Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why this 2015 Golden State Warriors team is special, the account of a diehard fan


You know that moment when you’re witnessing something you know is going to be special? Remember the finale to the first half of the final season of Breaking Bad? Hank’s face when he is in the restroom as the scene fades to black sets the stage for the epic finish of one of the greatest TV series. That face prepared you... you knew that, even though you hadn't seen them, the final sequence of episodes were going to be some of the most captivating television in history. That scene was the moment when you knew you needed to sit down, block out all other distractions, and enjoy greatness.

That’s how I felt at the beginning of the season about these Warriors. 



Watching the evolution of this team over the past few years has been like watching a great TV show or movie. It’s almost so perfect you might think it was scripted. Sure, I might have been the only one with enough conviction to say this squad was winning it all before the season even began. But it was not fandom but rather logic. As ESPN's Amin Elhassan said of a Bay Area writer a few weeks back, it's not homerism when you're right.

I just felt that after picking the Heat each of the previous three years that this team was on the brink. They had the pieces to bring the Bay Area it’s first basketball championship since 1975. “The squad that the Warriors will put on the floor is as good as any teams,” I wrote. “Superstar? Check. Shooting? The best. Perimeter and interior defense? Third-best defense in the league last year. Bright, young coach surrounded by a great staff? Finally.” 

I don’t think anybody foresaw this team being one of the five best teams of all time back then, but after 67 wins during the regular season, the evolution turned to evidence of greatness. Steph Curry has become the face of the league. As the popular play on the recent Drake mixtape goes, if you’re reading this, Steph Curry is the MVP.

Only ignorance can defend a position that fails to acknowledge how great this team has been.

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Over this season, I have amassed quite the wealth of newspapers, shoes, and Warriors apparel.  I’ve even managed to get some signed memorabilia before a game or at a meet-and-greet with a player. One of my (not-so-sports-savvy) friends, looking at all of this, quipped that he was “glad he wasn’t as much of a Warriors fan as I was.” Another said just shakes her head when she sees that I buy multiple copies of the Sports Illustrated issues that don the marketing paragon that is Stephen Curry. Some people just won't get it.

Ex-ESPN writer Bill Simmons wrote a lengthy piece about his daughter and The Consequence of Caring about a team. Sports have the ability to capture the hearts of a city—or in this case, an Area. I think it was Mark Cuban who said that owning an NBA team is unlike owning anything else. There is no other industry where you have fans actually rooting for the thing in which you own.

And as we are constantly reminded by ESPN, it hasn't always been like this for Warriors fans. I will never forget the cloud that hovered over me after the Warriors lost Game 1 to the Spurs in 2013. After turning off the TV in my college apartment with two Laker friends in the other rooms, it really hit me. I was depressed, distraught from blowing a lead that we had in the bag. (But in the pre-Kerr era, no Warriors lead was safe. I should have known.) After all, the Warriors were up by 16 points with under five minutes in regulation. As I perused online Warriors fan forums, I came across a Kid Cudi song, "We Aite." I listened to it on repeat. I couldn’t believe just how much my heartstrings were being pulled by this team's successes and failures. 

So when the 2015 Warriors erased a 20-point fourth quarter deficit in Round 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Do I fondly recall the despair? Nah. But it was, to use a very Kobe Bryant phrase, “part of the process.”

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Curry gets it. Even though he didn’t want to be a Warrior at the time he was drafted, he has embraced the Bay as his platform and canvas. His handles enrapture an arena that holds their breath at the release of his every shot. “Promise to all the Warriors fans…we will figure this thing out,” he said in 2009. “If it’s the last thing we do.”

I wrote in 2012 about another Bay Area team, the San Francisco Giants, who were another team connected by chemistry of some wild characters (Tim “The Freak” Lincecum, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and Sergio Romo) surrounded the quiet league MVP, Buster Posey. Posey, like Curry, was a mild-mannered, consummate professional. But you knew who was the leader of the team.



The personalities are what makes this game so beautiful. And it’s why I’ve been drawn so tightly to this squad. I feel both parts of who I am and who I want to be in this cast of characters.

Draymond Green, in particular, struck a chord with me. As a high school basketball player, I never did much scoring. But I had (and have) that same ferocious competitive spirit. As someone who went through his growth spurt in middle school, I was stuck with a “big man’s game” in high school despite being barely six foot with shoes on. Much like Draymond does, I would battle for rebounds against towering man-children who had up to six inches and 50 pounds on me. 

You could not compete with that if you didn’t put every ounce of your being into the game.

One day in class about 10 years ago, after one of those basketball games the night before, my teacher gave me that do-I-even-know-you look. “Wow. You are such a different person when you play basketball—you looked so angry out there.” And when one of my good friends, Daniel, said a couple years ago that I was “the most competitive person [he] knew,” I couldn't help but smile.  

From game 1 of his rookie year, I knew that Draymond was that guy. Even before his offensive game developed into what it is today, I loved the “it” factor that he brought. Now he’s the heartbeat of the NBA’s best team.



Draymond may be the soul of this team, but Steve Kerr has controlled the team's focus. Music blasts in their laid-back practices, film sessions can be comical, but come game-time, we see that this team is like a cobra ready to pounce. There’s no mercy. Whereas the old Warriors would watch a 20-point lead wilt away, this team strangles you—20-point leads have been known to become 40. The laser-like focus does not dissipate even as the lead hits double-digits.



And as I work on rehabilitating my own ACL reconstruction, I have a particular affinity for backup point guard Shaun Livingston. S.Dot sustained one of the most gruesome injuries in sports in 2007 against the then-Charlotte Bobcats. Knee dislocation, ACL tear, PCL tear, lateral meniscus tear, and MCL sprain. How he has been able to not only get back on the basketball court, but effectively reinvent himself is inspiring. If you haven’t seen his injury…well, you probably don’t want to change that. Draymond is to the competitive spirit as Shaun is to perseverance.

You can go down this list. Curry’s grit despite being constantly counted out, Barnes’ relentless spirit coming back from a poor 2013-14 season, Bogut’s willingness to do the dirty work, Andre Iguodala and David Lee’s willingness to take lesser roles despite have All-Star appearances on their resume. Maybe it's "just a game"... but that's only if you don't know this team like Warriors fans do.

Once upon a time, this team was a huge underdog. They started off the season at a lowly 25:1 chance to win the title. 20 games in, this team looked like a juggernaut. And now look where they are.

2015 NBA champions.