NBA

The Golden State Warriors and the NBA’s New Role in Culture

Yes, that just happened. The Warriors really did sign superstar big man Demarcus Cousins. The rest of the NBA was already recovering from LeBron signing with the Lakers and effectively changing his legacy. As soon as the “Boogie Bomb” was announced, people immediately reacted with posts and tweets such as “Boogie ruined the NBA”; “I’m so done”; “The NBA is rigged” and, most importantly, “I’m done watching the NBA”. It’s that last one I want to focus on. Because that is an outright lie.

The NBA has grown immensely in popularity since 2010. When I was very little, I spent most of my time watching football, with basketball being a cool side-hobby. Yeah, I loved guys like LeBron, Kobe, and, due to being a Sixers fan, Iverson and Igoudala, but I was much more obsessed with the world of football.

But then things began to change. I, like many other kids, was never allowed to play football, due to growing concerns over the physicality of the sport which led to traumatic diseases such as the infamous CTE. Naturally, since I wasn’t playing the sport, my interest for it weakened, it did not die, but weakened. I was never discouraged from playing basketball. There were relatively few injury concerns over playing basketball and it was a fast paced, interactive, and fun game, so I took to it, and it gradually overtook football as my favorite sport. I assume this happened for many other kids my age during these years, and basketball slowly became much more popular among the public.

The decision: a turning point

Along with this, the NBA itself underwent an earth-shattering change. I’m talking about LeBron’s Decision to join the Miami Heat. The move was heavily scrutinized by all, as it was seen as a move that ruined competitive balance and was weak and soft. NBA legends said that they never would’ve lowered themselves to this point, of simply chasing rings rather than remaining loyal to the fans and franchise that had given them stardom and riches. And in immediate reaction, basketball fans agreed, saying that LeBron’s legacy was ruined beyond repair.

Well, where is LeBron now? He just signed with the Lakers and has received mainly universal support for his new decision. Nevermind that he ditched his hometown, a midwestern city that has literally given him everything and praised him for everything for the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. And as for that supposedly tarnished legacy, LeBron has actually enhance his legacy, by manipulating narratives as he “learned how to be a champion” in Miami, and then returned home to save Cleveland and deliver the title he had promised. LeBron is no longer despised, but rather, he is adored by modern NBA fans and has actually changed the popular opinion from “Michael Jordan is untouchable” to “LeBron is actually better than Jordan”. And even if I disagree with that opinion, an argument can still be made for it, and it definitely has a myriad of followers.

LeBron’s career shows how we, as a culture, as a fandom, fully dived into the era of possibility, analytics, and hyperbole. LeBron showed how winning championships and cementing your legacy is above all, as that is what truly makes you a legend. And since LeBron has been the league’s alpha dog, the rest of the league followed suit. The Lakers tried, in miserable fashion, to buy there way to an NBA title with Kobe, Dwight, Gasol, and the remains of Steve Nash. In 2014, the Nets made a seemingly incomprehensible decision to go all in with the famous “we gave every 1st round pick to the Celtics” trade. They were so consumed with the smallest opportunity at a title that they gave up all common sense and all of their future. The veteran star chasing rings was even seen when Ray Allen joined LeBron and the Heatles in 2013.

Less parity, more popularity

And guess what, amongst all this ring chasing and supposed “lack of parity” … the NBA became more popular than ever. Who didn’t want to watch the Heat? Why would you miss the greatest show on earth? LeBron was playing on a new team with other top tier stars, of course it was going to be fun and great basketball. As basketball fans, we have to just appreciate great basketball sometimes. Greatness, like the greatness of the Warriors.

After years of building, using advanced analytics, the tech advantages of Silicon Valley, and patient and wise roster building, the Warriors struck in 2015. They unleashed ball movement, versatility, and three-point shooting to a degree we never thought possible. This wasn’t just basketball’s analytical version of “Moneyball”, first started by nearby Oakland Athletics. The Warriors weren’t just taking advantages with salary and their roster, but they were actually playing the game differently. Behind their shooting revelation and an incredible playoffs from Curry, the Warriors captured a title in their first season as a contender (albeit over a depleted Cavs’ roster).

Finally, in 2016, we witnessed what might be the most entertaining season of all time. Kobe Bryant was adored by all during his farewell tour, the Spurs set their own franchise record for wins with incredible unselfishness, the Thunder were in distress all season with Durant’s impending free agency, the Cavs fired their coach after the team turned on him, and LeBron was fading and beginning to look old, YET all of these storylines were trumped by the Golden State Warriors. They set record after record. They seemed unbeatable. They made people actually question MJ and the Bulls. They broke the unbreakable 72 wins record. And Steph Curry was at the center of it all. He had the best regular season by any player ever.

Everytime anyone watched him, he seemed like he never missed and that he was in completely in control at all moments. And because Curry played the way he did, undersized but dominating everyone with his unreal shooting and ball handling, work ethic, and contagious charm, he sent NBA popularity among kids over the top. All small kids everywhere were inspired to pick up a basketball and shoot as many 3’s as possible, with the hope that they could be like Steph. I’m not joking when I say that every time I went to the park to shoot, I saw some 5-10 year old kid wearing a Curry jersey every single time. How could you not root for Steph? He gave everyone the hope that size and athleticism is not necessary in order to live the basketball dream, and he was showing us basketball in a way more beautiful and fun than ever before.

