More than the other major pro sports — in this country, anyway — basketball is about feel. Baseball is a numbers game. Hockey is marked by its randomness. Football is our reminder that life is painful, the rich always prosper, and strength comes from equal parts power and precision. Great basketball can be described, but it can also be felt. And the feelings one has while watching this year’s Warriors team, with Stephen Curry front-and-center, are completely new to this region and so, so welcome.
We knew for a long time that Curry would eventually be named 2014/15 NBA MVP.
Maybe we didn’t realize his victory would come in a landslide, with Curry taking 100 of the 129 first place votes (damn, that’s a lot of voters), but he was the favorite for months. But while Curry’s team was clearly the best, it wasn’t like he had a open-and-shut case. He wasn’t the league’s leading scorer. Or assister. He plays on the deepest team in the league, one which benefitted from extraordinarily good health compared to the rest of the Association.
Curry has a lot of numbers on his side. The most steals. The most three-pointers ever, in a league where the shot with the extra point attached has become increasingly important with each season, to the point where more than half of the NBA’s teams attempted 20+ threes per game during the regular season. Everyone team wants a Steph Curry, and he happens to be the best Steph Curry around. His plus-minus numbers are stupid-high. But more than anything, we felt like we were watching an MVP from a very early point in this season.
Houstonians probably feel the same way about James Harden. But due to the win and point differentials, Curry’s style of play and yes, even his personality, that feeling spread nationally in a much stronger way for Curry than it did for Harden or any of the other candidates.
Many wondered if Curry was truly a point guard, but that seems silly now, especially after hearing his MVP acceptance speech this afternoon. Curry leads the league in gratitude, and part of a point guard’s job is to make everyone else on the team feel better. The coach feels better because the ball and the team’s fate are in good hands. The other players get the ball in their favorite spots. We saw it in Game 1 yesterday, when Curry spent the first quarter getting everyone else involved. We saw it again today, when he thanked nearly every family member and team employee he could, saved his teammates for last, and complimented each and every player.
We know the dude is great on and off the court.
We know he had an amazing season and deserved today’s award. But no one could’ve known five years ago what this franchise would someday become. A second championship since moving out West hasn’t been won (yet), but this organization that was a joke for so many years is one of the brightest lights in the NBA.
They were the first professional team to open its doors to me, a virtually unknown blogger who skipped out on an entire afternoon of work at my day job to BART over to Oakland and cover “Tweedia Day.” That was right after the team was sold to Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. The organization had good people, but the Chris Cohan stench lingered. It didn’t help that the team had shriveled in the last two seasons of Don Nelson’s tenure before Nellie was replaced by Keith Smart, not exactly a figure who made one think “playoffs are on the horizon.”
And they weren’t. Not as quickly as Joe Lacob predicted, anyway.
In fact, Smart famously played Acie Law in crunch time over Curry on several occasions. The “We Believe” team was just a delightfully Oak-Town story, a sideshow but not a consistent foundation. The Warriors were still a team that had no star, still a team that stars from other teams would never willingly agree to join, still a team that seemed to let the years pass by without worrying too much about what was truly important, content to entertain in defeat. But slowly things started to come together.
— They got NBA-quality uniforms, ditching the ridiculous logo with a shirtless, generic comic book-looking character toting a lightning bolt.
— They convinced a famous player-turned-broadcaster to coach the team in Mark Jackson, someone current NBA players respected and would follow.
— They traded Monta Ellis, the one man standing in the way of Curry’s greatness.
— Curry got over the ankle problems that plagued him throughout the 2011-12 season.
— The Warriors’ commitment to finding high-character guys with talent paid off.
— They started winning, of course. They started by taking good teams by surprise with impressive performances on the road, then they won a playoff series, then this year they started dominating their opponents at an historical clip.
Look at the Warriors now. This is the same franchise that campaigned ridiculously hard four years ago for Ellis to become its first All-Star selection since Latrell Sprewell in 1997, with an air of desperation that screamed, “We’ll never be a franchise like the Lakers, Celtics or Spurs! We’ll always be second-rate!” Today their global icon was calling the Golden State Warriors a “first-class” organization, less than six years after that same player looked disappointed on draft night that he didn’t go to the Knicks, and only four years after several players would smile in the locker room after losses like they didn’t have a care in the world.
The “great time out” Warriors are gone.
Winning covers everything with a fresh coat of paint that makes everything look better, but the front office has gone from a Bobby Rowell joke to a model of collaborative excellence. No longer do folks wonder if the training staff is sabotaging the on-court product with its incompetence. The team isn’t an all-flash/no-defense joke anymore. It’s been a while since Golden State was considered a virtual farm team for other clubs. And who deserves this more than Warriors fans, who for so many years showed what looked like an irrational blend of passion and loyalty to a team that seemed content to sell out games while accepting mediocrity or worse?
The feeling that this team is on its way to a Larry O’Brien trophy has flooded our minds and/or hearts at several points over the last six months, none with more emotional intensity than when Curry described what makes the roster and organization great and everyone who helped propel him to his first Most Valuable Player award.
The first day I believed Curry was the kind of force who could one day earn such accolades was actually May 3, 2014. The Warriors had lost Game 7 of their first round series to the Clippers, and Curry defended Jackson with the kind of defiance that didn’t seem possible from the wiry 6′ 3″ guard who for years was considered to be more cute than confrontational. He was fighting a losing battle with his pleas to keep Jackson, of course, but it was clear that night that he wasn’t just a good player. He was a true NBA leader, someone confident enough to say what he felt — regardless of how his bosses might feel. In a league that does more to celebrate the individual than any other, being strident isn’t an annoyance, it’s completely necessary.
On May 3, 2015, Curry found out that he had won the ultimate individual prize. The collective honor still lies in the distance, but Curry has ensured that both transformations — his and the Warriors’ — are complete. The Warriors have their superstar. Superstars want to be here. This team knows what its doing and they aren’t going away anytime soon, even if this season doesn’t end with a title. Empty rhetoric and marketing slogans are no longer required. The Warriors have gone from cruel joke to model franchise, with Curry leading the way and everyone he named this afternoon at his side, all feeling like this is finally their time.