OAKLAND — The nostalgia in the building was thick enough to cut with DeMarcus Cousins, so much so that many of the last 19,596 humans shoved into what has always been known by the locals as “The Coliseum” almost forgot that there was a championship to defend, a season to prolong and a summer to defer. They certainly wanted to forget the brink against which their team had been shoved. They wanted to celebrate an era, not the ending of one.
Instead, they were forced to accept an epochal game with a devastating loss lashed to the end of it, a game so magnificently constructed that it almost erased the real truth: that the Warriors’ fifth straight NBA Finals was not just a defeat but a potentially catastrophic one.
I’m guessing it can’t. Then again, I don’t speak for everybody. But nostalgia only goes so far.
Toronto won the game, the series, the shiny thing and the hearts of a nation, 114-110. The Raptors received heroes’ performances from nearly every one of their players, and the exciting climax that can only come with one last tedious officials’ review. The Warriors received heroes’ performances from many of their players as well, got to see their roster cruelly depleted one last gratuitous time, and went out of Oakland like the truest of mensches. That is, if you are moved by that sort of thing, and you really shouldn’t be.
Nineteen hundred seventy games from that first forgettable night in 1963 at the decrepit Oakland Auditorium against the long-morphed Cincinnati Royals. Five owners, 12 general managers, 20 coaches, 378 players, 28,944,052 people through various turnstiles, 88,075 field goals, 9,458 threes, a million memories ending with Klay Thompson’s reverse Willis Reed moment far more than the forbidden timeout by Draymond Green at game’s end that changed nothing but the people who bet the Raptors’ second-half prop. All of that history, fair and foul, is gone, completely and finally, and the next tasks are to head for the bridge for new digs and new fans.
And frankly, the Warriors went out with enough pride and wilfullness to win over all but the stoniest of heads. And what do they get for it? The lack of comfort that comes from knowing they suffered for the uselessness of other’s people’s belated admiration. They will be lionized in carnage and loved as though they had won those three titles with puppies instead of players. They did themselves proud in defeat, but that and $26 bucks gets you a half-flat domestic beer in the cheap seats. The summer sucks when the other guy gets a trophy and a parade and you get gnawing disappointment and a parade of orthopedic surgeons.
Ahh yes. Summer, and the looming notion of spending, or trying to spend, vast sums of money both now and for the considerable future on two worthy recipients whose last acts in uniform this year were to leave their places of work on crutches. You see, this was not just Golden State’s last season in Oakland, but in many ways its finest and cruelest simultaneously. Sure they won and got to a fifth Finals and all that other statistical arglebargle that prevents its users from ever dating successfully, but they ran into their own fragility and a better team simultaneously. They built much, defended much, endured much and eventually met the one team that could carry what they could not. They averaged nearly a lost player per game in these Finals, a notion so obnoxious that it should be dismissed as not even Netflix-worthy. If the NBA had offered Masai Ujiri a medical catalog and said, “Go on, pick five injuries and five victims,” he would not have done anything differently.
In that way, this series superseded the 19 that came before it, for art and grisly spectacle. Whether or not you want to declare this a dynasty (that’s what the comments I never read are for, so have at it, you idea-deficient swine), the truth is this: The Golden State Warriors earned their place in history, both in success and failure. If there is anyone who can perform as well while stacking up injuries with the frequency and significance of theirs, you may be watching NBATV’s remake of the First Battle of Ypres.
As for Oakland, well, it was a host worthy of the last team that played within its environs. The Warriors are San Francisco’s now, starting with a perfectly bizarre free agent market that includes among its most desired items two inpatients. But if this makes Oakland feel any better, the team it had these past few years set a bar so high that it won’t be cleared for decades. Sure that’s not as good as having an actual team, but Oakland will always have the joy of schadenfreude, knowing their last team will be better than San Francisco’s first one. And Oakland can do schadenfreude with the best of them. If misery and joy can cohabit, this is that proving ground.
Ray Ratto says the dynasty isn’t over yet, but reminds you that royalty ain’t what it used to be.