Champs and Chumps

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The Golden State Warriors are champions. They are the defending NBA champs and they are returning to the NBA Finals after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 in a decisive Game 7. The win capped off one of the most stunning comebacks in NBA history.

The Warriors found themselves on the brink of elimination days ago when they trailed the Thunder 3-1 in the series. In Games 3 and 4, the Thunder blew out the Warriors, raising eyebrows as to how the Thunder had elevated their game and how the Warriors had seemingly melted.

However, the Warriors responded with a big Game 5 win at home, then stole a game in Oklahoma City with a wild, fourth-quarter comeback in Game 6, then sealed it in Game 7 at home again. And so the defending champs are going back to the finals to defend their title.

A Champ is a champion. And a champion is a victor and a vanquisher and a prizefighter and a prizewinner. On the other hand, a chump is a lowly, lackluster, poor, pathetic character that lacks the wherewithal to become a champion. In fact, the Urban Dictionary defines chump this way: “A pathetic character who is often reminded of his (guys are labeled as chumps far more than girls) shortcomings by superiors.” Ouch.

So, while champ is an apt definition for the Wizard-like Warriors, who just wiggled and wormed their way out of a whale of hole, chump may be too heavy handed and harsh a header for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes Durant and Westbrook had a 3-1 lead in the series going into Game 5 — AT HOME. Yes, Durant and Westbrook laughed at the prospect of losing to the Warriors after taking that commanding 3-1 lead in games. And YES, the Thunder should have won. But wouldh’ve, shouldh’ve, couldh’ve just doesn’t cut it, does it?

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And so, while we all want to be champs, sometimes we feel, and are treated like chumps, because we didn’t measure up to someone else’s standard. Durant is still a great player. Durant is still an NBA MVP. And Durant still is in search of his first NBA Championship. And in some minds, after blowing that big lead, he’s not a champ, he’s a chump. And that’s too bad. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post may have said it best:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/dan-steinberg

“To the extent anything matters, this is why it matters: because something about this current sporting moment seems to push us toward immediate group scorn for losing teams, as much as (or even more than) any appreciation for winning teams. We have Crying Jordaned all our sports, gathering ’round the sad losers to point at them and make faces. It’s not that the losing team wasn’t as good; it’s that the losing team had some basic internal flaw, some nasty genetic mutation that’s anathema to winning.

Jordan Spieth choked. Dustin Johnson choked. Cam Newton choked. The Vikings choked. Peyton Manning won, but that just meant that someone else was now a bigger choker. The Capitals were destined to choke. Heck, even the Warriors nearly collapsed. And that’s all just from one writer (whom I like!) in the past two years.

But if the Warriors nearly collapsed, and the Thunder choked, that set up a pretty binary option in Game 7: Choke vs. Collapse. Which is a pretty miserable way to watch sports. Are we really watching sports just to see failure?

Well, you could just say one excellent team wound up with fewer points, but the group that scored more points was a really, really good team doing some unprecedented things and putting itself in an elite historical category. And also that both teams played hard.

Sure, probably. It just seems silly to ruin what was an entertaining and unpredictable seven-game journey by mocking a team that did better than expected but that ultimately proved not quite as good as the team that just won a record number of games in the regular season. Sometimes a team that is better will come from behind and win, and it doesn’t mean the inferior team gagged.

Every loss isn’t a choke. Every loss isn’t a collapse. The Warriors are great, and they were favored to win, and they did. It can be that simple, even if it doesn’t make for a great Photoshop.”

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