In a world were television series often end with much to be desired, let’s take a moment to appreciate those rare NBA seasons that left us all feeling good.
On Monday morning, I awoke to find 81 new text messages on my phone.
As one-third of a text chain with two buddies who don’t sleep (one has an infant, the other is single), this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. The topic on this night was their level of satisfaction with the Game of Thrones finale.
They were not in agreement.
My one buddy — he’s the friend who takes movies and television shows about 237 percent more seriously than a healthy individual should — had issues with, in no particular order: a literal and figurative non-entity winning the throne, a thief ending up as Master of Coin, a magically knighted Pod, Dany being heard in the Dothraki cheap seats without a mic, an election that went against the entire ethos of the show, and a dragon who suddenly understood symbolism.
My other buddy liked how the show neatly tied up all the loose ends in a believable fashion and basically gave us a happy ending (unless you blindly stan for Dany, in which case your feelings are meaningless).
While I had my own issues with how the show finished up, I also get where my second friend is coming from. We all see this stuff differently. Just a week earlier, we were having the exact same argument about Veep. Two of us sang the finale’s praises as its most emotionally corrupt episode to date that was also somehow supremely heartfelt — an end befitting arguably the smartest comedy of this century. The third one of us didn’t buy that Selina would win the election, and he couldn’t get past it.
Both debates got me thinking. Besides television, sports are the only other thing in our society that has the ability to spur this much discourse on how we’re supposed to feel about something that’s happening right in front of our eyes. Yes, we talk about movies, but you’re in and out in three hours or less. You can’t sink your teeth in in the same way as you can a sports season or multi-year run of a great episodic (There’s also politics, but masochism is highly overrated).
Sports and television conversations are fun and controversial. Both can be like the magic internet dress: we’re looking at the same image and seeing two completely different things. After Thrones, you either felt great that the long journey ended with the melted puddle of throne soup in safe hands, or you felt betrayed by a process that took a left turn off a cliff at the last minute. We recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos, another show that divided friends and family over an ending that was either genius or the ultimate middle finger to the audience. Ditto for its progeny, Mad Men, a few years later. Seinfeld had people grabbing pitchforks and torches.
It’s become clear that finding an ending that makes everyone happy is almost harder in television than it is in the NBA.
Even putting aside the fact that 29 fan bases don’t get to celebrate every year, it’s incredibly rare that an NBA season ends without some significant segment of the basketball-watching public left deeply offended by some grave injustice. Whether it’s Kevin Durant and the Warriors gaming the system, or LeBron and the Heat doing the same, or the Lakers or Celtics winning uh-gain, or Miami getting a sixth man in a striped jersey, or the aughts’ Spurs winning with ruthless efficiency steeped in less-than-scintillating fundamentals, or the Pistons uglying up the sport decades earlier, someone’s inevitably left complaining.
So now, in commemoration of a Thrones ending that featured Jon Snow drunkenly tossing the game board off the table as green houses and red hotels scattered across the room, let’s celebrate those rarest of times when nearly everyone was left satisfied by the conclusion of the collective NBA journey.
(And let’s do it quick, before we have to endure two weeks’ worth of conversation about whether the Warriors are more or less aesthetically pleasing without their best player on the floor, because who isn’t looking forward to that?)
Honorable Mention to any NBA teams that should very well have made this list, but played too long ago for me to have a full appreciation of how strongly their victory resonated — so basically anyone before the 80’s.