By Josh Tribe
“Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.” ~ Bob Dylan, “Visions of Johanna.”
I’m just a messenger, please don’t murder me. I come to you on behalf of the oft-mentioned, rarely heard-from-directly basketball gods.
They want you to know all the narratives that’ve swirled around the Golden State Dynasty have been false. Accordingly, the Warriors have been both over-and-underrated, universally under appreciated, miscast as villainous deck-stackers, responsible for the ruination of parity and suspense, their achievements perceived as forgone conclusions, their few and far between failures blamed on flaws that don’t exist. Not that they’re flawless. It’s just that their alchemic divinations can’t prevail every season. The addition of Kevin Durant didn’t make them unbeatable, and his impending free agency and the ubiquitous public perception he won’t be back next season haven’t undone them.
Until the Steve Kerr took over for JV coach extraordinaire Mark Jackson, a universal law had unfailingly pervaded all contact sports: Superior size, strength and speed simply cannot be overcome, no matter how skillfully employed, by superior skills, smarts and selflessness. Joy? Are you kidding?
The Raptors players and coach are currently being lauded for their coldblooded stoicism, the lot of them looking like men condemned to death as they left the floor for might well be the last professional basketball game to take place in Alameda County. From the looks of them, you’d have thought they’d at least lost, were the Warriors not so wearily disconsolate. The Warriors fuel themselves with ebullience and by the fourth quarter they’d run out of gas for the third time in four tries. A subplot in the lineage of Warriors-related false narratives is undoubtedly burgeoning, one which attaches a causality to the personality-less Raptors and their success.
The basketball gods want you to know they placed Saints Steve and Stephen in the five-one-oh for a reason. It was an acknowledgement of the Mecca of small-ball Oakland has long since been. From Sleepy Floyd to Run TMC, Don Nelson and all his quirkiness, culminating in that last hurrah of the We Believe crew of ’07.
Basketball and the Blues: perhaps the only two positive contributions to human culture to arise from the genocidal grounds known as North America, which apparently wasn’t completely forsaken by the rest of them gods, whose spiritual jurisdiction did not include sports and recreation. What a miserable place of senseless slaughter, the rest of the gods bemoaned from on high, as they viewed the so-called Red Man along with his seemingly infinite herds of buffalo senselessly slaughtered, the West Africans hauled over to be treated even more cruelly, the lynch mobs and police state thugs who took over for plantation owners and overseers after Lincoln, the constant illegal wars waged in and upon every other continent, the insane rates of incarceration of its own citizens, refugees lured by the land of opportunity stripped of their children and warehoused like war criminals, actual war criminals waltzing through the revolving door of wealth and power, a new Atlantis of abysmal misery, the rest of them gods saw it all and told the gods of sport and music to do their best, as they had their work cut out for them. Let something redeeming come out of there, for Christ’s sake. The majority of gods, you see, have a soft spot for old Jesus, so childishly concerned with human suffering and full of love for all life’s enemies as he was. Basketball and the Blues, truth be told, were created by the gods of sport and recreation to cheer up Jesus, who was sulking around heaven all day, preoccupied with the horrors coming out of the Americas century after goddamned century.
Yes, it certainly is a cannibalistically parasitic society from which sprang the NBA. The land to its north, despite its lack of mass shootings and propensity for (at least) superficial civility and a politeness rarely witnessed in the Western World, is no less colonial, and only slightly less drenched in blood. The mere mortal credited with creating basketball was born in Canada. Remember that, should the Warriors fail to pull off a Game 5 miracle. Regardless, it appears as though the Bill Russell (Larry O’Who?) (turns out Larry O’Brien was Postmaster General during the Johnson Administration before serving as NBA Commissioner – whatever the fuck, rename the trophy after Russell) Trophy’s Canadian citizenship will be naturalized within the week, if not tonight.
