Hate Them If You Want, but the Warriors Are What Every Team Should Hope to Be

"There is something that is very special about them as human beings," Steve Kerr tells B/R, his shirt and hair still soaked with Champagne. "That's what, to me, carries teams over the top."
photo of Howard BeckHoward BeckNBA Senior WriterOakland, Calif.June 13, 2017

Long before the confetti cannons burst, before Kevin Durant danced and Stephen Curry shimmied in a storm of yellow crepe paper, long before they were christened as champions, the Golden State Warriors earned an exhaustive list of labels.

"A superteam," if you admired them.

"Dominant," if you respected them.

"Boring," if you resented their dominance.

"Supremely talented," before Durant arrived.

"Obscenely talented" once Durant signed with them last July.

And maybe too talented for the good of the NBA.

"Unfair," some complained.

Everything we all projected on the Warriors came to fruition Monday night at Oracle Arena, when they finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers for a five-game Finals victory and secured the championship they were always expected to claim.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were potent, but not nearly as powerful as Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

The ease of their title runa record-setting 16-1 blitz through the postseasonproved whatever you wanted it to prove: that the Warriors were historically great (or unfairly stacked), that Durant made exactly the right decision (or took the easy way), that the Warriors' historic supremacy enriched the NBA (or ruined it).

It's possible for all of these things to be true simultaneously, which is what makes the Warriors so fascinating, and the debates so heated.

That's all fine, but it obscures a core truth, and the real moral of their season. For that, we turn to higher basketball authority.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts as Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates late in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 12, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User express
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"They work well together. It's not one guy on that team that's selfishly looking for himself and not for the team. When you can combine talent (and) unselfishness, and then you can combine guys that play hard, that's going to result in some really good things."

That was LeBron James, describing the Warriorsadmiringly, perhaps a little enviously?last week, when the Cavs were down 3-0 in the series.

James didn't gush over Curry's perfect shooting stroke, or Green's passing, or Thompson's defense, or Durant's supreme efficiency—the talents that make them individually great. He praised their selflessnessthe trait that allows those talents to mesh.

For that, these Warriors should be celebrated, not scorned.

A year ago, James' Cavaliers took down the Warriors in Game 7 of the Finals. Within minutes, Green was texting Durant, making his pitch to join them, according to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. Two weeks later, Green, Curry and Thompson were in the Hamptons, making that plea in person.

Think about that: Three of the best players in the world, who had already won a title a year earlier, suppressing their pride to tell Durant, simply, "We need you."

Pro sports are so often dominated by ego and self-indulgence. But the Warriors invited a four-time scoring champion to join them, potentially at the expense of their own shots, their own glory, their own spotlight. That takes humility.

Not every NBA star would do the same.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 12:  Klay Thompson #11, JaVale McGee #1, Stephen Curry #30, Kevin Durant #35 with the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Cavalie
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

"There is something that is very special about them as human beings," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told B/R in a back hallway late Monday, his shirt and hair still soaked with Champagne. "That's what, to me, carries teams over the top. A lot of teams have talent, and obviously we have great talent. But when that talent is committed to the greater good and to each other and they actually genuinely care about each other and enjoy each other, that takes you over the top."

It's evident every time the Warriors take the court. You see it in their beautiful playmaking, sure, but also in the way they pat each other on the chest after a miscommunication (instead of scowling), and in the way they (sometimes quite literally) pick each other up: On Monday, Green actually caught Thompson in midair, saving him from a potentially damaging fall.

Often, the supportive gestures are more subtle.

"I had my lows in the season, where I was beating myself up, where I was struggling," Durant said Monday night. "But the great part about it is, I'll get a tap on the head from Steph or Draymond."

Durant recalled that during one particularly rough patch, he went to dinner with Green, who told him to just be himself.

"To have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that's what we all need in life," he said.

The Warriors do this in the most obvious way every game, making the extra passes that allow them all to thrive. They averaged 298 passes in this series (35 per game more than the Cavaliers) and created 70 points per game via assist (to 54 for Cleveland).

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Rather than eclipse anyone, Durant helped them all shine that much greater. Curry, who struggled in the last two Finals, was superb this time, averaging 26.8 points, 9.4 assists and 8.0 rebounds. Thompson scored a little less (16.4 points per game) but channeled his energy into a defensive clinic.

"Character and basketball IQ and work ethic," said Mychal Thompson, Klay's father and a former NBA champion himself. "They have it, and that's why they're so successful."

Durant was named the unanimous MVP of the series, after averaging 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range.

That's the outcome you would expect from an elite scorer in the Finals, but what the Warriors learned this season is that Durant doesn't need the points to feel good about himself.

Warriors officials never worried whether Durant could blend his talents with their group. Kerr said Durant's unselfishness and basketball IQ were always evident, even from afar. But one early game nevertheless stuck out.

On Dec. 3, Durant took just seven shots in a 29-point rout of Phoenix. It would be the fewest attempts Durant would register in any full game this seasonand his fewest in any game in the last eight years.

"And he was the happiest guy in the locker room," Kerr told B/R. "He did not care that he didn't get a ton of shots. That was very telling."

None of that, of course, will stop critics from painting the Warriors as villains, or bullies, or even cowards, for daring to add the best available player.

Jun 12, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates with forward Draymond Green (23) in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Te
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In this society, we revere excellence, but resent excess. Golden State is the NBA's 1 percenter, the billionaire who just bought a fourth yacht.

None of this will ruin the NBA. But for the moment, the Warriors have certainly robbed the league of some suspense, and any glimmer of competitive balance. The Cavs, despite three stars of their own, barely had a chance against them ("We were another opponent in their way," James said). No one in the West came close. There are no new rivals on the horizon.

Those are real concerns for the league, but it's not the Warriors' problem. Their only mission is to be the greatest team they can be, and Durant got them there. If the end was anticlimactic, well, the basketball was still beautiful to watch.

So yes, resent the Warriors if you mustthe embarrassment of riches, the warped playing field, the dread they're inspiring across the league. But the real villains are the owners who lack a coherent vision, the GMs who squander their assets and the players who refuse to sacrifice for a greater good.

The Warriors? They're what's right with the NBA.

      

Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and BR Mag. He also co-hosts the Full 48 podcast, available on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.