I’m not going to melt any printing presses by saying that the Golden State Warriors are the most interesting sports team in the world. Because they are. They were already the best show in the NBA, so long as Stephen Curry was in town. Now they’re the best show in sports.
They don’t just win games, and they don’t even necessarily have to dominate them — if anything, the last few weeks have shown that they can be quite vulnerable when Draymond Green isn’t clicking. They just happen to play team defense very well despite having only two truly dominant defensive starters (they’ve been in the top five in points allowed per possession for the last five years), and their team offense is simply otherworldly.
But the Warriors have something extra that — as they say — statistics still can’t define. Everything I wrote in the above paragraph could just as easily have been applied to the San Antonio Spurs. The early and middle years of the Popovich era “proved” to NBA fans over the last 20 years that greatness doesn’t always mean memorability, although watching the Spurs’ defense has always been stunning, and for the last five years their offense has been a masterpiece as well.
It’s not that the Warriors are good. It’s that they have the ‘it’ factor. It’s that they’re the sort of team you’ll talk about for the rest of your lives.
We’re lucky enough that the Spurs exist, because not only are they great to watch, they’re as close to a real-time peer as the Warriors are going to find — and so we can compare and contrast the two to see what makes the Warriors so special. The Spurs play basketball as well as people think it can be played; the Warriors often look like they’re playing a completely different game altogether. The Spurs are an intricately conducted symphony, but the thing about symphonies is that for them to sound good, you have to stick to the script. The Warriors just do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want.
You don’t see teams pass the ball like the Warriors do, you don’t see them shoot the ball like the Warriors do, and you even don’t see teams run set plays like the Warriors do. Steph Curry may have unlimited range, but equally critical to his success is the fact that the Warriors run their offensive sets so smoothly that he seems to get three or four open layups every game.
But while the Warriors do that with so much flair, all of what I’ve said is true for the Spurs, too.
When thinking about the Warriors and Spurs, it’s hard to put your finger on what the ‘it’ factor actually is. Certainly one is tempted to say, as Fonteyn did, that genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic is that it is inexplicable. But let’s try. The difference is that the Warriors are young and the Spurs are not — and age limits what the Spurs can really do. They play like a well-oiled machine not as a choice but because they simply can’t dominate if the machine isn’t running. Bill Simmons wrote that Anthony Davis might be great for many years, but he’s only going to be young and great once. Well, the Warriors are young, they’re great and, with reasonable injury luck, they’re going to stay great.
Because of their astonishing youth and unparalleled depth, Golden State has the horses to do nearly anything they want — whether it’s Draymond Green spraying passes from the high post to Klay Thompson dropping 37 points in a quarter to Steph doing Steph things. They can beat you in a million different ways; the Spurs only crush you the way they always do. And that’s why the Warriors are so memorable.
The Warriors’ flair is part and parcel of their future. Put it all together and the Dubs give us the confidence that we’re not only watching something amazing, we’re watching something that can last. And since watching the Warriors is a subjective experience, our expectations and beliefs about the Warriors inherently impact how we process the incredible things that they do. The crowd at Oracle Arena is always feeling it. Of course they are. The Warriors are in town.
So, you know, let’s just add Kevin Durant to the mix. The NBA will probably move heaven and earth this summer to make sure that doesn’t happen. I get it. Competitive balance is a thing. But so is watching dominance, and one thing’s for sure: Even after years of the Lakers drowning in the Stygian murk, I still haven’t forgotten what dominance looks like. After all, the Lakers have fallen apart because they rolled the dice on dominance and lost — and even after years of subsequent failure, that bet was still a dream worth shooting for.
Four years ago, reeling from David Stern’s veto of the Chris Paul trade (for competitive balance reasons), the Lakers doubled down by adding perennial injury risks Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol core. One Lakers writer wrote after the Nash signing: “The end of this era is sure to be brilliant, consuming itself in a fire we can only hope will be hot enough to burn everyone else as much as it will end up burning us…Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers have indeed gone supernova. And all it took was the addition of a Sun.”
The flame burned out. Nash only played 65 games in a Laker uniform. The team never won enough to keep Dwight interested, and he ran for Houston as fast as he could. The Lakers openly mortgaged their future on a bad roll of the dice. But that wasn’t the point.
Either this ends up as the greatest show in history, or it doesn’t, but it’s like being in the arena when Kobe Bryant has 60 points at the start of the fourth quarter. Even being in position to do something unprecedented is one of the best feelings in the world. I hope the Warriors keep on doing that as long as they can. We talk a lot about how banners hang forever, but championships are often forgotten. We remember the 1972-73 Lakers for their 33-game win streak, not their title. Michael Jordan meant so much to the game that even today, titles seem almost incidental to his success. Strip away the bling and it’s the dominance that remains.
Tell Winston Shi that the Lakers won’t stop drowning any time soon, and that it’s time to jump ship for the team up north at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.