Larson: This post may have come a little bit late since Golden State finally lost against the Bucks on Saturday and had their undefeated streak come to an end. If you have a pulse, I'm sure you have heard the media pontificating about whether or not this Warriors team can break the Bulls' 72 win season, and whether they have a responsibility to try and go for history. Naturally, Golden State's answer has been the natural cliches, talking about how the ultimate goal is still winning the championship, and that being the only thing that really matters. I want to up those stakes a bit and ask an interesting question: would you rather go 82-0 and lose the title or win the championship and set no records?
The more I've talked with other people, the more interesting this questions becomes since each side believes the answer is obvious. To me the answer is pretty clear, I would much rather win 82-0 games and have a perfect regular season and lose the championship than just be a normal championship team.
Here's my case. What is the fundamental principle that underlies sports, and more importantly, the criteria upon which we judge and evaluate sports? Sports, while being entertaining, is something that is really hard to do, which is why we pay lots of money to see people throw a spherical orange thing into a round thing. The way we usually tell whether something is good or bad, impressive or unimpressive, is how hard it is to do, or rather the unlikeliness of the event. Shooting 45% from 3 is impressive because of how hard it is to do, and how rare that occurs. Thus, the core principle of how we evaluate performances in sport is giving more praise to the harder, or more unlikely, accomplishment.
This logic extends usually to why people and teams prioritize winning a championship so much in the NBA. An NBA championship is usually the hardest thing that can be accomplished in a season. You have to play the greatest opponents that year in multiple seven games seasons; a championship usually means you've beat the best enough times, four, to not be random or lucky.
However, that priority we put on a championship goes out the window when we think about the possibility of going 82-0. Can you even imagine that? Like I legitimately have a hard time even fathoming what it would mean to win every single game in the regular season. That means as a team you can't succumb to an off shooting night, you can't have another team just get blazing hot, and you can't lose concentration for even one contest. Like I'm not even sure if the Warriors played the Lakers or 76ers 82 times this season if I would pick the Warriors to go 82-0. Going 82-0 would be the hardest and most improbably thing ever done in NBA history, and thus would be a greater accomplishment than winning an NBA championship.
What would you rather do?
Caden: Every year someone wins a championship. No one has ever gone undefeated in the regular season. You know what that is, that's elite company of only one. I go 82-0.
Larson: Well here's the counter argument to going 82-0. Your team would have the biggest asterisk next to their accomplishment in the history of sports. Think about the Patriots from a couple years ago. No one really remembers that they were undefeated in the regular season, people just remember that they lost in the Superbowl and didn't finish the job. The team would never truly be able to say they were the best team that year because some other team knocked them out of the playoffs and "proved" they were better than them.
Caden: I disagree. The New England Patriots in 2007 went 18-1, and lost their one game in the Super Bowl. However, they were arguably the greatest regular season team of all time. People still talk about their success! And when people bring up their loss, it is surprisingly not in a negative light. Pundits praise an incredible throw and drive by Eli Manning at the final moments of the game. The Patriots are not viewed in the sports realm as gigantic frauds, but rather they lost to heroics out of their control.
The 2006 Patriots center in more elite company than Super Bowl Champions. There have been 49 Super Bowl champions and only two undefeated teams during the regular season. Maybe it's a shame the Patriots lost that final game, but they're in a more exclusive club. The '06 Patriots legacy degrades more because one other team had gone undefeated throughout regular season and the playoffs - the '72 Dolphins. If the Patriots were the first, they'd be revered.
Larson: What I've found though, is that for all of the people that say it's championship or bust, their argument begins to soften when you get into certain specifics. Of course they would feel that way if the team got swept in the first round, but what if it was injuries that caused your team to lose. Like say the Clippers lost Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in the first round after going undefeated, then can you really blame them or diminish them for not winning the championship? And in that same vein, how much does a championship really matter? If you win 40 games and sneak into the playoffs as an 8th seed, get hot or lucky and win it all, is that really better than going 82-0?
Caden: No it's not. Think of all the past championship teams that history has already forgotten about. Back to the Warriors, let us lower your bar of 82-0 and say they go 76-6 for the regular season and don't win the championship. The difference between this conversation and the NFL regular season perfection conversation is the length of the regular season. Winning 76 games in The Association requires consistent execution, focus, skill and luck. Winning 16 games in the NFL is extremely difficult, but not as difficult as what we are proposing. The more games played, the more odds turn against you. It's the law of averages.
For all the teams attempting to recreate the Golden State Warriors small ball, lineup of death - stop, it cant be done. The Warriors arsenal possesses the greatest shooter of all time, another top-ten shooter in NBA history, and the perfect utility man in an outside oriented league. They are a special team, already. Going 76-6 and not winning the championship is the baseline for them to not win it all and still be considered one of the greatest teams of all time, in my opinion. If they were to accomplish such a record and lose in the playoffs, it wouldn't happen because of failure. Just like the Patriots nearly a decade ago, critics and fans would claim heroism from another team rather than failure from the Warriors.
Larson: I guess the real question I have here is how much does a championship really matter? Often times it is treated as a binary where success is winning it and failure is not. Then that gets into different questions like the cliche would you rather be Charles Barkley/Karl Malone or Robert Horry? Why isn't Bill Russell the greatest player of all time? Would you rather be in the hall of fame or be a role player on a championship team?
Caden: Literally, as I'm typing this out, I just realized we are shadowing that debate - Wilt or Russell? How high do the numbers need to reach to mask postseason shortcomings? Funny, because I've always sided with Wilt. I've read plenty of basketball books, I've heard the debate thousands of times. I get the majority of fans believe Bill was the better player, and I think I lean that way as well. But, what Wilt did was mind-boggling. There's something so special about the absurdity of his numbers. That's what a Warriors 76-6 record would be - Wilt esque.
Larson: How many of those basketball books talk about how everyone hated playing for Wilt because he was selfish? Since this blog is about the Clippers and not the Warriors, does your opinion change at all when considering the Clipper franchise as one that has never won a championship? With the Warriors this season it was almost easier since they already have scaled the mountain and gotten the monkey off their backs. But if you were the Clippers, does the idea of winning a championship to have one on your books become more valuable since you have none? Since things are often times evaluated by championships in the NBA, what carries more weight, 82-0 or a championship? Can you put up an 82-0 banner in the Staples center proudly?
Caden: It's a completely different argument for the Clippers. The Warriors are champs. Once a champ, always a champ. Special shout out to Peyton Manning, who wins once and everyone devalues his playoff inadequacies. At least Manning won. The Clippers haven't. The lure of a championship absolutely is more valuable since there isn't a Larry O'Brien on the shelf. More regular season success followed by postseason failure continues the jokes about this certain Los Angeles organization. So, if I were Steve Ballmer, I'd rather win a championship due to injury luck and fraudulent refereeing, just to get that proverbial monkey off the back. Then, the next year, go 76-6 and lose in the second round like the jokes suggest.
Larson: I think 82-0 is sooooo impressive, even for the Clippers, I'd still take it over winning a championship. But I can see the other side's point and why it's persuasive. Another question we don't have time to talk about is how many games would you have to win with the championship to make it more impressive than 82-0. I'm starting to think at least 75-7 and a championship. At least. But I'm interested to see what others think. What would you rather do: go 82-0 and lose or win a championship?