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Run It Back

Unlike movie sequels, championship rematches are often better than the original, because they build on what has come before
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IN THE WORLD of movies, sequels are almost always worse than the originals. For every Empire Strikes Back or Dark Knight, there are a hundred Hangover Part IIs and Matrix Reloadeds. It's difficult to re-create the magic of the first time around; studios often make sequels because there's money in them, not because there's any gripping story to tell. The nation would be a far better place had Blues Brothers 2000 not haunted our sacred shores. Still, we watch sequels. We want to return to the place we've enjoyed before. We want to believe.

So it's strange to me how quickly rematch fatigue can set in with sports fans. As the NBA playoffs begin (page 76), there's a good chance that the Cavaliers and the Warriors will meet for a third consecutive Finals—the rubber match. Yet many basketball lovers seem unhappy about it. These guys again? This was one of the primary criticisms of Kevin Durant's decision to join Golden State in the off-season: It seemingly assured a championship rematch, rendering the 82-game season pointless. Of course, after the fantastic performances of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, that criticism seems obsolete, even if we do end up with Cavs-Warriors.

It should be more like, Wow, we get Cavs-Warriors again! If fans are sick of those two teams—which have had two terrific, lengthy showdowns and have spent seemingly every minute since the last one preparing to square off again—I would argue that they are in fact sick of basketball itself. Golden State and Cleveland are the two most compelling teams in the league, by a wide margin, in large part because of those last two Finals. Those series would simply be the early chapters in a long-unfolding and engrossing story.

And it's not just in the NBA. North Carolina won a national championship a year after losing one in the most painful possible way; there wasn't a second of their otherwise-dull-and-sloppy title-game win over Gonzaga that wasn't enhanced by thoughts of how that experience affected this one. (No offense to South Carolina and Oregon, but if those two teams had met in the final, we'd have been adrift, without context or history to enliven the matchup.) Clemson's victory over Alabama in college football's National Championship game felt that much more important and historic because the Tigers had lost a heartbreaker to the Crimson Tide the year before. Watching them climb that mountain again allowed us to be invested in a team that we'd just seen come so close. Marking the differences between that game and the previous year's was half the fun. The better you know the characters, the more involved you are. Who wouldn't want to see the Cubs and the Indians give it another go after last year's World Series? Maybe Cleveland could bring back centerfielder Rajai Davis; we always enjoy seeing scene stealers get another moment on the big stage.

This is hardly a new phenomenon. Our sports were built by these foundational matchups. Lakers-Celtics. Yankees-Dodgers. Evert-Navratilova. Each time those titans met, we were riveted. It was an ongoing story line. We weren't simply watching to see who won, we were watching for the next turn of the plot. This is the advantage that sports have over the movies: The sequel enriches the original. It deepens and expands it, builds off it, rather than damages the memory of it.

Sports constantly evolve, with competitors poking at their opponents to find weaknesses and fortifying their own defenses in anticipation of the next battle. Movie sequels get worse because they are invented and thus can't help but be an echo of the original's breakthrough idea; they are predictable by design. Sports sequels give us what we had before but better: a twist that no one could have anticipated, a moment that alters or amplifies all we thought we understood about what came before. Championship rematches offer familiar characters with an entirely new story to tell. Forget grousing about sequels: These series are made for appointment viewing.

Sports sequels give us what we had before but better: a twist that no one could have anticipated.

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