In a very large world filled with arenas and stadiums where various balls are dribbled and thrown and kicked, this is the best place to be. The occasion on a memorable, delirious Tuesday night was a record 16th straight victory to start an NBA season, but in the big-beat din at Oracle, the celebration wasn’t about the trails the Warriors have blazed and benchmarks they’ve established.
It was about where they’re headed, and how much more they want to do in basketball life.
“The bigger the stage, the more excited they get,” said Luke Walton, who rather amazingly remains undefeated in Steve Kerr’s coaching absence after beating a Lakers team that he might coach someday.
They have no interest in a short-term burst of euphoria, one championship with a cherry on top. In their grand scheme, they see 2015 as an amazing year that turns into three or five or even seven amazing years. They are positioned for a dynasty, with the most dynamic and adorable athlete in sports leading an entertainment spectacle that’s as breathtaking to watch as it is impossible to defend. In the cradle of tech, they’ve mastered a style that seems to have been invented in a video-games lab, so beautifully explosive. And considering Steph Curry is 27, Klay Thompson is 25 and Draymond Green is 25 — with owner Joe Lacob possibly making a run at Kevin Durant next summer — tell me, people:
Why can’t the Warriors be The Best Show In Sports for a real long time?
“We don’t feel like we’re going to lose anytime soon,” Curry said. “The way we’re playing, we can get even better.”
“This team is hungry. Believe it or not, we have our eye on bigger things,” Thompson said. “We’re addicted to winning, and we like the taste.”
The allure of their addiction — unlike, say, heroin — is that it’s wrapped in joy and cohesion and camaraderie, elusive elements in a modern sports industry where many are in it for their personal egos and financial portfolios. If so much can go wrong when speaking of long-term dominance — killer injuries, contract-related resentment, the disease of me — so much can go right when they love playing together. Nothing defines this team more than when the house lights go down for introductions and Curry, rather than waiting on the bench so he can absorb a thundering ovation for himself, rushes out before the public-address announcer can say his name, preferring to dance with his teammates instead of milking the individual moment. They are charming in their oneness.
“It’s awesome. Those guys, they deserve it,” Walton said. “They play the right way. They’re unselfish and have fun. You can see the joy when they play basketball. It’s obviously special.”
The joy is even richer when it’s grounded in humility, with the juxtaposition especially compelling when watching Curry in his emerging prime against the ancient Kobe Bryant, who missed 13 of 14 shots in a display that screamed, “Retire!” If Bryant once was the sport’s most lethal weapon, it’s now Curry, a man of family and faith who relates to the masses more than a fading star whose life and career have been strangled by controversy and strife.
“Kobe will tell you, ‘I’m about to kill you,’” Green said. “Steph won’t tell you. He’s just going to kill you.”
As long as you keep in mind that their focus is on winning in June, again and again, then, sure, it’s fine to ponder the unimaginables this season. Might they go the rest of the calendar year without losing, which would leave them at 32-0 on New Year’s Day? Might they eclipse the 72-10 record of Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls? General manager Bob Myers, who assembled this magnificent roster with the help of a consultant named Jerry West, already has said, “I’ll go on record. I think it’s impossible.” Kerr, who won his first three rings with those Bulls teams, says no team ever will match 72, that the record is as untouchable as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Most likely, they’ll fall short of both marks; they start a seven-game, 13-day road trip next week, and by April, the focus will be on resting Curry and others instead of investing energy and risking health. Walton reminded us of that.
“The 72-win thing is far, far away and we shouldn’t be spending any time thinking about that,” he said. “We will not be coaching this season to chase that record. We are still going to give players nights off during back-to backs and we are going to do our best to limit minutes for some of our players. Our main concern is being healthy come playoff time.”
To a man, they are more consumed with rings than records. Still, both are necessary in the pursuit of an indelible historic footprint. When 16-0 became a possibility in recent days, they embraced it. Now, they will embrace remaining undefeated while going about their daily business.
“For me personally, I didn’t need any more fuel to start the season on a good foot,” Curry said. “Winning a championship was great, and that’s the highest accomplishment, but the hardest part for us to do now is to stay at the top. I’m worried about that. That’s the real motivation for me, specifically, is continuing the level that we’ve established and I personally have established.”
“We’re trying to win another championship,” Green said. “That’s what we’re fueled by.”
A repeat title now seems their destiny after an offseason when so many critics were questioning their legitimacy as champs and Curry’s standing as Most Valuable Player. They now have a certain swagger, with Curry more demonstrative than ever on the court and Green exerting even stronger leadership. The naysayers could not have been dumber in speaking out, for all they did was motivate the Warriors to be better. “We’ve got a chip on our shoulder,” Andrew Bogut said. “We didn’t take too lightly to comments that it was a fluke and it was luck and this and that.”
Curry found time in the summer, between filming ads and playing golf with the President and traveling to Asia, to work diligently on his game and engage in neurological drills to improve quickness and court awareness. Green grew hungrier after signing a $82 million deal, wanting to prove he’s worth it while becoming an expert passer and pick-setter and a better playmaker. Thompson is rounding into form after dealing with back problems and remains an elite shooter and defender. Andre Iguodala not only accepted his “reserve’’ role, he learned to love it after winning so much respect for selflessness after winning the Finals MVP award. Harrison Barnes nixed $64 million and keeps hititng big shots in the fourth quarter, enough that he’ll probably add $25 million to his deal next summer. Festus Ezeli is better in the middle. Bogut is slimmer, Marreese Speights is in better shape. Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa bring the same veteran sparks.
“We’re better than last year, better and more focused,” Curry said.
And they can say that while being coached by a neophyte, Walton, who has been especially savvy in knowing exactly when to switch to the same lethal small lineup that vanquished LeBron James in June. It’s a bullet train in sneakers, with the world’s greatest shooter flanked by four mates who can hit threes, play lockdown defense and detonate in a ballet of rapid ball movement, skilled passing and pick-and-roll symmetry. Strategizing against what Walton calls the “knockout punch” — Curry, Green, Iguodala, Barnes, Thompson — is a nightmare. “When they go small, they’re a b—-,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott, who could only watch as a milestone fell.
Much will be made of Curry and Jordan next Wednesday, when the Warriors are in Charlotte, Steph’s hometown, to play a Hornets team owned by Jordan. When he’s asked to compare the Bulls to other teams in history, or himself to James, Jordan usually is polite before asserting that he and his team were the greatest of all time. With six championships and six Finals MVP awards in six tries, Michael is batting 1.000.
Kerr is the common denominator between the eras, two decades apart, and has no interest in picking a winner. What we know is that the Warriors — and their streak — are his baby. “It truly speaks to what Steve came in and did, because it’s just a reflection of the system and atmosphere he built,” Walton said. “All we’re doing is following his leadership.”
While watching the competition unravel. Since their 23-point collapse against the Warriors last week, the Clippers are losing and feuding. In Cleveland, James already has lauded the Warriors for being hungrier than his lackluster mates.
Curry and the guys? They could laugh, sneer, brag.
But they just win. Never losing is the best revenge.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.