With silly mortal notions of good and evil, the Basketball World at large has long since taken Golden State’s genius, responsible for its greatness, for granted. Perhaps success is always misperceived as forgone conclusion. Even in the absence of KD, due to past dominance, the Warriors remained, insensibly, the favorites going into the Finals. I’m here to tell you they’ve been underdogs all along. Even with KD, they’ve been welterweights contending in the heavyweight division. Sugar Ray Leonard v. Muhammad Ali; Floyd Mayweather v. Mike Tyson; Jake LaMotta v. Sonny Liston. Take note Max Kellerman (of ESPN’s First Take), you basketball imbecile and alleged boxing expert. The notion that “adding K-D to a 73-win team made the Warriors unbeatable” was always dead wrong. Kawhi Leonard avoiding Zaza’s felonious foot; a Rockets team stripped of its inconceivably stupid shortcomings; the overall chaos and incompetence surrounding Lebron’s Cavs. The Spurs may have prevailed due to their size and sound stratagems. The Rockets (!), were James Harden willing or able to make one single normal basketball play... forget the debate over analytics v. eye-tests, when your best player stands at half-court with his hands on his knees every time he’s not slated to go one-on-five; when your best player has no interest in cuts to the basket, screening nor receiving screens; when your whole team, due to some asinine plan, eschews midrange jumpers and post-up opportunities wholesale while simultaneously codifying bad body language from management down... When you can count on the Cavs to keep Lebron shackled to the moronic likes of J.R. Smith... The Warriors have been fantastic, and fantastically lucky. Their collective karma has carried them at least as much as their talent. It sounds great, two MVPs on the same team. Let’s see some other team make it work. Try it with two MVPs not named Steph and KD. The Warriors have overcome an overt lack of brawn, putting aside what would only be considered a normal amount of egomania, to create a dynasty unlike any in hoops history.
They’re not perfect, but the Warriors owners (Mark Stevens notwithstanding, and we’ll get to him), management and coaching staff had, relatively speaking, good karmic footing upon which to launch their agenda of transcendent small ball. It took beautiful arrogance mixed stark realism to pull it off. We’ll be small and fast and explosive and elite defensively. We’ll perfect the art of winning without the option of, if all else fails, imposing our physical will or athletic prowess. We’ll win, in a physical, contact sport, with a sort of sporting flower power. When Kerr came in he could have shot up the organization with a syringe of realism, instead he envisioned a championship team that embodied the spirt of its best player, who at the time, still looked more like a high schooler than the cornerstone of an NBA title contender.
Let’s quickly review the history of NBA teams that (successfully) banked on somebody under 6’4, weighing under 200 pounds. Before Steph led the W’s to the Finals in 2015, it’d happened exactly four times: three with Isiah Thomas and his Bad Boy Pistons; once with Allen Iverson and his Sixers, which featured one of the greatest defensive centers of all-time in Dikembe Mutombo, along with a host of blue collar vets, defensive specialists (Toni Kukoc notwithstanding), who under the harsh tutelage of legendary slave driver Larry Brown, managed to make everyone forget that despite his silly athleticism and indefatigable heart and spirit, Iverson weighed about a buck-sixty, undoubtedly less than little-ass coach. Isiah Thomas changed the game, making way for Mark Price, Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Iverson, Steve Nash and Steph Curry. Before Isiah Lord Thomas III, it was believed guards had to be big. Magic Johnson had become the new prototype. Isiah led the Pistons to three straight Finals, and was one phantom foul call away from winning them all.
Enter Curry under Kerr. Ahead of the curve in terms of relying on the three-point shot, the Warriors finessed past teams they had no business beating. And luckily, when facing off against the Goliath from Akron the first time, Lebron’s two best (and only truly competent) teammates went down with injuries and Steph Curry was able to take his seat alongside Isiah, at what’s still a table for two, reserved for little guys to claim a title as their team’s best player.
The next year, Lebron’s Cavs at full strength, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, lost, and signed Durant, as we know. At which point the basketball world lost its damn mind. Yes, they added one of the top players in the league, but one who made Golden State a collection of warriors whose strength was not to fight even more so than they already were. Yes, they possessed unreal offensive fire power. But so did the Run TMC team, as did the incarnation with Chris Webber, which scored a shit ton, but couldn’t do better than an eight-seed destined to both score and give up an insane amount of points.
