Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Why Do Players Thrive When They Are Warriors?

What I left out of my last post on the Warriors was the “deeper explanation.” But renowned DC attorney Eric Bernthal evoked the need for explanation when he commented:

At our stage of the game, forgiveness is as important to extend as it is vital to receive, so I can let the gratuitous snipe at Cousy go. (Like Elizabeth Holmes, you just can’t help yourself, Budd.) But I confirm on behalf of the few of us on this string who are not residents of the Bay Area (and not hopeless homers for the Warriors) that you might well be right about this team. I don’t get to watch them play very often – most games are way past my East Coast bedtime – but when I do, I’m just floored at the level of Steph’s play. I think he might even be today’s Cousy.

I grudgingly concede that Kerr is probably right about Draymond, whom no one outside the Bay Area likes because of his thuggishness. And the return of Klay (whom everyone outside the Bay Area likes and admires tremendously) is mighty exciting to contemplate. Who gets the credit for turning Andrew Wiggins into a stellar basketball player, when he was an overrated and underachieving malcontent before he got to SF? Kerr? Curry? Team chemistry? Jordan Poole is another example of someone playing at an altogether different level from where he started (and in just a couple of years). That’s really impressive.

As for your bench, how has Kuminga advanced so quickly? And I always loved Otto Porter, who started in DC and is just a fine kid and super-solid player. But I can’t love anyone on this bench as much as I did Shaun Livingston (he had a couple of stints in DC), a medical miracle who managed to salvage a really good career when he had no prospect of even playing again. Maybe Andre Iguodala, who has to be beloved by all us old guys.

And Rick left out the immense progress of Juan Toscano-Anderson and Gary Payton II, both of whom had years of hard work in obscurity before they have become valuable members on A Contender. It is so remarkable.

So, his reply moved me to add this note in replying to him:
To use the now-awful cliché, what is the Warriors' "special sauce?" I thought about going into this, but deleted it for this post. It's the "team spirit," which if you get past the cliché, contains the word "spirit." It's deep, and it's joyful, and they all remember, b-ball might be consuming, but at heart, it's just a game.

The difference between Michael Jordan and Curry (and Kerr) is that Michael played with anger, and Steph plays with joy. The whole team is suffused with joy. To me, it's so important what happens when someone on the floor does something great. The bench erupts! They literally jump up and down, they yell, they bow elaborately, they pound each other, they make as if they are flying low, they pound the perpetrator when he comes off the floor – hell, sometimes they invade the floor to pound him. The sauce bubbles over. They make themselves as tasty as it gets.

And then at the end of the game, the opposing teams hug each other, since they know they are all in this together, that they are the very top of the pole they have been climbing for so long, which is the best of sports, which you also see in the NFL. We're all in this together, and as they say, can you believe they pay us all this money so we can play?

It's the joy that extracts the best and puts it on display.

And I would add two things to that response. One, ownership in sports is ultra-important. The 49ers alumni still speak reverently about Eddie DeBartolo. He loved and admired the players, he didn't think he was doing anything except helping them be as great as they could be, he spent money for the purpose of getting them what they needed – as opposed to owners who hold making money as the top priority. The Warriors ownership of Joe Lacob (and Peter Guber) are cut from the same cloth. Attitude flows from the top. They hire excellence of skill, person, and attitude.

Second, the pleasure of being a Warrior and of watching the Warriors is very similar to the joy one derives from creating and observing great art. 

Budd Shenkin

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