With exactly five minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Klay Thompson shot a 3-pointer. He was 29 feet away from the basket, his body was crooked, and Russell Westbrook was guarding him. But none of that mattered. Klay Thompson had already hit nine 3s in the game, evolving into KLAY THOMPSON — his most violent form. The universe vibrates when KLAY THOMPSON walks and it glows when he shoots 3s. And so the 29-footer went in, and it was beautiful and ominous.
Immediately prior to that moment, the Thunder were up by seven, with a win probability of 86.9 percent. They had led the series 3–1, and were still leading 3–2. This was going to lead to the franchise’s second trip to the Finals, and it was going to be so dope. Then everything turned. Over the next 300 seconds, Kevin Durant and Westbrook somehow combined for more turnovers (six) than the entire Thunder roster did points (five). The Thunder lost the game and then lost again in Game 7, fumbling away what had seemed like an insurmountable series lead. Six weeks later, Kevin Durant, their franchise player and a generational talent, left the team to play for the Warriors, an already overwhelming force, and now they’re the favorites to win the next two titles, if not the next 20.
But what if it hadn’t happened that way? What if Klay had missed that 3? What if the basketball hadn’t turned to ash in Durant’s and Westbrook’s hands? What would that timeline look like?
What happens to the Thunder?
The most obvious thing is they go to the Finals, and that’s already fantastic. But what’s even better is when they go there they beat the Cavs 4–2, winning the franchise’s first title, turning Oklahoma City into a champion, which is great because I think right now only, like, maybe 30 percent of the country knows that there’s an actual Oklahoma City in America.
What happens to Kevin Durant?
Easy. Kevin Durant becomes an insta-legend and unquestionable hero. The story that gets written is about how loyal he is, how 10 toes down he is, how LeBron left Cleveland to get a ring in Miami and how Durant would never, ever, ever, ever do that. He signs a new contract with the Thunder, followed by Westbrook doing the same thing. They spend the next seven years together hunting championships, winning four in a row at one point. Their fame and overwhelming success become so gargantuan that they become the first players to get inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame while still playing in the league.
Whoa. What does Westbrook wear to the induction ceremony?
Bro. BRO. BRO. He wears fucking sunlight to the induction ceremony. Literal, pure, perfect, warm sunlight. His body is cloaked in it; it’s just glowing. Some fashion reporter calls to him as he’s walking the red carpet (there’d never been a red carpet walk at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony before, but Westbrook demanded it): “Russell, Russell. What’s that you’re wearing? Is that actual sunlight?” “Yeah,” he says. “Where’d you get it from?” “From the sun,” he says dismissively, and then he walks inside the building. “Did he say from the sun?” the reporter asks aloud to anyone who will listen. A giant, booming voice is heard from above: “Yes.” The reporter looks up at the sky. The sun is wearing a pair of sunglasses and smiling like when little kids draw it on construction paper. “Yes, he did,” the sun says.
What happens to J.R. Smith?
Oh, man. He takes it hard. Remember that beautiful postgame press conference he did after the Cavs won Game 7 in which we all got to watch him in real time as he absorbed the impact of his occasionally propulsive existence on the people he loved the most? OK, we get that again, except this time it’s the sad version. And it’s unbearable.
We see footage later of loyal fans cheering the Cavaliers as the team plane lands back in Cleveland. The door to the plane opens and one by one, heads down, an immeasurable amount of sadness in their shoulders, they walk out. It’s like a funeral march. Last in the line is J.R. Smith. He’s wearing a shirt. In the days to follow, more and more pictures of Smith pop up on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. Each time, he’s wearing more and more shirts. Two shirts. Three shirts. Six shirts. Eight shirts. “Can you believe how many shirts this guy’s wearing,” one internet commenter remarks. “What a loser.” Smith just keeps piling them on. Twelve shirts. Fifteen shirts. Thirty shirts. A hundred shirts. Eventually, he’s consumed entirely by them. He simply disappears inside a gigantic pile of shirts. Nobody ever sees him again. “LeBron, where’s J.R.?” a reporter asks at the start of training camp. “I don’t know,” says LeBron. “Nobody does,” he continues, and he never makes eye contact with anyone or anything except the floor.
Some other internet commenter screenshots that first internet commenter’s comment from months prior. “This guy is an insensitive asshole,” the second internet commenter says about the first internet commenter as he posts the screenshot. “Well, what’s that say about you?” a third internet commenter profoundly asks the second internet commenter regarding his comment about the first internet commenter.
