If, as has been predicted with almost frightening certitude by anyone who has watched a basketball game since Zelmo Beaty roamed the earth, the Golden State Warriors tromp through yet another field of challengers and re-re-almost-repeat as NBA champions, you outworlders will be pleased to know that it won’t induce the same smug tsunami the other three did.
The parade may be just as weed-and-Hennessy-fueled, and the rings even gaudier than ever (this time, satellite dishes and a platinum tea tray are among the planned accoutrements), but it won’t be a thoroughly joyous experience. Not every year can be 2015, because the first time is always the best. Everything after that is fighting for the silver medal. But even assuming all goes as predicted, this will be the least enjoyable championship the Warriors will have. David West’s immortal and cryptic line referencing the issues that nipped at last season’s heels—”Y’all got no clue. No clue. That tells you about this team that nothing came out”—sounds almost Nostradamian when you consider what came next, and what comes after next. Steve Kerr wanted joy. What he got was this angst-o-rama.
For starters, this is the Warriors’ last go-round in their present haunt. Oakland now goes the way of Pittsburgh and Providence and Anderson and Sheboygan and Waterloo and Moline and Rock Island and Davenport and Rochester and Syracuse and Fort Wayne and St. Louis and Cincinnati and Baltimore and Buffalo and San Diego and Kansas City and Vancouver and Seattle as places that the NBA outgrew and/or abandoned.
A fiercely loyal, loud and proud audience in a long-diminished town now faces either a longer drive and much higher prices in a bright new arena in the city they hate the most, or watching grudgingly from six miles away that may as well be six million. Oakland is not San Francisco in any meaningful or sociological way, and neither town would aspire to have that happen any millennium soon. The front office claims all will be well because the Chase Center will be so pretty and Stephen Curry prettier still, but we know better. This will go down as the most bittersweet championship ever, because the last time a team won a title and immediately left the town in which it won said title, it was the 1969 Oakland Oaks of the ABA, who moved to Washington as soon as the parade dispersed.
(You can say all you want about St. Louis and the Browns and Cardinals and Rams, but Oakland is clearly the unluckiest town ever. If the Raiders win the Super Bowl, Oakland will ask the federal government to be turned into a salt lick.)
There is the Kevin Durant will-or-will-he-won’t-try-to-resuscitate-the-New-York-Knickerbockers saga, which began when he signed the latest of a series of one-year contracts to keep his options as open as possible for as long as possible. This choice, which is long on leverage but competitively daft, seemed to sour his worldview from time to time as he discovered that people talk about him whether he talks or not, and the fun he found in Oakland two years ago feels like just another whistle stop now. His new wanderlust is, according to the theory, not fueled by dissatisfaction with his workmates as much as it is his limited vista for unconditional worship.
Most folks psychoanalyze (well, more psycho than analysis, but we digress) that Durant’s covetous gaze revolves around the notion that he cannot be totally fulfilled unless he is the biggest name in the biggest city on a team that has been a paint-factory fire since long before Jimmy Dolan started playing and giving the blues simultaneously. It caused the team’s big November blow-up with him and Draymond Green that bent the happy-happy-joy-joy vibe they have always liked to project, and shredded a fair amount of Kerr’s plan for universal zen before it could even get started.
Indeed, the Warriors will likely lose two starters and their two most important reserves in the next year or two, making next season a season of significant transition in more ways than moving the contents of one’s locker to another locker. DeMarcus Cousins will re-seek his fortune in the off-season. Shaun Livingston’s contract will almost certainly be shedded, perhaps Andre Iguodala’s too, and Green’s own free agency is still floating in the near distance. Klay Thompson isn’t going anywhere because he will be paid what he asks unless Joe Lacob has lost his damned mind, but he and Curry may go boldly into the new era without much cover.
There is the field, which is tougher than it has been at any other point in Golden State’s run. True, most of that improvement has happened in the Eastern Conference, the side of the draw that the Warriors only have to worry about once, and true, the West is clearly less imposing than it was in 2016 or 2018. Still, nobody thinks this team will sail through the postseason as the 2017 team did, going 16-1 because they felt compelled to vomit all over Game 16 in Cleveland so they could inconvenience the nation and win at home, probably in that order.
And there is the calendar itself. This team is starting to look like those Celtics teams at the end of the Bill Russell years, with everyone in their 30s and all wearing thigh wraps as they gimped on and off the floor while still kicking all the available ass between those two walks. Even if everyone stays for one more year, Curry will be 32 when next year’s playoffs begin, Durant will be 31, Green and Thompson 30, Andre Iguodala 36 and Shaun Livingston probably on another team. They have played six seasons in these five seasons when you include the 83 playoff games, and all the load management in the world can only help so much.
Mostly, this just feels like the impending end of an era. It was a good era for the game (if you think the Warriors ruined basketball in any of their iterations, you are plainly an idiot and we don’t want your fevered explanations of why you’re not). It was an excellent era for the business (ratings, income, salaries and all the other cash streams are teeming, and the Warriors alone are worth eight times their 2010 value). It was a great era for a largely downtrodden franchise (the Warriors’ aggregate record over 72 years is nearly dead even with the Knicks, and the Knicks’ records stinks), and it was a sublime era for free-flowing, floor-opening, jaw-dropping basketball.
But is an end nonetheless. The Warriors may win again once they get to San Francisco—and if they don’t, Lacob will quickly find out about the burden of the soft ticket—but it won’t be the same. Not because the nation says it’s bored with knowing the outcome six months ahead of time and wants something different; as far as that goes, screw the nation. It ate the Yankees, it ate the Bulls and Lakers, it ate the Patriots, it ate Alabama, it ate Duke, it ate UConn and it ate the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. The nation loves dynasties even while denying it loves dynasties, so it’ll eat this, too.
But the Warriors will be changed, in concept and in execution—unless, of course, they decide to make you all crazy again and sign Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Spencer Dinwiddie, and, just because they so love going back to the future, Jason Richardson. At that point, you all will have a fresh hell on your hands.
Oh, and you’ll eat that too. You say you won’t, but the numbers call you a liar. Not only have they sold out their own building for the last six years, they have sold out 208 of their last 217 ROAD games, so yes, everyone watches, even if they have to pay exorbitant prices to do so.
And you’ll watch for the same reason you watch now—the hope that you’ll still be alive when this all ends. And then you’ll lament that it all ended and start rhapsodically speculating about JaVale McGee and Leandro Barbosa in the Hall of Fame.
Ray Ratto predicted the Warriors would win the NBA Championship, the Stanley Cup, the Oscar for Best Cinematography, the ESPY for Network TV’s Biggest Cash Cow and the Nobel Prize in Physics.