“We’re gonna burn together, but you’re gonna perish alone.”
Dean Ambrose – SmackDown, October 24, 2014
Three narratives came to a head last night. One was obviously Game 7 of the NBA Finals; we’ll get there, but let’s start with the wrestling. At the Money in the Bank Pay Per View Event, A long suffering fan favorite made good on a promise, and finally won a championship. Let’s rewind again, though. A few years ago (centuries in wrestling time), Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns debuted as The Shield. The trio quickly became massively popular on the back of some badass style and phenomenal ring work.
In wrestling, as in life (and basketball), a team can only stay together so long before something pulls them apart. In this case it was the promise of championship gold. Rollins turned traitor on his former boiz all because COO HHH (pronounced: triple aitch) promised him a title for siding with his evil faction, The Authority. Rollins took a chair to his friends, and then won the title. For months he hung onto the Championship Belt, a traitor we all wanted to see punished. Way back in November, it looked like his time was finally up: Roman Reigns was waiting in the wings
Roman Reigns is a perfectly good wrestler. He has the body of a Greek God, and the athletic ability to go with it. He’s not great at talking, but he’s not terrible. Overall, he’s decidedly on the high end of the spectrum. Despite this, most wrestling fans HATE HIM. Why?
Because he was the golden child all along. As soon as the Shield broke up, it became clear that Roman Reigns was being primed to be the new face of WWE – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Fans did not take this well, and in the buildup to the November match (and in several big moments before that), they booed him vigorously.
Then the match never happened. Everything inside of Rollins’ knee detonated and he was put on the shelf for the next several months. Reigns won the title in a tournament. Everyone was bummed. The next few months saw Reigns lose and regain the title and battle HHH all over the place. That was the story, but wrestling fans were pretty done with it. During this time, though, Dean Ambrose (forgot about him? so did WWE) went from guy fans rooted for, to guy fans were absolutely flesh-eating-ly rabid for. They wanted him to have the title, not Rollins or Reigns, but WWE had made it clear – that wasn’t likely.
Last night, Rollins (finally healthy) and Reigns (still receiving a lukewarm reception) met at the Money in the Bank Pay Per View Event to settle the score. It was Rollins’ chance to win back the belt he never lost. He did it! The crowd went wild! Then… DEAN AMBROSE appeared. He cashed in his Money in the Bank contract (a prize he won earlier in the night entitling him to a title match anytime), beat up the dazed Rollins, and walked out champion.
Next, the second narrative: earlier in the night, Jon Snow stood surrounded by corpses and dying wildlings. His army was out numbered at least two to one, and the difference in arms quality widened the gap yet further. There was never an alternative though, as Jon was fighting to liberate Winterfell, his family’s ancestral home and he was fighting to avenge his younger brother Rickon Stark, whom Ramsay Bolton put an arrow through.
Jon Snow, the quintessential hero, fighting against all odds to destroy a clear and traditional (if super gross) villain, was losing. There was no hope for his army. They were surrounded, and with every step of the Bolton pikemen, a few more of his men were impaled. Then a horn called out: from over the hills Jon Snow saw the glistening armor of the knights of the Vale, led by Littlefinger and Jon’s own sister Sansa. They saved the day! They overwhelmed the Bolton forces, conquered Winterfell, and gave Jon a chance to punch Ramsay’s stupid (if well acted) face in, while Sansa prepared to feed him to his man eating dogs (HE DESERVED IT!).
In both stories, viewers got a satisfying ending, but in neither was the hero truly responsible for the victory. Dean Ambrose wasn’t even supposed to be in the match he won, and he took advantage of a beat up Seth Rollins. Jon Snow would never have dethroned the demon at Winterfell without the knights of the Vale. LeBron would’ve gone home empty handed if it weren’t for Kyrie Irving:
Sure, LeBron played his eyes out again. His triple-double performance was a thing of beauty, a multimedia Nam June Paik masterpiece, but it wasn’t going to be enough without reinforcements. The Warriors were figuring things out. They were getting the stops they needed, and while they weren’t hitting everything, they were getting to their shots. Some would certainly fall, and some did. Meanwhile, James was starting to show signs of exhaustion and trouble with getting his, especially in the third quarter: that’s when Kyrie Irving took charge. With enough insane shots to fill a career, he kept the Cavaliers in it through Golden State’s best stretches. Kyrie allowed LeBron to take his time and pick his spots. It was awesome, but it felt like a misdirection.
We all came for the marquee match-up of Steph vs. Bron. Didn’t get that. Got Draymond and ‘Bron in the first half, and though it was wonderful, whatever magic let Green take over early didn’t trickle into the second half, where Cleveland kept him mostly under control. Instead, Kyrie defined this game, down to his game-winning three in the final minute. LeBron’s the Finals MVP – there’s no doubt. This team wouldn’t be able to share a court with the Warriors without King James, but he didn’t win them that series. Uncle Drew did. Well, Uncle Drew and some lazy off ball movement from the great Steph Curry.
We watch performances for the narratives. That’s what draws us back over and over again. We want a story. We got more than our fair share of stories in these NBA Finals. Some of them were the stories we wanted, and some of them were definitely not, but the most important ones got sucked up and hijacked by intruders.
Littlefinger won Jon’s epic battle. Dean Ambrose jumped in the middle of Seth Rollins’ redemption. Kyrie took over LeBron’s moment. LeBron tried to take it back with a huge dunk, but got fouled hard. Each of the main attractions had their time to shine, but at the end of each story it was the surprise third entrant that finished things.
It’s a literary tactic – we pull the moments we want for the hero and give them to someone else. It’s when the heroes take the story back that they sear themselves into our minds. LeBron did that by winning the Finals MVP, by letting his emotions all hang out, by being the shining face of the insanity in Cleveland. We’ll talk about LeBron’s Finals performance forever, but Kyrie will be a footnote: but without his old man magic, this article would be about Draymond Green. Kyrie was almost a disaster, instead he’s the Rock in San Andreas – the action hero.