Masterpiece: These Golden State Warriors will be judged as much on style points as real points
From 1957 to 1969, the Boston Celtics won 11 of 13 NBA titles. It is an achievement that is incomparable and bewildering and awe-inspiring all at the same time.
It is also at least partly a historic accident. Those Celtics had Bill Russell, a fleet, graceful, 6ft 10in basketball superhero the first of his kind. They had Bob Cousy, a rough kind of early Stephen Curry prototype.
At varying points they had Bill Sharman and Frank Ramsey and Sam Jones and KC Jones and John Havlicek and Tommy Heinsohn – all in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Oh, and they were led throughout that period by one of the two or three greatest coaches ever, Red Auerbach.
It is ludicrous. Nowadays the gold standard for a team is to win two or three titles in a row – the Celtics won eight consecutive championships at one point.
They stood, to the sport of basketball in the time and place in which they played, utterly apart.
Which brings us to the 2016/17 Golden State Warriors. Let’s talk about the Warriors, our latest historical accident.
It was just a couple years ago that Golden State, fun but largely harmless the previous two seasons, emerged as unexpected champions. Stephen Curry became an MVP. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green grew into all-stars. They played with fluidity and freedom and were, by any passing glance, the darlings of basketball.
Now, well, let’s put it this way: There is no shortage of people who would be happy to remind you the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
You might have heard they signed Kevin Durant this summer, which it turned out inspired reaction.
Now, the Warriors, like any really, really good sports thing, still have more fans than haters. But the haters, the detractors and contrarians, well, they’ve got a fair bit of ammunition in their arsenal now.
You don’t just get to assemble the greatest foursome in recent basketball history and continue on your merry way. There is a standard these Warriors must uphold. They’re not going to win anything like 11 titles in 13 years as those 60s Celtics did, but you get the idea.
When LeBron James arrived in Miami, he gave his famous “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven...” titles prediction. They wound up winning two (and losing two).
And that’s fine. But, to be clear, that’s all it is. LeBron will go into NBA history as one of the five best to play the game. The 2010-14 Miami Heat will not go down as one of the five best teams of all time.
And that’s really where we are with these Warriors, isn’t it? Whether you’re a fan or not, you should at least be expecting this to be impressive, right?
They should be, to some extent, a masterpiece.
The Warriors have, what, a five- or six- or maybe seven-year window now in front of them? Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are 28, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson 26. If they can manoeuvre injury luck and free agency and the draft and all those things and keep a competent team around those four, there should be at least a couple titles to be won here.
Which is not to be dismissive of titles and wins. But on top of that, they should figure out ways to play basketball we haven’t even conceived of yet. These Warriors have the talents, the unprecedented abilities, to score 150 points one night if they want to. To go a whole game shooting only three-pointers.
To do wicked behind-the-back passes, crazy alley-oops, audacious half-court threes. To be dazzling.
This is not to say the Warriors of the coming seasons will be disappointments or failures or whatever if they don’t reach this or that threshold or achieve some indefinable consensus on how pretty they play. It is just to say that in the joining of Durant with Curry, Thompson and Green, there exists the opportunity for us to see on a basketball court that which we have not before.
And, heck, yes I’d like to see it.
These Warriors will, in some part, be judged as much on style points as on games and titles won. The latter are, frankly, already assumed.
It is with the former that they will be expected to delight us or infuriate us, but above all surprise us.
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Updated: October 24, 2016 04:00 AM