The unmatched drama of ’16

And in the ’16 playoffs, things only got better. We had intrigue with the Warriors trying to survive without Curry, and then Curry returning with a historic 40 point performance to help fend off the Blazers in Round 2. In that same Round 2, we witnessed the Thunder overcome San Antonio in a back and forth series in which we were shocked by the Thunder’s poise, and treated to the last series of the great and humble Tim Duncan. And who can forget the Western Conference Finals, where the Thunder used their “Super Bigs” lineup to neutralize the Warriors’ Death Lineup and to take a 3-1 lead. A lead that flipped the narrative around Curry and the Warriors. Suddenly, everyone joined the bandwagon of hating on the Warriors. People can say how Curry was overrated and how the Thunder beating the Warriors would be great for the league as the Thunder were a tougher and more deserving team. Luckily, the Warriors responded in great fashion. They forced Game 6 in OKC, probably one of the five greatest playoff games all time. Despite a dominating effort by KD, Russ, and the Thunder, the Warriors hung around thanks to the lights-out shooting of Klay Thompson.

This set the stage for the comeback in the 4th quarter, as Iggy locked up the Thunder stars, Klay kept raining in 3’s, and Steph came up clutch to seal the game in the final minutes. Klay finished with 41 points while Steph threw up a stat line of 31-9-8 in this elimination game. And as we know, the Warriors came back again in Game 7 (although in less dramatic fashion) and completed the 3-1 series reversal. All that was left was to finish off a “far inferior” Cavs team and they would be considered possibly the greatest basketball team of all-time.

Of course, we knew what happened next. The Warriors jumped out to a 3-1 lead themselves, only to have the Cavaliers pull of a never-before-seen Finals comeback after a questionable suspension of Draymond, injuries to Bogut and Iguodala, historic performances by Kyrie and LeBron, and the untimely poor shooting of the best shooters in NBA history. It was certainly the best NBA Finals I’ve ever watched, and could probably only be topped maybe by the legendary Celtics vs Lakers series of 1984.

An all-time high

I hope you see the point in all of this. Basketball has skyrocketed during the 2010s due to a Finals like this. A team full of analytics and unmatched greatness in shooting against a LeBron-constructed super team with fellow flashy star Kyrie Irving, as the two took down the supposed “greatest team ever” and ended Cleveland’s curse.

The NBA was at an all-time high, and everyone incredibly excited for a free agency in which multiple stars could change teams and big contracts would open up with an expected cap spike. That expected cap spike turned out to be arguably the most important money issue in NBA history. The cap jumped by nearly 20 million, which lead to all teams having cap to burn. Some teams ate their cap up with horrible contracts (for example, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov are still being paid more than $15 million next year thanks to the Lakers), while others abused the cap room to form a super team. And not just a super team, but the super team. That’s right, the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant.

This is when people first started saying they were done. No more watching the NBA. What’s the point. We all know who’s going to win. KD ruined the NBA.

You’re still watching the NBA

Yet here we sit, two years later, and people are saying the same thing about Boogie signing with the Warriors. More importantly, the same people are saying the same things about the Warriors. Do you know what that means? They’re still watching the NBA now after two years of Durant already “ruining the league”. And yes I know they are joking when they say they want to stop watching the NBA, but it still implies how they are bored and disgusted with the league. The NBA is now a glorious, 12 month a-year sport, evidenced by the amount of talk it gets over something like free agency, even as the season has been over for a month.

As more concerns about football have arose and quality of play has dropped, the NBA has soared during the era of player flexibility, analytical numbers, and three-point launching. The Warriors, while easily hateable, are must see TV. I’m already salivating at the prospect of watching Boogie slip on that Golden State jersey for the first time. In fact, I pray that Boogie’s first game back will be against LeBron in Los Angeles. As fans, we have to appreciate greatness and things that we’ve never seen before. You only get to watch basketball for so long so I suggest that you appreciate basketball matchups filled with great basketball players and beautifully played games.

As fans of specific teams, we feel like we’ve been wronged as our teams seemingly have no chance. It doesn’t feel fair. But the NBA is great when there’s a dynasty on the loose that plants their stamp on an era and challenges other teams to overcome them. Other teams have to work to get smarter and better, it’s why this is all a competition. Don’t waste your time complaining about the Warriors, but be like the Ainge with the Celtics or Morey with the Rockets and go try to dethrone the champs with the best shot you have.

And so what if Boogie signed with the Warriors? You know why he signed? Cause he blew out his achilles and didn’t get any good contract offers because he probably won’t ever be the same. He was upset by his lack of deals, and decided to sign a one year, “prove it” contract in order to try and get his value up for next year. And if it’s for just one year, why not play for the best team of the century and get the ring you’ve always wanted. But what if Boogie doesn’t come back the same and is just an average center for the Warriors, like JaVale McGee. Not to mention, Boogie is a legendary locker room problem that could upset Golden State’s great team chemistry. Now, with their culture I doubt that happens, you never know. There is also a scenario where Cousins comes back, plays like an NBA first-team player, and makes the Warriors even more unstoppable. You never know.

In conclusion, the NBA is amazing, don’t debate it. We are blessed to witness such high level play from LeBron and the Warriors. There’s usually only one transcendent team every decade, and this decade belongs to Golden State. Kudos to them for turning one of the NBA’s most ridiculed franchises into one of its most treasured. They have done their work, and I can’t wait to witness more basketball greatness next season from Warriors and DeMarcus Cousins, the Lakers and LeBron James, and from the NBA as a whole.

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