Joy and Pain

When Steph Curry went out against the Houston Rockets, Draymond Green was among the Warriors who roared to the fore, draining 3 of 5 3s on the way to a playoff record 21 of them, despite Curry going 1 of 7.

Golden State General Manager Bob Myers sat courtside before a big Cleveland Cavs-Warriors game.

It wasn’t NBA Finals big – that wouldn’t happen for another three-and-a-half years. It was big because it was the first month of his first season as GM, with his first draft class already contributing to the team’s best start in decades.

He concluded a pregame interview and stood courtside, surveying things. A security guard approached and asked him to return to his seat. Eh, move along, buddy.

Other execs might’ve dismissed the guard, or laid down who was who. Myers didn’t. What the Warriors are doing – what they’ve been doing since the new Warriors era began – isn’t about him, his ego, or any individual, no matter how great.

• • •

Given the way they soared – averaging 114.9 points (the most in a quarter century), shooting higher, faster and better, sprinting and leaping, winning more games than any team since the NBA tipped off in 1946 – made it that much harder to see their atmospheric MVP suddenly grounded, crumpled on the floor after a slip on a wet spot and sprained right knee.

#DubNation panicked. Crack orthopedic surgeons multiplied. As word emerged he’d be out at least two weeks, it came with a reminder: When things are bad, humans rarely remember how good they’ve been. And when things are good, they frequently forget how bad they were.

Helpfully enough, a reminder how bad the Ws were is looping on NBA broadcasts. A Priceline commercial observes a dad, with his daughter, debating whether to use the website for San Antonio Spurs tickets. When he does, she gets life advice from Hall of Famer/good guy David Robinson, who coaches her on success. In a scenario when he doesn’t, they end up at a restaurant/bar getting “life lessons” from Latrell Sprewell, who says, “Success is just failure that hasn’t happened yet,” and steals one of the kid’s fries from her plate.

In 1997 Sprewell choked then-Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo at one of the lowest points of a historically sad 40-year stretch with just one playoff series victory.

Last year they won four series. That juxstaposition inspired the best line of the season, from Bay Area sports columnist Marcus Thompson: “Winning 73 games would be amazing on its own. The Warriors winning 73 games is like Charlie Brown becoming Batman.”

For those who need a reminder how good they’ve been, here’s a tiny taste. They’re so good fans expect more than wins – they demand excitement, constant assists, feats without precedent. Former Warrior-turned-announcer Tom Tolbert describes how he can’t watch another team’s comparatively flat and inelegant game by saying, “The Warriors ruined the NBA for me.”

And sorry, 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The Dubs won more games overall and on the road. They made far more 3s. They never lost consecutive games, a first.
They never lost to the same team twice, another first, despite the most back-to-back games of anyone in the NBA, including two back-enders at San Antonio – while preventing the Spurs from becoming the first team to go undefeated at home for an entire season. The Ws set the record for consecutive wins to start a season (24) and consecutive home wins (54, to the Bulls’ 44). And when the Bulls went 72-10, they repeatedly played two first-year expansion teams, the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies.

Besides, the Bulls didn’t start the year as defending champs. Or contend with a saturated media climate which makes a record like theirs a lot like conducting surgery with a choir of hall monitors screaming over your shoulder.

The Dubs not only weathered it – from the first week of the season – they’ve transcended it, dishing wisdom at a rate almost as brisk as their assists (28.9/game), highest in the league and three assists higher than the next best.Steve Kerr, 2015-16 Coach of the Year, led: “Stay simple, simple, simple,” he said, “and the simple leads to the spectacular.”

They also transcended sports in ways the Bulls didn’t dare, addressing inequality in North Carolina, where [Michael] Jordan and Curry both grew up. As social-justice-attuned sportswriter David Zirin writes, “That is why [Curry’s] comments ‘No one should be discriminated against’ matter. These are powerful words, certainly stronger than anything Jordan ever said about anything.”

So most basketball comparisons remain tortured. As Ws analyst Ray Ratto put it, “It’s getting tedious to find the numbers to explain this.”

To contextualize this greatness, Marcus Thompson took another approach: “You gotta go to other sports,” he said, “and even then it’s hard.”

Case in point: After blowing away the record for 3s two seasons straight, Curry made 40 percent more (402 total). That’s like Barry Bonds following 73 home runs (another special 73 for Bay Area sports) with 102.

So Curry’s left to transcend in other ways, after accepting a golf date with President Barack Obama and multiple invitations to the White House. Like Warriors TV play-by-play announcer Bob Fitzgerald shouted the other day, “Steph for pres! A third party candidate!”

• • •

Somewhere, between all the billions spent on contracts and stadiums, the fanaticism of over-invested fans and the icy edge on the court, we forget basketball is a game to play.

Not the Warriors.

It’s visible in their body language and the way kids and non-basketball fans respond to their brand of sharing, spacing and shooting.

It’s audible in the language of Kerr and company.

“He always uses the word ‘joy,’” commentator Garry St. Jean says. “There’s happiness in the lockerroom.”

Like Curry pointed out as the playoffs approached, “You want to slow down and enjoy what’s going on now.” That keeps the Ws in the moment, and prepares them for life without Curry. Like #30 himself said, “Tomorrow’s not promised.”

First-time all star Draymond Green echoed the same after win 70: “You don’t know what’s coming down the road, so you enjoy it all you can.”

With Curry out, the Ws responded en force, as a group, and had one of their best quarters in a season stacked with them – setting a playoff record for 3s – and found joy doing it. “It was a fun night,” Klay Thompson said. “We can’t sulk. That’s the last thing Steph wants us to do… It makes it fun when everybody pitches in.”

TNT announcer Kevin McHale provided further perspective when another star point guard (Chris Paul) went down: “You extend the series as long as you can. Things change awfully quickly.”

So the messages – the real “life lessons,” Mr. Sprewell – transcend the game too: Appreciate what you have. Tomorrow’s no guarantee, but if you can make it there, together, there’s no telling what might happen. This is bigger than one guy.

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