Warriors

Why Steph, LeBron's legacies won't be at stake in NBA play-in

Warriors
Steph Curry and LeBron James

There will be a temptation Wednesday night to view the Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers' matchup in the NBA play-in tournament in legacy-defining terms.

Please, for the love of the game, do not do that. 

I can't blame you if that's your first instinct. Steph Curry and LeBron James are together again in the postseason, and the superstar duo has more playoff baggage with one another than just about any pair in NBA history. If any players have prompted fans, stans and everyone in between to view every game as an indictment or vindication during this Golden Age of Takes, it's these two.

Just don't do it Wednesday.

You see, despite what professional talking heads and hypothetical strawmen imagined on NBA Twitter might have you believe, Curry and James' places in the NBA's pantheon are secure. They don't hold those at the other's expense, either.

Yet I can already hear the arguments from the social-media armies, whose infantry bear a photo of their general, when their opponent loses Wednesday's play-in and, possibly, Friday's, too.

"Steph doesn't have any NBA Finals MVPs," the LeBron lovers will cry out. "He can't do anything without Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant!"

"Michael Jordan never lost a play-in game," the Steph stans will shout. "Let's see how Klutch Sports and their lackeys control this narrative!"

Perspective and passion don't often go together, but the former is especially important in this case. This NBA postseason format isn't even a toddler, and Wednesday's stakes aren't nearly as high as previous meetings between Curry and James.

 

If the Warriors win, they'll be significant first-round underdogs against the second-seeded Phoenix Suns. If the Lakers do, they can't win a second consecutive championship without doing so as a lower seed than any other back-to-back winner. The loser will also be favored, at home, against the winner of the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.

Even if you want this game to Mean Something More, it's not like there's anywhere else Curry and James have to go but up on the list of the NBA's all-time greatest players.

Steph has three rings, LeBron four. Curry has two NBA MVPs, James four. At least one of them has been on a First- or Second-Team All-NBA every year since 2013. They're players without precedent in the history of the sport, and without peers -- aside from each other -- in modern popularity.

One loss isn't going to change any of that. Neither will one win.

It's reflexive for many to view Curry and James' postseason accomplishments in the context of one another, whether or not their Twitter existence is dedicated. It will be very easy to fall back into old habits.

But that framing always sold both players -- who are friends off the court -- short of their actual accomplishments. James isn't a lesser player because he's 1-3 in playoff series against Curry's Warriors, and Curry isn't a lesser player because two of those wins occurred after Durant's arrival in the Bay Area.

RELATED: Steph thanks LeBron for calling him MVP before play-in

Old habits should die hard Wednesday, because we might not get many more chances to see these two titans go head-to-head. James is 36 and signed through 2023. Curry's 33, and although he's in line for another massive contract as soon as this summer, the Warriors drafting James Wiseman last fall should serve as a reminder that the end of Curry's career is closer than the beginning.

Rather than rush to judgement or update your personal record books after Wednesday's play-in game, I suggest soaking it all in during the game. Curry and James' clashes have defined an era of basketball, and Wednesday is another chance to appreciate -- rather than contextualize or trivialize -- that greatness.

The off-court conversations are part of the fun, of course, but they need not be so grandiose Wednesday. Let Curry and James' play do all the talking, and sit back and enjoy the show.

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