving missing every game except Game 1?
This Warriors run, in fact, sets the groundwork for why a Raptors 2019 title ought to come with no such asterisk.
Durant or no Durant, this Raptors team has been awesome these entire playoffs. The moment Durant went down, Kawhi Leonard swiftly made his move for the title of Best Player on Earth. Kyle Lowry slayed every playoff naysayer he's ever had. Pascal Siakam's precocious brilliance, though inconsistent, has been a key to the Raptors' success, as has Marc Gasol's two-way play. Fred VanVleet ought to keep having babies; dude will end up in the Hall of Fame if he ends up with a VanVleet Fleet of 10. This is the best defense the Warriors have faced during their dynasty, and perhaps the most well-knit-together team the Warriors have ever faced.
Have the Raptors been lucky, even outside of Durant's injury? Of course! Kawhi's four-bouncer in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers was either the ultimate stroke of luck or the hand of God. Giannis' inability to figure out the Raptors' defense was a part stroke of genius by Nick Nurse and part just Giannis being an incomplete superstar at this age. Durant's (and Thompson's, and Looney's) injuries couldn't have come at a better time for a thirsty Toronto fan base.
But it doesn't matter.
A title is a title.
And if the Raptors win it, either in Game 5 on Monday or later in the series, we ought to honor it as such.