Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Warriors Redux

Here in the East Bay, home of the Warriors (even though they are not called the Oakland Warriors, and we are worried they will be called the SF Warriors soon instead of remaining Golden State – Oakland gets no respect!) we have been viewing the Warriors a bit quizzically. Last year and the year before, there was no hesitancy. Enthusiasm and possessiveness -- Our Warriors! -- was pervasive. This year, it's more like interest, rooting, hoping – but less possession, maybe. A little less.  They've changed. Change is the way of the world, and capitalism has invaded sports, and not just in naming stadiums but in defining the sport itself, and we understand that “sports is in the entertainment business” and we understand we understand, but that understanding doesn't always penetrate through to feelings.  You never step in the same stream twice, but often you think you're doing it, and other times you know you're not.  This year, we know we're not.

So I'm watching the games, with interest, with cheering and appreciation, but sometimes not to the bitter end. The other night I watched the Memphis game and they were coming apart at the end and KD (Kevin Durant) was playing some hero-ball, which is seldom fun to watch and for which he was loudly called out by Dramond Green afterwards which took some newspaper and coach explaining, and I just went upstairs while they were still ahead thinking they could well lose. Didn't want to see it. Didn't stop me from tuning in to the Miami game two nights later, I'm still interested in how they evolve as a team, but it's not like last year.

I have made a new friend, Benj Demott, from New York, who publishes First of the Month (, whom I met through my good friend Bob Levin. Benj follows basketball, and is now a Warriors fan – good for you, Benj! He said he was preparing an article on the Warriors, so I sent him my feelings. I think men talk about sports the way women talk about boyfriends, btw. Here is what I wrote him, slightly edited:

Here's what I think about the Warriors.  I think that last year was a special year, a magic year, to use two poor, very over-used adjectives.  It was unusual and distinct.  What happened?  First of all, there was the streak -- no, wrong.  First of all, there was the championship of the year before that put a target on their back.  They hadn't had to play San Antonio in the playoffs, and Kyrie and Love were out for Cleveland, and Charles Barkley was on their back, so it was questioned.  Good thing there was no Russian hacking.
And then there was the parade through Oakland.  I was there with my son and granddaughter (the latter only for a while - she was 5).  It was something else.  Klay Thompson said, I didn't know there were this many people.  He said, I mean, they come to the games and they're great, but I didn't know that there were so many people that we mattered to, or something like that.  The parade had a role in ushering in the next year (which, if you're getting confused, was last year, 2015-16, when they lost to Cleveland in game 7 of the finals.) There was something surprising about the championship, and the parade itself was kind of home brewed, and very Oaklandish. Ours.

Then when the new season started -- 2015-16 --everyone was out to get them, so there was no "usual regular season game" for them.  Every game was a semi-playoff style game.  It started with The Streak, and the Warriors took the bit in their mouth and accepted the challenge.  That was unusual.
Then, there was Curry.  Unusual season for anyone, Charles saying no one can keep that up, and the shots kept falling, and his drives were something to see, and the passes.  Stats for threes were "unbelievable," or would have been not long ago.  Now, they are barely believable.  It was a crest.  Everyone on the team wanted him to shoot.  So, that was quite unusual.  There was also Klay's 37 points in a quarter, which I loved in real time.
Then after the unprecedented opening season streak of 24 straight wins there was the season record to go for, so every game counted on that score, too.  Again, Kerr asked them, do we want to go for it?  They said, yeah, we do, and they did and they made it and every game counted and every other game was close, it seemed, and everything broke their way, even the injury to Barnes that let Brandon Rush flourish.  So if you were a fan you couldn't miss a game.  Even though everyone knew this might mean they would peak too early.
And then the goddamn refs.  Charles and even Oscar Robertson said they would know how to stop Curry, rough him up.  That disappointed me about both of them.  I'm nearly ready to throw O off my all-time 5, except I don't believe in making teams according to behavior.  Anyway, that's what the refs let teams get away with.  If you saw Curry without the ball, you saw fouls, you saw rough stuff, and the refs -- who continue to blow so many calls it makes you think "there might be something going on" -- seemed complicit with Charles and O.
Then there was the refs and Dramond.  OK, perhaps immature, but hitting him with all the technicals was really bad, and basically at the end, they cost the Warriors the championship, between Curry not being a full strength which was partly regular wear and tear and partly roughing up, and Dramond out for a game.
And, of course, that team was a real team with some longevity together.  This, being a real team, going crazy on the bench when someone did something good, feeding Klay the ball for 37, laughing and poking each other, warming everyone's heart.  And Kerr had cultivated the second team, Barbosa, Iguadala, Speights, etc.  The year before (2013, I guess), I had gone to a game early on and watched the second team lose a big lead down to where the Warriors were 9 up before he put the regulars back in, maybe against Phoenix.  I thought what I was seeing was Kerr grooming the second team, and by the end of the year they were there.  And then the next year they were even better.
So now, it's different.  There is no streak to work on.  They are a target, but it's not like last year's target, and the team has different guys on it, with Barbosa and Rush and Speights gone from the second team, and Bogut from the first, and Barnes although I don't mind his leaving.  The regular season games seem like regular season games.  The talent is terrific, and there are challenges -- I see too much hero-ball from KD, and they have to say to him, hey, there are other heroes on this team, and we all play together all the time.  So they're good, great even, but in the making of a new team.
I personally think they'll go all the way.  But it will be Warriors #2, not the Warriors as they were, winning again.  It's a new team winning.  They're great, and I still love them.  But this year I'm not nearly so hesitant to book travel and be away for a while.

Budd Shenkin

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