Later tonight, April 13, in the last game of the season, in their doomed Oakland arena, the Golden State Warriors will attempt to make NBA history. If they beat the Memphis Grizzlies, it'll be their 73rd win of the season—one better than the once-considered untouchable mark set by Michael Jordan and the 1996 Chicago Bulls. And even if you never have fallen sway to the impish charms of Stephen Curry, there’s a reason why you should be rooting for the Warriors to pull it off: because doing so would be a very nice, very prominent reminder that all of human achievement—Machu Picchu, the Sphinx, Caddyshack—will one day crumble and fall into the sands and the seas.
While the NFL is undoubtedly America’s biggest sport, the NBA is undoubtedly our coolest: its fans are relatively young, and relatively aware, and so not as breathlessly reverent of its past. But there is one thing no one can seem to avoid talking about: would the ’96 Bulls beat the ’16 Warriors in a seven-game series? Some play it out as the silly thought experiment it should be; others just shout to declare their knowledge of unknowable things (which can be fun, when Charles Barkley does it).
The fact that the question keeps being asked reminds us there is some uneasiness about the Warriors’ run to snap the 72-win mark. The 72-win record was supposed to last more than 20 years; the 72-win record was supposed to last forever. The very act of comparing the teams—yeah, but could they beat the ’96 Bulls head-on, though??—is an attempt to give the Bulls back some of their seemingly fleeting permanence.
It’s not just the Warriors chipping away at the Bulls legacy: it’s Twitter, too. Thanks to the all-pervading presence of the Jordan Crying Meme, there are almost certainly kids out there who know Jordan not as the greatest of all time, but as a pleasant internet joke. And if you grew up watching and revering Jordan (as I did) that might drive you insane.
After Villanova beat UNC in the NCAA Championship Game, Charlotte Wilder, a writer for USA Today’s FTW, leaned into the insanity. She demanded a retirement of the meme:
Michael Jordan himself showed up to watch the UNC game and Twitter erupted. But not because one of the greatest athletes of all time was there to watch what would turn out to be probably the greatest college basketball title game of all time. No, the web lit up because its favorite meme showed his face in public, and if UNC lost, maybe he would cry again and then everyone could superimpose Jordan’s old crying face onto Jordan’s current crying face.
As humorlessly as possible, the FTW piece was hilarious (“current crying face”?!!). And reaction to it was inevitable: minutes after it went up, some internet wise-guy slapped Jordan Crying on a photo of Wilder herself.
Wilder put herself in a bad spot—you never wanna be the person telling someone to stop enjoying something. But her motivation was understandable. She was fighting to remember the memory of something great. She was acting, she believed, in the interest of history.
And that’s the place where Crying Jordan and the Warriors’ potential 73 wins intersect. Both devalue a team and a player we once found quite nearly divine. Both chip away at our understanding of historical permanence. How could anyone win more than 72 games? How can Jordan become a joke?
The answer, of course, is that as much as we may want to believe otherwise, posterity is temporary. The things we hold dear, and believe to be universally loved—even those things will, inevitably, fray. The ’96 Bulls were really, really great. And if the Warriors win one more game, the '96 Bulls will no longer (technically) be the greatest team of all time. It’s a melodramatic thing to say. But it’s a truth we should remember more often: time will grind everything into nothing.
So watch the game, and root for Golden State. Because the Warriors are no longer just a very good NBA team. They’re a swaggering, beautiful testament to the illusion of historical permanence. Slap the Jordan Crying Meme on the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Celebrate them both. And remember: nothing ever, ever lasts.