What happens to Kyrie Irving?
He’s all right. He’s fine.
What happens to LeBron James?
It’s bad. So bad. He gets absolutely crushed in the news — LeBron’s a choker; LeBron can’t win in Cleveland; LeBron will never be able to do what Kevin Durant has done, which is bring peace to an ailing and tormented city; things like that. The lambasting goes on for days, weeks, months, apexing when Skip Bayless gets called back to First Take for an emergency take, during which he has an orgasm live on air. “Would you say I got that right?” Skip asks Stephen A. Smith. Smith holds strong. “Listen, Skip, you know me. You KNOW me. As a man, I got no problem with you orgasming, as a man. Man to man, I respect your orgasm and your right to orgasm. But listen: LeBron James is a dear friend of mine. If anyone deserves to orgasm, it’s LeBron.”
Two weeks after the Finals there’s a new LeBron cover story in Sports Illustrated titled “I’m Coming Unhome.” LeBron is leaving Cleveland to play for the Warriors, which causes an almost countless number of ripples in the universe.
Well, for one, he catches the same backlash that he did when he left Cleveland for Miami, except it’s far worse. It’s so bad, in fact, that following GSW’s loss to the Thunder in the 2017 Western Conference finals, LeBron retires. He can’t take any more abuse. He quits basketball and begins to chase down his dreams of being a movie star, eventually landing a role in the Armageddon sequel, Armageddon 2: Playing for Keeps, which is about a team of grizzled old basketball players who get trained to go into outer space to play a game against a team of giant asteroids rocketing toward Earth; he’s then cast in the third film in the trilogy, Armageddon 3: Praying for Keeps, which is about a group of nuns that get trained to go into outer space to play a game against a team of giant secular asteroids rocketing toward Earth.
In maybe the most bizarre turn, LeBron divorces his wife, and, weeks later, he’s seen huddled with a Cavs-bedecked Taylor Swift on a rock — the same rock on which Swift was recently seen canoodling with Tom Hiddleston. “Looks like T-Swift went and got herself a real supervillain,” Michael Strahan jokes on Good Morning America. “Look out, Loki!” shouts George Stephanopoulos, and Strahan smiles real big and then Kelly Ripa crawls up out of his mouth and into a wooden spirit box like the exorcism scene from The Possession.
What happens to Draymond Green?
No crotch goes unkicked.
And what happens to Steph Curry?
Steph loses his mind. He falls so fast from being the league’s wunderkind and savior to the co-conspirator of the most disliked team in league history that he decides to just try to lean all the way into the bad guy role because he doesn’t know what else to do. He starts wearing a vest; he dyes his hair black; he peels Klay Thompson’s goatee off and starts wearing it; he starts referring to himself as “a wrongdoer” in all of his interviews.
“You know what they say about me, Kristen?” he asks Kristen Ledlow while filming a segment for NBA Inside Stuff.
“What do they say, Steph?” she asks.
He smirks, then puts on a pair of sunglasses.
“I’m a wrongdoer,” he says.
“Who says that, Steph?” she asks.
He gets a little frustrated. He takes his sunglasses off and then smirks again and puts them back on.
“The good-doers,” he says.
“What the fuck?” she says.
Steph is not good at being a villain and is roundly mocked. When he realizes his schtick isn’t landing it only makes him more incensed. He keeps pushing further and further and further past the line until one day a photo is leaked — it depicts him in an S&M dungeon branding Kevin Jonas on the buttocks. He holds a press conference to address the situation.
Reporter: Steph, is that you in the photo?
Reporter: And is that Kevin Jonas in the photo with you, too?
Reporter: Why? Why Kevin Jonas?
Steph: Because he’s the bad boy of R&B and I’m the bad boy of B&B.
Steph: “Basket” and “ball.”
Reporter: Literally nobody has ever called Kevin Jonas “the bad boy of R&B.”
Reporter: If anything, it’s Nick Jonas who’s the bad boy of the Jonas Brothers.
Other Reporter: Which one is that?
Reporter: The one with the big eyebrows.
Steph: No, that’s Joe Jonas.
Reporter: Wait. Is that Brad Pitt from Fight Club in the photo, too?
Steph: Yes. Well, no. Actually, it’s Chad Pitt. He’s a Brad Pitt impersonator. He’s good, right?
Reporter: He really is.
Steph: Chad Pitt is the bad boy of Brad Pitt impersonators.
Other Reporter: Goddamnit.
I wish the Thunder had won Game 6.