Take a moment to think about the worst failure of your career, something that still ties your stomach into knots. Now imagine that months after this painful event, your chief rival threw a party in which he openly celebrated your demise.
And there were cookies. Decorated cookies. In which the icing spelled out your humiliation.
This enraging thought experiment may be the only way to appreciate the Golden State Warriors’ outlook coming into the 2017 NBA Finals. It wasn’t enough that they blew a 3–1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year. They were also mocked via the medium of pastries.
Back in October, LeBron James threw a Halloween soirée for friends and teammates, and the decorations were rather pointed. Consider this drum kit emblazoned with a reference to the Warriors’ historic collapse:
Or the now-infamous cookies, which took aim at the Warriors’ Splash Brothers:
Those are some pretty mean baked goods. They are also confusing, as the dates on the tombstones imply that the Warriors’ backcourt consists of a pair of 1-year-olds. Is LeBron calling Steph Curry and Klay Thompson babies? It’s hard to say. The man’s pettiness runs so deep it contains poetic devices that are open to interpretation.
The Warriors stayed pretty tight-lipped when reporters asked them about LeBron’s Halloween party last year. “I’m just going to keep it quiet,” was all Curry would say. Draymond Green, never one to hold back, was surprisingly diplomatic. “More power to them,” he said. “I already got enough fuel. I don’t need more.” Thompson, though, was less steely. According to ESPN, the Golden State shooting guard looked “visibly irritated by the subject.” He was also, understandably, confused about the tombstone cookies. “Yeah, I don’t get it,” he told USA Today’s Sam Amick, “ ‘cause I’m not dead.”
Pro athletes tend to be a proud sort, eager to take perceived slights and inflate them into parade balloon–sized signs of disrespect. So what happens when they are confronted with something that is actually disrespectful? There is no way the Warriors haven’t been stewing about that Halloween party since October. Hell, I’ve thought about those cookies every single day, and I definitely didn’t blow a 3–1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals.
The Cavs, for their part, haven’t curtailed the catty barbs. Until last June they were, like all other Cleveland sports teams, perennial losers. They have since become emboldened. Bullies, even—the kind of people who bake discourteous cookies.
When Cleveland and Golden State played on Christmas Day, members of the Cavaliers organization made sure a giant photo of LeBron’s famous series-clinching block of Andre Iguodala was in direct view of the Warriors’ locker room. In it, a championship ring was photoshopped on James’ finger. The design of those Cavaliers’ rings, it is worth mentioning, contains a reference to the Warriors’ blown 3–1 lead coded out in jewels.
When the Warriors finally beat the Cavs in January, it was a relief. “It felt good to redeem ourselves,” Thompson told reporters after the game. LeBron, on the other hand, brushed it off, going so far as to deny that the two teams have anything resembling an ongoing feud. “I don’t think it’s a rivalry,” he said. “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a rivalry in the NBA.” This is a good time to remind ourselves that, a few months prior to proclaiming that he was rival-less, LeBron literally hosted a rivalry-themed Halloween party complete with cookies that depicted his rivals’ tombstones, the implication being that he had killed them.
Thanks to that Halloween party, the stakes of the 2017 NBA Finals have been raised. The Warriors beat the Cavs in 2015. The Cavs beat the Warriors in 2016. This year’s championship series will break the tie. More important, the winner will have license to be as disrespectful as any team in the history of any sport.
If we’re lucky, all this pettiness and resentment will be unleashed during the greatest finals we will ever see. As fans, we deserve nothing but the best after having to slog through a long regular season and a dull, inconsequential playoffs. We need seven months of anger to erupt in magnificent fashion over the course of seven games.
In other words, we need a series worth baking cookies about.