Pretty Hate Machine: Warriors Forcing Old Guard to Confront New Template for NBA

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Pretty Hate Machine: Warriors Forcing Old Guard to Confront New Template for NBA
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A guy walks into a bar…

Two older patrons see the overt joy emanating from the guy named Stephen Curry, star of the history-making Golden State Warriors, and they don't like it one bit.

Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley are the old folks anchored to both their stools and their beliefs, used to things going their way at their favorite watering hole. They want the same ol', same ol'—and they default to the most basic of their premises:

Physical force rules.

So the big fellas amble over. They block Curry's path. They think they can take him.

They just don't get that this joke is on them.

What happens next might well be Curry unleashing some ridiculous ninja moves on the heads of the old fellas. Probably followed by a shimmy dance celebration instead of a gritty fist pump. And definitely a phone call home for some verbal snuggling with his three-year-old daughter.

(Well, maybe Curry first holds up a finger to ask the guys for a second so he can strap on some ankle braces before brawling. Safety first!)

However soft and sweet Curry might look and be, it doesn't matter anymore. It just doesn't.

That's what the old-time basketball players clinging to faulty positions discrediting the Warriors' excellence don't get. The Warriors' excellence doesn't truly feel like dominance because it looks smart and feels so breezy.

And that doesn't jibe with the long-held theory that brute force is supposed to rule sports.

That's the problem with harking back to a more physical NBA. It's the same thing that a small segment of basketball fans—the Warriors know you're out there, likely sipping on liquid courage in your own establishments—assume in believing the Warriors are vulnerable because they aren't bullies looking to take lunch money.

Even the oh-so-nice San Antonio Spurs in recent years were fundamentally sizable—with legendary big men David Robinson and Tim Duncan. So it made sense they were strong enough to win.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Charles Barkley (right)

Barkley set his tone back in November by saying on Fox's The Herd with Colin Cowherd that he would've "beat Steph up" if he'd played against Curry, and his teammates "would've just mauled" the Warriors. In December, Barkley compared the Warriors and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls on ESPN 1000 radio's Waddle & Silvy in Chicago by saying, "That Bulls team would kill this little team."

Barkley succeeded as an NBA player on his physicality; that's simply what he knows. Robertson was a product of a previous era, but he also was a force—powerfully built to out-rebound those taller but skinnier. He leaned on that physicality as his base, so he didn't need to play with flair, just fundamentals and execution.

Accordingly, Robertson argued on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike recently that his era's tougher, stronger defense would have besieged Curry.

Of course, part of it is just Robertson reminiscing fondly about a simpler time for which he cares more deeply, something we all do in our own ways. But the root of it is something else: The old-school belief that games are decided just by unstoppable forces or immovable objects. It's caveman stuff.

Wen Roberts/Getty Images
Oscar Robertson (right)

Let's trace back to the guy who introduced Robertson's triple-double wizardry to a new generation: Magic Johnson. The difference is that Johnson, while also a physical specimen with his size at point guard, did it with tremendous style.

The shocking way Johnson's "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers succeeded with speed was an initial jolt for folks like Robertson and an adjustment for all fans in that era. Johnson's teammate, James Worthy, offered that reminder Tuesday on ESPN 710 radio's Thompson & Trudell show in Los Angeles.

Worthy said many were dismissive of those Lakers for lacking the usual structure of the sport, recalling how critics generally said, "They don't really play basketball; they just run."

Regarding today's Warriors, Worthy stands in awe. As he personally experienced the game advancing with finesse, Worthy gets it. His respect for Curry and Co. is immense.

"Now we're seeing 'Showtime' in warp speed," Worthy raved.

Johnson, too, is practically bowing down to the new-age progress, even if Curry is 6'3" to Johnson's 6'9".

With a victory over the rebuilding Lakers on Sunday afternoon, the Warriors will be 56-5…with 15 of their final 21 games at home, where they haven't lost in their past 44 tries.

That should put the Warriors well ahead of the 72-10 record Michael Jordan's 1995-96 Bulls posted.

The basic belief that finesse in sports is soft has become outdated, but it's going to take some time for that to sink in and forge everyone's new reality.

What many don't understand is the NBA wants finesse. It wants guys closer to six feet than seven feet succeeding. It wants clever passes and long shots.

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
Hassan Whiteside is too late on the contest.

This is all a manifestation of the NBA's desire to make its game more attractive and relatable to the average person—and thus more popular worldwide. There's a reason why soccer has done so well with the moniker "The Beautiful Game." The majesty of basketball has always been in its flow, and the league's rule changes in recent years have continuously pushed us toward this prettier place.

Even American football, despite intrinsic appeal through violence, has no more exciting play than the long pass (and quarterbacks are being protected by rules from the physicality of that game, too, you know). Sports are and will always be more body than mind, but basketball is more adaptable to finesse than most.

Curry does a lot more than shoot long threes, but that is the brush for his most artistic work.

The reason he is a latter-day Bay Area dot-com explosion is simple: He's the right man at the right time, the confluence of skill and grace just when society is most ready to embrace a superstar athlete who doesn't look like a traditional man's man.

As with anything, there are some who aren't quite there with the rest of us on progress. It even took some time for Jordan, as physically gifted as he was, to convince holdout skeptics he was a winner, not just a scorer—or not as great as the bigger men who came before him.

Noah Graham/Getty Images
Draymond Green taking off.

Now there are plenty of bars not in San Antonio, Cleveland or Oklahoma City where dudes think less of Curry and the Warriors for not being prototypically sized like Jordan and the Bulls. Even Golden State's fearless leader Draymond Green lacks the steep height (6'7") and hulking presence (230 lbs) one might expect of a basketball enforcer in the mold of a Kendrick Perkins or Bill Laimbeer. (And he likes to apply lip balm. So what.)

Race notwithstanding, Curry absolutely could be a sort of Woody Harrelson's Billy Hoyle from White Men Can't Jump, getting guys to underestimate him based on how slight he appears. Green, for his part, doesn't even look as lithe as Wesley Snipes' Sidney Deane.

It's understandable why the lingering few might not take them altogether seriously.

It's understandable. It's just so foolish.

  

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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