If you listen to the press outside of the Bay Area, there are a good number of people who believe that the Warriors would be better served building their new arena on Alcatraz Island rather than in San Francisco. Terms like “competitive imbalance”, “the easy way out”, and “ruining basketball” are tossed around carelessly without any rational thought behind them as the Warriors unopposed romp through the Western Conference has vilified them in the eyes of a jealous nation.
As flawed as these statements are, it makes sense that they are so prevalent. After all, takes like these are born of emotion-in particular, frustration-not clear headed thought. After all, it’s frustrating when your team stinks and the Warriors have such an unbelievable collection of talent concentrated on one team. Some fanbases have suffered years without success, watching dynasty after dynasty pass them by while they were thrilled to be competing for the eighth seed. And now, a team with three All-Stars, a team in contention to be among the greatest teams of All-Time, went out and signed Kevin Durant in free agency. It would be like if the ’96 Bulls went out and signed Gary Payton. Except Kevin Durant is a more dominant player than The Glove, for all his greatness, ever was.
But this line of thinking is incorrect, for multiple reasons. If there’s any team who embodies this “competitive balance” it’s the Warriors. It would be one thing if the Lakers or Celtics signed Durant and created a superteam-then, people might have some grounds on which the complain that their team could never win. But the Warriors should be an inspiration that event the worst of teams can one day become dominant.
The 1997 Warriors had one All-Star: the talented but unstable Latrell Sprewell, who was traded after choking out his own coach. He later turned down a 21 million dollar contract, claiming that it wasn’t enough to feed his children. Moving on. It wasn’t until 2013, when David Lee was selected to play in the All-Star game, that a Warrior once again made the All-Star team. In between, the Warriors had their magical “We Believe” season and…not much else. Some notable draft picks since the Run TMC era, the last instance of sustained success for the Warriors, include Joe Smith, Todd Fuller, Andris Biendris, Patrick O’Bryant, and Epke Udoh-a litany of busts that prevented the team from ever acquiring a player to build around.
That all changed with the selection of Steph Curry with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft. But success wasn’t instantaneous. Curry struggled with ankle injuries and at one point it was a real debate if he would sign with Charlotte to be closer to home once he hit free agency. It was just three years ago that the Warriors were bounced in the first round against the Clippers in the last year of the Mark Jackson era.
Up until the 1990’s, the Lakers and the Celtics dominated the NBA so thoroughly it was comical. From 1950 (the first year of the NBA finals) to 1990, the Lakers or Celtics won 27 out of 40 NBA Finals. That’s two teams winning the Finals 68% of the time. That’s absurd. The teams that have dominated in the last thirty years had virtually zero success prior to that-the Bulls, Spurs, Heat, Cavaliers, and Warriors were all afterthoughts in NBA lore before securing their place as All-Time great teams.
It should not be forgotten that the current iteration of these Warriors has just one championship to their name. Dominant teams come in cycles-which is why Jordan’s two three-peats are so impressive, and why the question of whether or not he could have won eight straight titles had he not decided to play baseball will forever remain as one of the most entertaining hypothetical situations in NBA lore. LeBron’s Cavaliers couldn’t break through the first time and the current group can also claim just one championship. The “Boston Three Party”-one of the finest pieces of trade engineering ever-was supposed to unbalance the league and it too produced just a singular title. LeBron’s “Heatles”-a crime far more egregious than the signing of Kevin Durant because it involved three star free agents instead of just one-was one lucky missed call on a Ray Allen travel from also managing just one title as well.
The dynasties with staying power involve home grown players-buying wins sacrifices long term success for moderate short term improvement-and this is evident in the teams and players with the most rings. MJ and Pippen. Magic, James Worthy, Kobe. Duncan and Robinson, with a little help from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.
That’s the number one reason why the Warriors scare people so much. It’s not just that the Knicks or the Nuggets or the Kings or any other number of irrelevant NBA teams have no chance to win a title.
The issue is that nobody else in the entire league, save for perhaps the Cavaliers, has a chance to win a title. A perfect storm-and a herculean effort by LeBron triggered an improbably comeback last season, on the back of superb play by LeBron but also injuries and recklessness by the Warriors. Yes, the Cavaliers beat the Warriors, but the Warriors also beat themselves. The number one seed Boston Celtics, winner of 60 plus games-not just beaten, but embarrassed in the conference finals. The Houston Rockets, the modern iteration of Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less” offense? An afterthought. The Spurs held a commanding lead before losing Kawhi Leonard to an injury, but the successive blowouts proved that one man couldn’t have rescued even the Spurs, who haven’t been bad in twenty years.
If you’re not from the Bay Area, it’s a depressing outlook for an NBA fan. LeBron has been to the last seven NBA Finals, with no indication that anybody is line to slow him down. Out west, the Warriors are unbeatable with a healthy Curry.
However, as the examples above of superteams demonstrates, expected or planned brilliance (“Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4..”-LeBron James, all the way up to seven, on the number of championships he expected the Heat to win) rarely pans out in the fashion expected. The disastrous results expected of an unstoppable superpower failed to materialize, and it was that much more significant and exciting when the veteran Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki and his own version of the flu game, knocked off the heavily favored Heat.
The success of the Mavericks and Spurs against the Heat indicates why the Warriors shouldn’t be cause for distress. The 1927 Yankees, “Murderer’s Row”, was among the most dominant teams ever and certainly didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, it drew more fans because people want to see greatness. Casual observers had their interest piqued by a team that was so talented at their craft it was a sight to behold.
Competitive balance? How about the Yankees from 1949-1953, when they won five straight World Series. Baseball was not ruined.
Or the New England Patriots, owners of three Superbowl Rings, adding the best receiver in football in Randy Moss?
But sports can be fickle. Those 2007 Patriots are a perfect example. Eighteen victories, zero losses, facing a deeply flawed 10-6 New York Giants team led by an erratic Eli Manning (at that point in his career). Yet they failed to take home the trophy.
Greatness needs to be appreciated. People may complain bitterly at the time, but when it’s gone people wish they had it back. Just look at the reception Derek Jeter got at the end of his career-even the most bitter of rivals paid him their respects. The Warriors aren’t just a collection of uber-talented players. They are the next generation in the evolution of basketball. The pieces fit perfectly, with Curry, Klay, Durant, and Draymond each having the ability to stretch the floor and slash inside. Klay can guard 1-4 and KD and Draymond can guard anyone on the court. The seamless flow and positionless basketball is a sight to behold, and a far more advanced concept than the bully-ball that Wade, LeBron, and Bosh employed in their heyday. Bosh, the best shooter of the three, was forced into a perimeter role in the same way Kevin Love is today, which made no sense as he is 6’11 and should have been a dominating post presence, his value diminished as a floor spacer. Wade and LeBron were essentially the same player in their first year together, and there wasn’t enough space to go around. The “there’s only one ball” argument had far more validity hear than it does with the ball movement and spacing oriented offense of the Warriors.
That’s not to say that LeBron’s Heat wasn’t a great team. They were, as evidenced by their 27 game win streak. But they didn’t break the league, and their era of dominance ended more abruptly than expected. These Warriors are a team you will tell your grandchildren about. Appreciate their greatness, built in the right way.