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WARRIORS TEACH A MASTERCLASS ABOUT SPORTS AND LIFE: WE, NOT ME
They aren’t the Jordan Bulls or Showtime Lakers, but their culture is still historically important in how two all-time greats (Curry, Kerr) teamed with smart management to resume a selfless dynasty
One after another, they spoke to the viewing millions, and not once did anyone try to turn a dynasty affirmation into a me-me moment. First up on the makeshift stage was Joe Lacob, the owner who once pronounced the Golden State Warriors as “light years ahead” of the NBA competition, and though he once again was proved correct, he handed the trophy to Steph Curry instead of hugging and hoisting it as his own bling.
“It’s heavy,” Lacob said.
As it should have been, for all the obstacles they overcame — together, as a collective — to win their fourth championship in eight years. “I just want to give credit to these players and coaches,” said the self-made billionaire, who could have chirped to the few lingering Bostonians hooting him in his hometown arena. “This is probably the most meaningful one, because we came back. The last two years were very difficult, and what they’ve had to go through, with the injuries — it’s fantastic. And I love every one of them for what they’ve done.”
Next came Steve Kerr, who unleashed Curry and created the offense that revolutionized basketball. He has carved his place in the sport’s all-time coaching elite. Would he take a well-deserved bow? Nah, as he always urges his players, he passed the ball again. “Number one, it says the guy who put together this group did an amazing job, and I’d like Bob Myers to be recognized,” Kerr said. “He never gets enough credit. Bob, come up.”
So the microphone was placed in front of Myers. Would he finally talk about his massive contribution, the nimble management skill of shrugging off Kevin Durant’s defection, overcoming Klay Thompson’s devastating injuries and forming a new supporting cast — namely, Andrew Wiggins — around the title core of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green? “Well, you didn’t ask this,” Myers demurred, of course, “but I want to thank all our wives and kids. It is not easy supporting us all year long. But it’s the players, it’s Steve, and Joe for supporting us. I’m thankful to have been with (them) basically my whole career. It’s a blessing every day.”
Wait, post-game interviewer Lisa Salters wanted another word with Kerr. This was his ninth championship ceremony, she reminded him, starting with three in Chicago as Michael Jordan’s teammate, then two in San Antonio, then four as Golden State’s coach. What does it all mean for his legacy? “I’ve just been blessed. I hang around superstars,” he said, smiling. “If you hang around superstars, good things happen. That guy Curry, go talk to him. He’s the reason for all this.”
Tears welling as he shook his head, nodding as the league’s deputy commissioner, Mark Tatum, read off his accomplishments, Curry wasn’t about to speak in the first person now. Even after winning his first Finals MVP award and elevating his place in the sports pantheon as a champion, showman and generally beloved figure — at a time when America sorely needs people to admire — he deflected the “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants of his teammates, coaches, support staff, Myers, Lacob, co-owner Peter Guber, wives, other family members, everyone surrounding him.
“It means we won,’’ Curry said. “We hear all the chatter. At the end of the day, it’s about what we do on the floor. Ain’t got to talk about it. Just go do it. Everyone on this stage had a part in this — the front office, coaches, players. At the beginning of the year, what were they saying? We weren’t even on the radar. Now, here we are.”
The art of winning a championship is mostly about handling life. And it helps when those embarking on a mission genuinely like and respect each other. If the Warriors weren’t together as one, they would have faded away when Durant bolted for Brooklyn and Thompson missed 941 days with his ACL and achilles tendon tears. But rather than take the dark avenue and surrender, they taught a lesson to the imposters who think titles should be easy. Durant assumed Kyrie Irving, then James Harden, would bring him rings with the Nets. But without a spiritual meshing of minds and hearts, Durant crashed in the first round and now must deal with NBA Twitter bashers who rightfully question his legacy. He fled the Warriors. Turns out they didn’t need him.
The me-me syndrome especially doomed Irving, who is damaged goods and won’t win another title, and Harden, whose only post-game stages are at strip clubs. Look around the sports landscape. Aaron Rodgers might own more than one Super Bowl triumph if he wasn’t so self-absorbed in Green Bay. Phil Mickelson chose greed, blood money and Saudi sportswashing over dignity and honor, only to finish closer to last place this weekend than contending at the U.S. Open, the only major he hasn’t won. Novak Djokovic prioritized his anti-vaccine preference over the all-time record for tennis Grand Slams, and now, the graceful and grounded Rafael Nadal is firmly in the career lead and prepped to beat Djokovic at Wimbledon.
All you need to know about the Warriors is that they withstood human upheaval on AND off the court. Curry dealt with the public drama of his parents’ divorce, double-infidelity and all after 33 years of marriage, and yet there were Dell and Sonya amid the celebration in TD Garden, thrllled for their son if also standing far apart with new romantic interests. In her new memoir, Sonya Curry revealed she had an abortion in high school — and that she contemplated aborting a second child. The decision would have altered sports history. “When it got to really the nuts and bolts of making certain decisions like I was faced with, there could be no Stephen," she said. “If I would have gone through that, there would have been no Wardell Stephen Curry II. And you know, God had a plan for that child.”
