The outer drum of the Chase Center, the gleaming new home of the Golden State Warriors on the west shore of San Francisco Bay, was apparently designed to resemble a reassembled apple peel. Last night, Golden State made an achievement to give this weird visual metaphor some semblance of meaning. The Warriors’ sad losers of 2019-21 were reborn as champions. The discards were reused, turning the debris of past seasons into beautiful victories. The former are now ownership rings; The apple peel is reassembled. The warriors are back.
But if the ending of the story sounds familiar to you, there’s something else about this Warriors championship as well. “I didn’t learn anything about myself, I knew I was resilient,” said Draymond Green on the podium at Boston’s TD Garden when asked how his self-image and teammates had changed over the finals. And indeed, much was evident in the way the Warriors ended last night’s finals: the lightning-fast strikes, the electric offensive switches, the deadly long-range shots and the collective intelligence of the ball, that trampoline energy and that familiar, tentacle-like one dodge ability. But if the warriors already knew who they were, this series will be remembered for changing the way the rest of us see them. Just like the 2015, 2017, and 2018 Golden State champion teams, these warriors were precise, efficient, ruthless, and unrelenting. But they were also strangely likeable. This marks a real departure for a team that has in recent years emerged as the embodiment of everything bad about the modern NBA. Though it might be odd to say about a franchise that has now won exactly half of the rings on offer over its past eight seasons, the depth of the Warriors’ pandemic-era decline and the uncertainty that once haunted their biggest stars’ prospects surrounded revivals are enough to make this championship a true feel-good story — not quite a win for the underdog, but a glowing homage to what billions in technology, the greatest shooter in basketball history, and simple persistence can achieve together.
Of course, at the time of the finale, there are many narratives of salvation. From Giannis’ victory over the free-throw demons last year to LeBron’s overcoming the insecurity of his own hometown in 2016, the triumphs of most finals MVPs in recent years have been presented in one way or another as brave victories against all odds. The difference this time is that the championship team was written off as a whole, not a single person: no one really gave this Warriors repeat without the ghostly authority of Kevin Durant and with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson returning from long injury absences great opportunities to add a fourth title to the trio already under Steve Kerr’s supervision. The reasons for this near-universal layoff aren’t hard to understand, given that the Warriors have had the rare distinction of being both hugely unpopular and very bad at basketball for the past two seasons.
National hatred for the Warriors largely stemmed from the team’s relentless success, particularly the back-to-back titles the Durant-adorned superteam clinched in 2016-18. The Warriors — data-driven, emotionless, technocratic who bombarded their opponents from beyond the three-point line and were sucked into an ever-deeper alliance with Silicon Valley — seemed to embody something for the distance taken by various elements of American society each other since the turn of the century. The 2019 Finals loss to Kawhi Leonard’s Toronto Raptors killed the three-pointer but gained little sympathy even against the team. If anything, the standout moment of this series was when Warriors investor Mark Stevens (Current Net Worth: 4.5Bn of Game 3 views – a gesture that seemed to sum up the atmosphere of arrogant monetary claims that had evolved since the landmark championship 2014-15 had hung over the team and its supporters With the move to a glittering new arena at the start of the 2019 season, the Warriors’ departure from a team of people – the willing underdogs fondly remembered their “We Believe” Excitement over Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 playoffs – the sport’s rebirth was complete The team that had made Oakland its home turned its back on the “bad” side of the bay and ran headlong into the embrace of tech -Elite of San Francisco.
More robot successes beckoned. But instead, the VC Warriors started doing something they weren’t used to: they started losing. A lot of. Durant moved to Brooklyn; Curry broke his hand and sat out an entire season; Thompson tore an ACL, then an Achilles tendon and missed two. The result was two years in the wild. The Warriors entered their flop era, finishing bottom in the Western Conference in 2019-20 (with a 15-50 record) and again failing to make the playoffs in 2020-21 despite a slight improvement in the regular season. The league seemingly forever braced itself for postseasons untouched by Golden State’s special brand of long-shot sorcery: teams built around big men who muscle in color — your Jameses, your Davises, yours Antetokounmpos – came back into fashion. The sympathy of these warriors, who are risen and bright again, depends mainly on how far they have fallen, how much they have suffered, how deeply – to use Green’s own term of art – “sucked out” they are. But it also says something about the reconstitution of a team that has shown it can handle young talent without having to rely on the mercenary brilliance of an off-the-shelf superstar like Durant.