What the Warriors have done over the past half a decade, with KD, without KD, has been to repeatedly trot out a lineup in which none of the rotation players had the capacity to physically overpower their positional counterpart. Only the changes in officiating, outlawing the manhandling that allowed Isiah’s Bad Boys to prevail, made any of this the least bit feasible.
Personal disclosure: confessions of an undersized point guard
I’ve got sufficient self-awareness to justify what might otherwise be deemed an inordinate love for one Stephen Curry. At a much lower level, I nevertheless related intimately to Curry’s essay which appeared online earlier this season. At 13, unlike Steph, who had hopes of proving himself among the best players his age in the entire country, I was merely trying to establish myself in Orinda, a teeny-tiny, lily-white Bay Area suburb not the least bit known for its basketball pedigree. But then again, my father wasn’t one of the better three-point shooters in NBA history, but an extremely mild mannered, overtly pacifistic psychiatrist. I entered Orinda Intermediate School in the eighth grade at four-foot-nine, 82 pounds, armed with, relatively speaking, mad skills and a touch of urban moxie. I had handles, a deadly push-shot nearly identical to the form Steph once employed – there are only so many ways to shoot a basketball when you weigh less than a hundred pounds – and could finish (a hundred leagues under the rim) with either hand around the basket. For the O.I.S. 8th grade “A” Team, I was an extremely impoverished man’s Steph Curry.
Every brunch recess that year, a kid we’ll call Lance and I played one-on-one. I don’t think I lost even once (though I must have), despite an eleven inch, fifty pound disparity. Lance was an exceptional athlete, ruthlessly competitive, whose basketball skills weren’t half bad. He would go on to become a starting tight end and rugby star at UC Davis. Our basketball battles continued through our early twenties, he at 6’4, 230, me at 5’8, 155. His skills improved over time, as did my own, and although I can’t recall ever losing to him, I also remember the absolute struggle it was every time. Had he ever been formally trained as a basketball player, I’d never have stood a chance. Because, remiss as I am to admit it, in basketball, size matters. Steph has so stealthily seduced the basketball realm many have forgotten this less than egalitarian truism. It’s a significant advantage, every time a shot goes up, to be taller and weigh more than your opponent. Rebounding, setting and fighting through screens, competing for loose balls, etc. A zillion little things combine to give one team more points in the paint and free throws. Despite the expressive artistry of its athletes, the game does not award extra points for grace. If it did, the Warriors would win every game by 300 points.
In Game 2, the Warriors’ lone win so far this Finals, the pundits gushed over the Warriors 22 second half field goals, every one of which came via an assist. Twenty-two assists in one half of basketball. It is astonishing. But nobody bothered to point out the shadow of this non-anomaly. Every basketball teams needs a few unassisted buckets. An assist on every made shot means zero put-backs, not one instance in which one of your players strips one of theirs and takes it the other way for an uncontested dunk. All assists means no coast-to-coast layups for Draymond, no threes for Steph off screen and roll. I, who normally gush with near sexual arousal at the mention of so many assists, shivered upon hearing this statistic cited. If none of your baskets are unassisted, the other team’s playing amazing defense and committing nearly no unforced errors.
So what’s gonna happen? My head says it all ends tonight in Toronto with the entire country erupting in orgasmic basketball bliss, the Splash Brothers’ liquidity reduced to tears. Durant on his way out, destined to play nary a second, his last shot as a Warrior remaining that pretty midrange shot from the baseline, in which he tore his calf. My head tells me this is the Warriors’ Waterloo... that attempting to slay Kawhi without KD as akin to invading Russia during wintertime. Unlike Napoleon, it’s not their fault. My head tells me that even with KD at full strength for the whole series, it would have been tough. The Raptors are really fucking good.
