The first game of the 2017 Western Conference Finals (WCF) started on Mothers’ Day, May 14, starring the #1-seed Golden State Warriors and the #2-seed San Antonio Spurs. Not one media pundit picked the Spurs to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals (and if someone did, he or she must have muttered said preference sotto voce).
As some like to explain, it’s not so much an indictment against the Spurs, as it is cognizance of the Warriors’ various weapons (including youth, speed, and Kevin Durant).
As I watched the Spurs demolish the Houston Rockets in game 6 in the Western Conference semifinals (a series that many also picked the Spurs losing), and watched them take an initial, 25-point commanding lead over the Warriors in game 1 of the WCF (which they blew after Kawhi Leonard exited the game after reaggravating his injured ankle and ended up losing by two points), and listened to the commentators give their two cents, and read various tweets on Bleacher Report, I realized one thing: people don’t just want Golden State to win their second championship; they need it.
This is not so much an endorsement of the Warriors, as an endorsement of what their winning means to both fans and media (and the league).
The common refrain for the past two to three years, as the Warriors rose from obsolescence to league stardom, was that the team made basketball fun again. Their youthful exuberance, plus their fervent embrace of the three-point shot, plus their proficiency on social media (hi, Draymond Green), gave people a new collective basketball hero.
Just like the overlooked Peter Parker could become Spider Man, so could a relatively undersized point guard whose NBA success was once doubted due to said size and wonky ankles, become a point god (not to be confused with the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, The Point God). So could a late-round draft pick emerge to become one of the top defenders in the league and hardwood Jack-of-All-Trades (and kicks).
Suddenly, one didn’t need to be overly talented, or large of frame, or extremely tall in order to succeed. One didn’t need to have a future Hall of Fame coach, or a time-tested, plug-and-play system, or just one franchise player, in order to dominate. One didn’t have to come up the hard way and play with an ubiquitous chip on the shoulder in order to create an MVP narrative. One didn’t have to come from an elite college program. The guys who look as if they could be your next-door neighbors are at the top of the NBA food chain, and the majority of the basketball world (not to mention, the NBA coffers) are here for it.
If Golden State fails to advance to the NBA Finals this year, it’ll be more than just a loss to a more seasoned team. It’ll be the shattering of the belief systems that many fans, journalists, bloggers, and people who only randomly pay attention to basketball currently hold. One that holds their truths to be self-evident that all basketball teams are not created equal, and the Warriors are on their own level of specialness, and that specialness should automatically result in multiple rings and league-wide respect.
[sidebar: respect for skills is one thing; respect on a whole as a result of one’s flow is something else. Don’t get them twisted with regard to Golden State and their perception among their fellow players.]
It would open the door to the currently squelched narrative that the old way of balling was (is) still viable, and that all of the three-pointers in the world aren’t enough to cover for solid fundamentals and a deliberate, instilled team culture and style of play. that favors the collective over the individual. That back-to-the-basket bigs haven’t yet gone the way of the 8-track, and speed doesn’t always equal precision. That flash doesn’t always equal class.
That different doesn’t always mean better.
As Morpheus so aptly put it in The Matrix: “You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.”
Granted, this could equally apply to those who uphold the tenets of old-school basketball and its lack of analytics, rest days, free-spending team owners, rappers/entertainers as team mascots, and Snapchat. But as more and more people embrace the anointing of the Golden State Warriors as The Best Thing in basketball, Morpheus’s words are proving oddly prophetic for both the bandwagoners, and the long-suffering and currently vindicated Warriors faithful.
If the Anointed Ones can’t win, then what they (and those who love and admire them) believe about not only the game, but themselves, will be on shaky ground. That specialness doesn’t mean anything. That “bought” vs. “built” may not necessarily be light-years ahead.
That Spider-Man is indeed just your next-door neighbor, who’s only wearing a costume.
Thanks for stopping by.