Don’t hate on the Warriors for being elite
We should appreciate this run at playoff perfection
The lack of universal appreciation for the Golden State Warriors’ run at playoff perfection reflects a society that currently values average over excellence, that views “elite” as a pejorative.
We watch TV franchises built on amateur singers, or novice dancers who happen to be famous figures. We seek lodging and rides from our peers, rather than trusted hotel brands and professional chauffeurs.
News and entertainment companies desperate to reach young audiences have scrambled to produce content for Snapchat, only to find that people are on the platform just to see what their friends are doing.
User experience now outweighs everything. What are you doing for us? has replaced What are you doing? Thus, the Warriors’ superiority doesn’t elicit applause for outstanding performance — it brings a collective yawn for lack of drama and suspense.
It’s not that the Warriors took a heel turn, it’s that they pivoted away from the prevailing culture. They were relatable overachievers, and now they’re the establishment. Their central figure went from a shorter player who went to a small college for three years to a 6-foot-11 anomaly who helped usher in the one-and-done age. They have a surplus of riches in the post-bling era.
Compare the disdain for Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Warriors last summer to the lack of outrage when LaMarcus Aldridge departed Portland for San Antonio the year before. In both cases the best free agent on the market joined a championship contender. (LeBron James opted out of his contract to become a free agent in 2015, but nobody expected him to leave Cleveland after his first year back.) In both cases he joined a team that had recently ousted him from the playoffs (Durant’s wound was fresher than Aldridge’s). What was the difference? Durant is a better player than Aldridge, and the Warriors are a better team than the Spurs. There’s a punishment by the public for accomplishment.
It’s not as if no other team ever amassed the talent of the Warriors, or breezed through the playoffs in a similar fashion. The 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers added reigning MVP Moses Malone to previous MVP Julius Erving and lost only a single playoff game. The 1985-86 Boston Celtics had four Hall of Fame players in the starting lineup and brought Hall of Famer Bill Walton off the bench. The 1988-89 Detroit Pistons Bad Boys picked up Mark Aguirre (a top-10 scorer in five of the previous six seasons) to go with the Hall of Fame backcourt and lost only two playoff games, both to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. None of them prompted the consternation we’ve seen with the Warriors.
In 2001, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers arrived at the NBA Finals without a loss. And yet, competitive balance wasn’t an issue that came up when then-commissioner David Stern held his annual news conference before the series started.
This year, when the Warriors and Cavaliers had just a single loss between them, it was one of the first things asked of commissioner Adam Silver. He shrugged off the dominance by saying, “It happens.” He saved his disdain for teams tanking for improved draft lottery odds. “It drives me crazy,” Silver said.
Indeed, the anger shouldn’t be directed at the Warriors for being so much better than everyone else, it should be at the teams that tolerate mediocrity or even embrace awfulness. It’s not as if the Warriors monopolized all the talent; they didn’t land any players on the All-NBA first team this year. And for all of the great players on both teams in the NBA Finals, the top three finishers in the MVP race aren’t here. The Warriors just assembled more good players than anyone else, in part by creating a culture that made them the premier destination.
The Cavaliers are the only team to beat the Warriors in their past five playoff series. They also did it at considerable expense. The total cost of the Cavaliers’ payroll last season came to $185 million, including a $54 million luxury tax bill. Forbes estimated the Cavaliers suffered operating losses of $40 million despite the additional revenue provided by 10 home playoff games. How many other teams are willing to make that type of financial commitment to winning? The answer will tie into how many teams can pose a threat to the Warriors.
There seems to be little respect for how the Warriors built their team primarily through the draft, despite not holding a top-five draft pick since 2002. And there’s no acknowledgment for Durant putting in the work to make himself so good in the first place.
Stephen Curry offered a reminder when he said that Durant said he’d been working his whole life on the shot he made for the decisive 3-pointer in Game 3.
“That’s literally his mindset, like, ‘I’m ready to take this shot because I haven’t cheated the game,’ ” Curry said. “ ‘I put the time in every year to get better, to work on your game and be ready for those moments.’ ”
I haven’t cheated the game. Curry said it on behalf of Durant, who has had little to say lately beyond how focused he is on the moment. Someone needed to offer a reminder that Durant and the Warriors did all of this within the parameters of the league’s rules.
The one benefit to the Warriors’ leave-no-doubt run is that they’ve been so decisive, so far beyond the need of any assistance that it’s silenced the usual conspiracy theories. Fans have moved from cries of “Fix!” to demands to “Fix it!”
There’s nothing the NBA can do to bring about parity. The league was never about it in the first place, and whatever methods of egalitarianism are baked into the collective bargaining agreement can always be subverted by players willing to accept less money.
The Warriors are an all-time team. They’re just not a team in sync with these times, an era when the run-of-the-mill has become acceptable. We should take time to recognize a professionally crafted masterpiece amid all the user-created content.