My heart, however, informs me Steph and Klay are due to combine for at least 80, a game in which they both hit 10 threes. My heart tells me they’ll shock the world, Draymond nodding emphatically as if that outcome was never in doubt. In my heart, Durant is on the bench for Game 5, disallowed from stepping on the floor by the doctors, but able to lobby his way into some towel waving; but Steph, Klay and Dray slay the purple dinosaurs anyway, making way for KD to pull a Willis Reed in Game 6 in Oakland. In Game 6, like Reed of yore, Durant’s contribution is largely sentimental. He hits a few jumpers, blocks a key shot, makes some free throws down the stretch, giving the Warriors just enough to make it to Game 7. In my heart, Durant puts up 50 in Game 7, three-peat complete.
It’s my prayer that the Warriors find the humility to see themselves not as two-time defending champions, but as the perpetual Cinderella they’ve always been.
I’m here as a messenger to tell you the basketball gods are still with the Warriors, but the rest of them gods are pulling for the crew from Canada. Mark Stevens was their last straw. The Raptors general manager, fan base, if not their players, deserve the title more than their Golden State counterparts. Bob Myers’ snarky dig at KD at last year’s victory parade set the tone. Stevens shoving Kyle Lowery sealed the deal. For the first time in their historic run, the Warriors don’t have karma on their side. Let’s face it, every other Finals appearance, it’s been Dan Gilbert, with his plantation mindset looming over it all.
But none of that matters. Game 3, the Warriors dangling over the threshold of defeat: Steph dives headlong into the passing lane in perfect high school style ball denial. The Warriors were all over the floor in Games 3 and 4. And this is what I’ll remember. Not that everyone idiotically claimed their insane collective skillset made them undefeatable. I’ll remember KD in the tunnel, hyping up Steph before games, there to greet and congratulate/console his teammates. Looney battling on with a broken collar bone. I’ll remember Boogie doing his goddamned best, defying his reputation as a petulant malcontent. I’ll remember Livingston, who probably should have retired years ago, bringing his old man’s game from the 70s. I’ll remember Iggy. All the basketball gods want me to be sure to inform you, that in the basketball hall of fame which exists on high, Andre Iguodala occupies the position Michael Jordan occupies on earth. Iggy, the ultimate Warrior in every way, with his ancient legs, leading the 2019 playoffs in dunks. I’ll remember Iggy’s dunks, Iggy’s strips, Iggy playing well past his prime because he “likes Steph,” who he says “is great to be around.” Iggy, the basketball gods want you to know you’re off the hook. Go ahead and retire to your long life of golf and philanthropic entrepreneurship. Steph’s legacy was cemented long ago. He dines with Isiah at that table for two, where they sing the praises of Joe Dumars and Klay Thompson, Mark Aguirre and Kevin Durant, Dennis Rodman and Draymond Green.
Hovering over the Warriors’ dynastic death bed from my perch overseas, my role is that of a unitarian hoops priest. I’m prepared, however solemnly, to perform the last rites for this, the most poetical dynasty in NBA history. Built on faith that goes beyond execution, the Warriors have reminded us that joy is as good a fuel as ambition, revenge or vindication. Win or lose, in my heart a big brass band plays a Big Easy Second-line sendoff to this beautiful basketball experiment. The big brass band waits to play “Nearer My God To Thee.” The three seasons featuring Curry paired with KD have been a joy to behold. Their biggest stumbling block a mutual tendency towards being overly deferential to the other.
Win or lose, I think KD comes back on a short-term deal for one more go around. But when it’s over, whether it’s tonight or years down the line, I’ll remember the parasitical media getting it wrong and how the Warriors nearly let themselves get undone by it, all the while maturing as men and teammates in precisely the cliché manner in which sports are supposed to imbue its participants.
Dear Golden State Warriors, thank you for your dignity. Last message from the basketball gods wanted me to impart on their behalf: WE STILL BELIEVE. Stance. Selah. From Berkeley and Saigon, Let’s go Warriors!