You think her son’s tears were just about basketball? Imagine the difficulty of knowing social-media losers were digging up photos and gossip about his parents? In his only interview about the topic, with The Ringer months ago, he said, “It’s challenging for sure. I could be mad and be like, ‘Y’all effed this up.’ I could have that approach. But it’s going to be an acknowledgment of both of y’all in terms of how y’all raised me. The calmness I have in myself is because of y’all.”
Themes of perseverance are everywhere in this narrative. Thompson isn’t the same explosive player he was before the injuries, but he helped in the Finals when necessary, just as his teammates and coaches helped him through a 2 1/2-season recovery. “A lot of times, I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t do nothing. I was immobilized. And (Curry) was just telling me, ‘Patience, patience. It’s gonna all pay off,’ ” he said. “There were some dog days, a lot of tears shed. Steph talked me right. Draymond. Andre (Iguodala). I’m just thankful to be here, man. It’s crazy. I knew (winning a title) was a possibility, but to see it in real time. Holy cannoli!”
Holy cannoli, naturally, has become a meme. Just as “The Draymond Green Show” lives on as a quirky thing they had to overcome. All is well in Draymond’s volatile sphere after he survived a swarm of media criticism over his post-game podcasts, which no doubt contributed to his poor Finals play. It was Curry who defended him as the Celtics led the series 2-1, saying, “If you're watching the game, you notice him at all times because he's kind of everywhere. We need that grit. We are not in the Finals without him playing at such a high level all year long, the first three series." Now, after Green’s improved performances to close out the series in six games, we won’t be able to shut him up for decades, after he takes over Charles Barkley’s loudmouth chair on TNT’s “Inside The NBA.”
“They’re gonna get this podcast,” Green roared early Friday morning. “Everybody complained all playoffs. Have a couple bad games, ‘Stop doing this podcast!’ It ain’t stopping! Y’all gonna get this podcast. You’re gonna get it all summer and next year too! It’s here. It is what it is.”
Part of their survivalist DNA is allowing the barbs to motivate them. As they partied in the locker room, Green’s teammates showered him with the same “F— you, Draymond!’’ chants shouted by the Boston rowdies. Jaren Jackson Jr., the Memphis forward, made the mistake of mocking Golden State’s traditional motto in a tweet after a Grizzlies victory in late March. “I have a memory like an elephant. I don’t forget. There were a lot of people kicking us down. ‘Strength In Numbers’ is alive and well,” Thompson said. “There was this one player who tweeted ‘Strength in numbers’ after they beat us, and it pissed me off so much. I can’t wait to retweet that thing. Freakin’ bum. I had to watch that. I’m like, this freakin’ clown. Gonna mock us? You ain’t ever been there before. We’ve been there before, we know what it takes. So to be here again … hold that.”
They were mocked because they were vulnerable. For that reason, the 2021-22 Warriors don’t belong anywhere near the NBA’s all-time title pinnacle. Nor does the Golden State dynasty belong with the Jordan Bulls, who won all six league Finals when Jordan participated and likely would have added two more if allowed by ownership. The Bulls were a global spectacle that averaged 30 million TV viewers for their final title series. The Warriors averaged around 13 million viewers this month.
Still, if not in the long-sustainable class of the Bulls or Showtime Lakers or Russell Celtics, the Warriors belong in the same dynasty compartment as the San Antonio Spurs. They overcame a series of gaps while winning five titles between 1999 and 2014. It’s no coincidence that Kerr’s mentor, Gregg Popovich, coached those teams.
And who says the Warriors are finished? Lacob will keep spending wads of cash, to the chagrin of other NBA owners, and Wiggins likely will receive top dollar to join Curry as a long-term cornerstone. Green might not have a long shelf life before launching his full-time media career. Thompson? Holy cannoli, let’s pray he stays healthy. Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II have emerged. You haven’t even seen talented kids such as Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman and Moses Moody. “I intend to own this team for a long time,” Lacob told The Athletic after Game 6, “and I intend to win as many championships as available.”
No wonder LeBron James has stated — often — that he’d love to play a final season or two with Curry. “In today’s game, sh—, there’s some motherf—— in today’s game, but Steph Curry? Steph Curry’s the one that I wanna play with for sure,” James said. “I love everything about that guy. Lethal. When he get out of his car, you better guard him right from the moment he pulls up to the arena. You might wanna guard him when he gets out of the bed. Swear to god. He’s serious.”
Not happening, nor should it. The beauty of the Warriors is found in how they didn’t need a me-me monster such as James to match his number of career rings.
“Well, he got his wish. He's picked me the last two All-Star Games,” Curry said of James. “I don't know if that suffices, but I'm good right now. I'm good right now.”
No one in basketball, if not sports, is in the elevated space of Wardell Stephen Curry II. He calls it stubbornness. “I like that word,” he said. “The narratives you hear going into this season, especially coming off the two years prior, when we had the worst record in the league and a lot of injuries, and then scratching and clawing, trying to get into the play-in tournament just to get a playoff berth. We definitely had that mentality, that belief and faith in what we could do. We kept saying it all year — our championship DNA. All that stuff mattered.
“And you carry that through the three years, not knowing how it’s going to end up. All you can do is control that belief, and behind the scenes, how you show up every single day, you embody that. And then, when it comes time to take advantage of an opportunity, things click.”
Because it clicks for them, when it doesn’t for so many others in sports and life, the Golden State Warriors have separated themselves in history. The disease of me never works like the joy of we. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as sitting together in a locker room and getting it.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.