Warriors Cavs Steph Curry LeBron James

Some rivalries are obvious, including teams from the same city, geographic area or division and teams with a long history of regularly playing each other. Others spring up later on with little advance warning, but can go on to become some of a sport’s most storied contests, and some of its best ratings-grabbers. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are in the latter category.

There are elements of the Cavs-Warriors rivalry that are familiar to those who have watched other great unexpected rivalries, such as Miami-Notre Dame in college football, Cowboys-49ers in the NFL or Red Wings-Avalanche in the NHL. That rivalry’s also led to great broadcasting success, such as their Christmas Day clash becoming ABC’s most-watched early-window Christmas game in 12 years with an average audience of 10,163,000 (live and streaming). Their duel in Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals set records as ABC’s highest-rated NBA game ever and the highest-watched ABC or ESPN broadcast of any kind since 2006.

The big question is if this rivalry will have staying power, though.

All of the aforementioned rivalries were defined by memorable clashes in high-profile games, frequently with some actual injuries too (especially in the Red Wings-Avalanche saga), but the biggest ingredient was usually success on both sides. For example, the Notre Dame-Miami rivalry (recently explored in ESPN’s Catholics vs Convicts) particularly mattered because both those sides were so good during the same span in the 80s (particularly with Miami winning national titles in 1987 and 1989 and Notre Dame winning the intervening one in 1988).

The Cowboys and 49ers ran into each other in the playoffs for three years in a row in the early 70s, and met in three straight NFC championship games from 1992 to 1994 (with the winner winning the Super Bowl each time). The Red Wings lost the Stanley Cup final to New Jersey in 1995, then lost to the Avalanche (who had just moved from Quebec City) in a bitter 1996 Western Conference Final that really ignited the rivalry, thanks to a hit from Claude Lemieux. Colorado would win the Stanley Cup that year, Detroit would win the next two, and the Avalanche would win again in 2001 with the Red Wings following the next year, but the five playoff series they played over that span stand out.

Golden State-Cleveland could live up to those kinds of legacies; the Warriors beat the Cavs in the Finals in 2015, lost this past year, and both look like strong favorites to get back there this year. However, because teams like this don’t always play frequently, these kinds of rivalries can have a tougher time keeping their fuel as time goes on.

All of the aforementioned rivalries tapered off significantly over time; Notre Dame stopped playing Miami for decades, the Cowboys and 49ers each went through some lean periods, and so did the Avalanche and Red Wings. None of those rivalries have the fire today they did at their height.

Similarly, if either the Cavaliers or Warriors start to drop off, or if both do, this rivalry may not last. They’re in separate conferences, they don’t play that much, and if they’re not meeting in the Finals, the memories of past clashes will start to dim. For now, though, Warriors-Cavaliers feels like a potentially terrific rivalry, with significant teams, major stars, history between the sides and great games being played. That’s ratings gold for broadcasters, and they’ll be hoping it continues as long as possible.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.