As far as the personal narratives of LeBron James and Stephen Curry go, the most illustrative moment that signifies their rivalry came at the end of Game 6, when James, locking down and tormenting the Warriors in a variety of ways, swooped in over Curry's head to spike his attempted layup into the sidelines seats.
James quickly turned to Curry to dispense some trash-talk, and TV cameras caught it all. Shortly thereafter, Curry was ejected from the game, the Cavs finished off a blowout, and Game 7 was on. In the meantime, clips of James' block on Curry were replayed ad nauseam, highlighted as evidence that we'd miscalculated Curry's recent promotion above LeBron in the ranks of the NBA's best players.
But a more representative moment came late in Game 7, when Curry passes to Andre Iguodala on a fast break. James, who is shadowing Curry at the time, breaks for the hoop as Iguodala goes in for a layup. Iguodala seems in the clear until James flies in like a winged wooly mammoth, pinning Iggy's attempt against the backboard and preserving an 89-89 tie.
It was a game-changing block, and perhaps a championship-deciding play: The Warriors didn't score another point the rest of the way. Instead, it was a clutch three from Kyrie Irving, a critical free-throw by LeBron, and tight defense on the other end that helped Cleveland secure its historic NBA Finals win.
It happened only because of James, who, as Irving described, orchestrated a "symphony" on the court in Game 7. His stat line -- 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks -- only partially reflects the diversity of his talents. Meanwhile, his NBA Finals performance, and the near-triple-double average he maintained over seven games, flipped the script on everything we'd learned about the NBA this year, when Curry made the leap from reigning MVP to Greatest Player In The World.
Now, with the Larry O'Brien Trophy at home in Cleveland, we're left to make sense of our own miscalculations. In placing Curry at the top of the NBA pyramid, we mistakenly assumed that the Warriors star's greatness had somehow diminished LeBron's own capacity for dominance. LeBron's performance in the NBA Finals played out like a professor debunking the math of a student: First by considering its logic, then by poking holes in its construction, and finally -- in Games 6 and 7 -- dismantling every last notion that the underlying math might bear resemblance to the truth.
In the 2016 NBA Finals, at least, LeBron has re-claimed his throne: He's still the best basketball player in the world.
Hold up, Curry fans: That's not a diss on the two-time MVP. The continual flaw of the "Who's best?" argument is that comparisons always lead to criticisms. In the case of Curry v. LeBron, if one player is better, then the lesser player is garbage.
That's how you find yourself in situations like this year's NBA Playoffs, where fans outside of Cleveland sat worshipping at the altar of Curry while dismissing LeBron James as an aging has-been -- a prototype of a basketball player destined for extinction.
Curry and James are apples and oranges. They are both great. Curry's greatness is such that LeBron's long reign as the NBA's best player came into question this season, which Curry destroyed the NBA with 402 threes and a team that won 73 games.
But their respective greatnesses are far too different to be easily compared. Curry shoots from deep better than LeBron does anything. But LeBron's toolbag is so versatile, his physique so commanding, his basketball intelligence so high, that he can beat you in a number of ways.
It helps that he has the perfect basketball body, big and strong and long and fast. Curry has to find ways to compensate for his size, and he does that with great ball-handling and the legitimate threat of scoring from half-court.
What we're left with, in the end, is not as simple as one player being better than the other. Two straight NBA Finals meetings, and different results in each, are fanning the flames of what could be the NBA's best rivalry since Larry Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers.
For the moment, today, LeBron is King again. But as Curry showed this season, that status is subject to change. If we're lucky, James' win Sunday night is just the latest round in a long heavyweight fight.