During the first game of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers I found myself at my brother's house. Full disclosure, my brother is a Clippers fan though not unbalanced like myself. As we were watching, he observed that although he liked the Clippers, he had to admit that the Warriors were a very likable group of players (he did make an exception for Draymond Green, of course). I looked at him and said: "Just wait."
By Game 7, he had turned against every Dubs starter and most of the bench, including his beloved Klay Thompson (my brother went to Washington State, and all Coogs are by default beloved).
My brother's perception of the Warriors completely transformed in fewer than seven games of actually watching them. Many Clippers fans were out in front of the latest NBA craze — hating the Warriors. Everyone else around the country is now finding out what we've known for a long time: the Warriors aren't the "beautiful basketball" darlings that ESPN told you they are. In fact, they're annoying as hell.
The super-Warriors will be disliked at least for the obvious reason that they will be heavy favorites, and there are plenty of fans who like to root against the top dog. But there are perfectly legitimate reasons to cast Golden State as the villains, both collectively and individually. As it happens, the NBA Finals exposed several holes in the Warriors' narrative.
- The Warriors are NOT playing beautiful basketball. It is indisputable that Stephen Curry is an incredible talent, and in fact his 2015-2016 season was almost certainly the greatest display of individual offensive basketball in the history of the league. But I got SO SICK of Mike Breen and others talking about how they share the basketball and get great shots, contrary to the evidence of the games themselves. The Warriors (especially Curry and Thompson) actually take TERRIBLE shots — they just happen to make a bunch of them. Now, you can argue that the fact that they make them means that they are good shots — but you can't argue that it's great team offense. The idea that Steve Kerr is the coach of the year when any other coach would be fired for allowing his players to jack up 35 footers with 20 seconds on the shot clock (James Harden cost two coaches their job last season alone) is absurd. The Dubs score a lot of points, and yes, they get more than their share of layups — but when defenses have to send two defenders at Curry five steps beyond the three point line, allowing the rest of the team to play four on three, layups happen. That's a result of paradigm-altering individual talent, not great coaching or great team play.
- Look no further than the defensive end to see that the Warriors have gotten big heads. The 14-15 team was the best defensive team in the league. Last season, they were pretty ordinary on defense, mostly because they didn't care.
- Thompson clearly has a serious ego problem and desperately needs to learn when to keep his damn mouth shut. Clippers fans already knew that after his feud with Doc Rivers a year ago. Everyone else saw it with his "I guess his feelings got hurt" reference to LeBron James. The moment he said that, I told anyone who would listen that the Cavs were going to win the series — Thompson went out of his way to piss off LeBron, and you don't have to be a genius to know that it would not end well for Thompson or the Warriors.
- Curry's mouthpiece throwing tantrum was a bad look, but the guy's preening and posing had worn thin long before that. And what is with Under Armor / Jamie Foxx telling me that Steph is some sort of everyman superstar, "The patron saint of the underdog"? He's the freaking son of an NBA player! How exactly is he an underdog?
- While we're on the subject of Steph, he's not responsible for the actions of his wife of course, but it certainly didn't help the reputation of the Warriors when she started ranting about conspiracies. Um, Ayesha, here's a tip — when your husband has won two straight MVPs and an NBA Title, it's not a good look to suggest that the NBA "is absolutely rigged." Did they just start rigging it the day you got mad? Cuz if they've been rigging it any longer than that, then by definition they were rigging it in your favor.
- Even their owner is an arrogant bastard. How stupid do you need to be to brag that you're "light years ahead" of any other organization in the league? In PRINT!? This is feature journalism, you know. This isn't an expose. The authors surely sent him an advance copy, he looked at it and said, "Sure, that's accurate. No problem with that quote."
- Draymond Green.
And to that already villainous crew we have now added Kevin Durant.
Can't you just see the teenage Durant on the playground in DC? A very competitive pickup game has just concluded, with Durant coming out on the losing end by a single point. The other team asks "Do you wanna run it back?" and he replies "Sure, if I get to play on your team."
In announcing his decision to join the team that won an NBA record 73 games last season, Durant said that the Warriors' "vibe" was "authentic and organic". WHAT? Does anyone really need more reason to hate this team?
Durant joining the Warriors is so wrong that it ALMOST makes Andrew Bogut a sympathetic character, since they had to shed his salary to make it happen. Bogut is arguably the dirtiest player in the NBA, and was certainly a part of why the Warriors have been so eminently hate-able the last few seasons, but the super-Warriors actually make me feel a little sorry for him.
The Clippers were the biggest villains of the NBA last year, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were to see a different dynamic emerge this season. It's entirely possible that the Clippers will be the best hope for stopping the Warriors juggernaut — certainly in the West. (It's far from clear that the Clippers can actually compete with the Dubs, but who else is going to stop them?) If that's the case, then every Warriors-hater (and there will be plenty of them) will be a Clippers fan by Christmas Day, and if the teams actually meet in the Conference Finals, everyone not in the Bay Area will suddenly be cheering for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Obviously the Warriors are going to be very, very good, and they are widely expected to win the title, with justification. In a superstar driven NBA, there are probably only three legitimate MVP candidates in the league right now, and two of them are now on the same team. (Thompson for his part has not gotten over his habit of saying stupid stuff — he's in for a rude awakening if he thinks he's not going to have to defer to the two players who have won the last three MVP awards.)
We've had MVPs team up before. But you have to go back to Cousy and Russell and the 1958 Celtics to find existing MVPs on the same team in their relative primes — and even then Cousy was 30. The good news, if you're a not a fan of foregone conclusions, is that there have been many super teams in recent history that have come up short. The 2003 Lakers actually featured two existing MVPs (Malone and Shaq) and one future MVP (Kobe), but were humiliated in the NBA finals by the nameless Pistons. The first season LeBron spent in Miami with Wade and Bosh did not end the way everyone expected (though they did end up winning a ring together). And though it seems strange to think of it now, the Kobe-Pau-Nash-Howard Lakers were widely expected to dominate the Western Conference in 2013. In other words, there's a healthy tradition of super-teams underperforming in recent years, so there is hope.
I'm not looking forward to watching the Warriors run up huge win totals and margins this year. But watching the country turn against them? That part is going to be fun.