As the confetti was falling, and the final buzzer sounded, the Finals MVP finishing off his on-court celebration started with a minute left in the game, Kevin Durant stood on the court vindicated. Andre Iguodala stood on top of the scorer’s table. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green jump-hugged in a rare moment of emotion for one of them. Stephen Curry roared at the crowd that shouted away the nerves and into the joy of the next coming years right back at him. The Hamptons 5 closed out the final 9 minutes of the game, and together, they exemplified what the Golden State Warriors mean to basketball, to the championship, and to the Bay Area.
On the side, having dragged to the stage by Doris Burke, Steve Kerr and Bob Myers were in a tearful embrace. A coach that had been fighting through the unthinkable just to return to the sidelines put together a gameplan that maximized his player’s strengths and relayed the urgency necessary to close out the postseason 16-1.
In the locker room after, David West ran around talking about Egyptians, about nobody ever taking away the ring he just earned, especially after going mouth-to-mouth with Tristan Thompson. Along with his paycut buddy, Zaza Pachulia’s “Nothing Easy” quote was echoed repeatedly through the halls and at the press room by Curry. Shaun Livingston took his journey from a high school superstar to an almost amputated leg, to the only moment of emotion in the second quarter with a fist pump, to the second ring in his career.
Stephen Curry ran around with a cigar in his mouth, ignoring any building regulation. Kevin Durant wouldn’t get to leave until nearly 3 hours after the buzzer ended but would celebrate in the Oracle parking lot with stray fans waiting for his departure. And in the press room, Draymond Green emotionally spoke up about his ability to restrain his words to the referees, and lastly, to Cleveland players who have taking trash all season. To cap it off, Iguodala, for the first time in his Warriors career that I can remember, opened up to the media as a whole. He talked Kerr’s layers as a coach using an onion analogy (perhaps hinting at keeping it simple at times), the team’s struggles this year, and his own philosophy into stepping up when needed even though the public will never understand what he sacrificed.
The overarching theme of the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors will always be Durant’s transition in becoming the best player on the team, the MVP in the Finals, and his success leaving Oklahoma City and forging his own path now. But what lies underneath are the players’ willingness to sacrifice and it starts at the top. It isn’t just shots. Sure, someone amongst Draymond, Klay, Steph and Durant will shoot less (Draymond), but this was always more than that. For a team to be successful and not only win one, but multiple titles, there is always more than the superficial. For the Warriors, the leadership came in the form of the allotment of praise and credit. Nike and Under Armour is the monetary difference but for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, it was more what the masses chose as the better player, which team belonged to whom, and the structural schemes related to all of it.
After the game, Draymond admitted that Durant came in and didn’t want to enforce who he was yet. He shot around with bench players in practice, didn’t want to mess up the offense with isolations in games, and just wanted to fit in. Durant just moments before he spoke, talked about how Steph told him to keep his head up even in the lowest moments, few and far between, And both players talked about each other as much as can be despite never sharing the room. That comes off the court.
In 2015, the Warriors won the title behind Curry’s gravity and a ridiculous top-ranked defense. But with Kyrie and Love out, and LeBron’s “struggles”, Iguodala swooped the MVP. In 2016, Curry choked the Finals away with a torn up knee and many chose to suddenly cancel out the championship won the year before. Then it became that the Warriors needed Durant to beat LeBron, despite the fact they’ve recruited him for years, and that Cavs fans only choose to bring up Kyrie as LeBron’s teammate when mentioning his injury in 2015. Throw that with current players and ex-players not respecting Curry because of his upbringing, his skin tone, and the overall style of play. Much of life is molded is around how people you respect think about you. And for Stephen Curry, it was an issue before Durant arrived, and with LeBron James and the rest of the league heaping praise onto KD now, it’s an undeniable skill that Steph has persevered through without any ill will or pettiness.
On the court, the Cleveland Cavaliers sold out to stop not Kevin Durant but Stephen Curry. Regardless of who has ever flanked Curry, teams have doubled and tripled him and only him. They were content, as any team in a championship round can be, to allow anyone else but that two-time MVP to score on them. And by doing so, the space created allowed the Warriors to decimate what was left of the Cavs defense.
Then there is Klay Thompson struggling to score, with almost no plays run for him on offense, defending with all his might across four defensive positions. Draymond Green didn’t have much of a tangible imprint on the Finals but did not make anything about him, as so much of the Warriors’ ascension has been the last 3 years. And finally, the fifth wheel but perhaps the smartest and calmest of them all, Andre Iguodala’s penchant to head to the bench, to never again receive even a whisper beyond an award for kind of shutting down the greatest player in the game, and to know that people don’t understand what it takes to win.
And it all culminated in the second championship in the last three years. Because of the way each and every player has enjoyed playing the game, but most of all, each other. Their willingness to defer and rise up at any given moment for each other throughout the season has led them to seamlessly, or so it has always looked, to take down the Cavs in just 5 games. You can throw out the ball and the Warriors might take 60 games, tons of playoff games, but not a title. Even the LeBron James Miami heat had to lose one before revamping their offense to finally capture their first.
These Warriors didn’t need that. The structure, the emotional intelligence, and the physical dominance has led them and have them at the pinnacle of basketball history. The 129-120 win sets off a run for the ages, a dynasty that everyone saw coming this year, but was only made possible because the Warriors are willing to sacrifice. They’re not greater than the sum of its parts, they’re the perfect sum of all parts.