Watching the Spurs/Warriors game last night reminded me of a piece I wrote last post season. At the time, I found the Finals so unappealing. The Cavaliers and Warriors- although both talented- did not seem like the teams that you are used to seeing compete for the ultimate prize. Something was missing.
Then LeBron James said it: “We have a Championship pedigree.”
That’s when it hit me. That’s it. That’s what’s wrong. They don’t, or at least not the one Spurs fans have become accustomed to. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be a lot championship behavior in the NBA these days. Perhaps it’s not the teams’ fault. I mean, everyone wants to win, but the individuals have lost what made this game true.
The ideal of team leadership wilted when Kevin Durant signed with Golden State. I get it- Kevin Durant wanted a ring. Kevin Durant wanted to be a champion, but it used to be that championships were not something you chased. They were something you built around yourself and earned. Kevin Durant was one of the best players in the league. But more importantly, he was his team’s cornerstone. He was with Russell Westbrook and a lot of talent in OKC. But instead of asking “what am I doing wrong, what can make this team better?” he took a look at Golden State and said, “Now there’s a team I could win championships with”.
The Golden State Warriors do have a championship pedigree (winning championships means you’re doing something right), but not the type that is widely respected. Technical fouls, taunting opposing teams while up by double-digits, constantly griping at the officials...Don’t get me wrong, they play dazzling basketball, but there should be more to the game than playing. The caliber of players defines your era. They won a championship against an injured 2015 Cavs club. Then, they choked in 2016, and it’s hard to say if they would have gotten to the finals in 2017 without the addition of Kevin Durant (or the foot of Zaza Pachulia). So, champions? Yes. Classy ones? No.
Bill Russell, Magic Johnson , Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan: all synonymous with the teams they represented. These men are legends because they made everyone around them better. They brought a championship to their team and their town; not the other way around.
And that era may have ended when Duncan pointed a finger toward the sky and walked out of the Chesapeake Arena on May 12, 2016.
Have we seen the last of the great championship players who stick with one team and play with poise, style, and humility instead of arguing every call, taking cheap shots at other players, and trash talking the entire game? It’s hard to say as the NBA moves increasingly toward fist-pumping, chest-banging, and the muscle-flexing after a lay-up.
Is there a player out there who is currently on a team, will stay with that team, build a franchise and win championships without taking the superteam approach? Since the turn of the century, only the Spurs have been considered a dynasty that is also synonymous with a culture of winning, style, and grace. There’s no telling if that will ever be seen again.
driftinscotty had another view on this topic that deserves it’s own mention:
This is all going to be written off as bitterness after a loss, but I don’t really care. I all but knew our Spurs were going to lose this game, probably by a large margin. It doesn’t change the fact that Jeph voices the feelings that I and, I think, a lot of Spurs and NBA fans in general have towards the Warriors these days.
I generally agree with the annoyance with the Warriors, though I think it might be overselling it to dismiss them as not being “Champions.” Yes, the 2015 squad beat a depleted Cavs squad, but there have been plenty of NBA Champs who faced at least one injury-depleted team on its way to and through the Finals. That’s just what happens, so I don’t count that against the team that won. In truth, I was really happy for the Warriors when they won in 2015. Up to that point, they had been a built-from-within, mostly-classy organization (Draymond only had his obnoxious meter up to around 7/10, rather than 11/10 like he does now) who had gradually worked their way towards success. I truly think that, that year, they won like highly respectable champions and conducted themselves like champions.
But people handle success differently, and the Warriors very quickly became the nuisance that Jeph describes here. The chasing of the single-season win record. Curry’s shoulder-shimmy after every made 3, even when they had big leads. Everything about Draymond Green’s on-court demeanor (including the ubiquitous flexing which Jeph describes). Zaza Pachulia. By the end of the 2015/16 season, I was thrilled that the Cavs had beaten them, and I’m not especially a fan of the Cavs or Lebron. It just seemed like the Warriors needed to be taken down a peg, and they were.
Last year, though, it became even more impossible to actually “like” the Warriors, with Durant joining. Look, I’m not one to ever say a particular player should or shouldn’t be allowed to go and play anywhere they want. But as Jeph points out, when a great player does that for the clear purpose of chasing a ring, it diminishes their reputation and legacy, at least a little bit (sometimes a lot). Though “The Decision” was a ridiculous debacle, I actually understood Lebron’s decision to play in Miami with his buddies, given the Cleveland clearly did not have a great front office to build a team around him. Such was hardly the case with OKC, where Durant was playing with several excellent players and some decent coaches. Lebron’s move tarnished his legacy a little bit; Durant’s move tarnishes his legacy quite a bit. It doesn’t diminish their undisputable greatness as individual players, but it does drop them from ever being a part of that exclusive group that you mentioned of guys who stuck it out with their teams for the entire primes of their careers (I still include guys like Hakeem and Ewing, though their last couple of years were on different squads – essentially, they played their real careers in Houston and New York, respectively, and they weren’t going to their final teams to chase rings).
Oh, and this is to say nothing of the bandwagon-loaded fanbase of the Warriors, which is the rotted cherry on the top of the trash sunday that is watching their team. I know that the Warriors had some true-blue, legitimate fans who go way back before their current success, and I respect them as much as any dedicated fanbase. No, it’s those front-running dopes who are only “fans” because they want to be a part of the chest-thumping, loud-mouthed party. Those human megaphones who yell at the refs with the same abandon and childishness as Draymond, KD, and nearly all of the other Warriors these days who seem to think that they never commit a foul and are fouled on every shot they take.
It’s no accident that the ABC broadcasters last night even brought some of this up – how Steve Kerr has talked to his team about it “not being a good look” to be complaining on every play all the time. Well, I hate to say it, especially to a guy I really like such as Steve Kerr, but I think the horse is out of the barn there. Kerr is clearly an excellent coach, but I think he’s allowed his guys to get away with the posturing, showboating, and mouthing off for too long. It’s hard for me to imagine them all being able to rein it in at this point, beyond maybe a game or two here or there. This is why I don’t see myself ever being able to truly like them again, as they are currently constructed. I can certainly respect their amazing basketball skills, as individuals and as a team, but I can’t like them.
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