The backbone of the Warriors’ narrow win in Game 6 was the terrific 21-0 run the team continued from a 12-2 deficit after the first few minutes. It’s fitting that a streak marked by the unusual volatility of its goal patterns – Boston’s comeback in the last quarter of Game 1 will long be remembered – was capped by the longest streak in an NBA finals game in 50 years. But what was most striking about this devastating surge was the identity of its orchestrators: not Curry or Thompson, but Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins, who together assembled a string of big threes, torrential dunks and critical blocks to win the game – and the Championship – definitely away from the Celtics. These aspiring warriors are not only capable but likeable, and the effect seems to rub off on the entire team. Though Thompson played among his best in that series, he showed enough to suggest he’s on his way back to the highs of 2015-18. Even Green, the team’s warhorse, seems rejuvenated somehow. The old pugnacity is still there – the elbows, the nudges, the buttocks being aggressively shoved down the lane – and the trash talk remains unrivalled, even in victory (there was a typically cheeky description of the NBA as “the Warriors Invitational”) to the victory podium last night), but the effect is oddly endearing now: watching the man do his thing again after those few years is like watching an old uncle get mad at the TV remote for not working properly is working.
And then there’s Curry, still bouncy after 13 seasons in the NBA, still boyish at 34 — the man with the guard constantly hanging out of his mouth and the ball constantly making its way through the net. For all the brilliance of the next-gen Warriors, this win was built on the back of Curry’s monster moves in Games 4 and 6. After a Game 5 without a single Curry maximum — a true collector’s item — the Maestro’s hands returned to him Last night: Not for the first time in the NBA Finals, and certainly not for the last, the game’s second half became a species of its own of sporting weather system as a delicate, relentless rain of three poured from the fingertips of Wardell Stephen Curry II. But Curry was deadly in those finals even without the ball in hand, raising his teammates even when shooting poorly: in game 5, Curry’s teammates shot 63% from the field when he was on versus 22% when he was off, continuing a series-long trend. If these warriors have suddenly become likable, it’s partly because they so obviously enjoy working for each other.
Much of the credit for this renewed sense of cohesion and solidarity among post-Durant warriors should certainly go to Kerr. It’s easy to scoff at Kerr’s political involvement — the sense of duty that accompanies his frequent interventions on gun control, racial justice, or Donald Trump’s presidency. Given his cowardly neutrality at the height of the NBA’s tensions with China in 2019 (a position he has since regretted), it’s equally easy to question the sincerity of those political commitments. But in a country where several high-profile professional athletes are actively hostile to progressive causes, Kerr’s very public promotion of his policies is far better than the alternatives on offer. Aside from being an extraordinarily effective coach, Kerr remains an impressively articulate, balanced, and decent presence in the sport – the anchor that ties a super-ego populated franchise to a vague notion of reality.
This Warriors championship crowns the third major team of the Kerr era. The 2014-15 champions were Team Revolution, a band of young perimeter radicals who raided the old order of basketball and forever changed the way the sport was meant to be played. The two-time champions of 2016-18 were the Team of Domination, a Death Star that crushed its opponents to dust in a joyless, inevitable march to victory. This crop of Warriors is the team of rejuvenation, a group beaming with the collective joy of recovery from what appears to be a terminal illness. To be clear, there are still plenty of reasons for neutrals not to like the team from the reclaimed San Francisco coast. Their playstyle remains unchanged, their collective mastery of the three-pointer annoyingly undiminished. And they’re still a franchise built for the enjoyment and enrichment of early-stage investors in Amazon and Palantir. But for all that, this Warriors team feels somehow different, less directly unlikable than the back-to-back champions of Durant and company. If America’s particular genius is a gift for constant reinvention — a flair for second act, adaptability coupled with innovation — it could this season’s Warriors will be the most quintessential American NBA champions ever.