Now that the National Basketball Association’s regular season is over, the Golden State Warriors can commence pursuit of a third straight championship, and their fourth in five years. If they succeed, they’ll cement their place as one of the greatest basketball teams ever.
Epigenetically speaking, I was conditioned to love basketball. My dad was a huge fan. He was 6'5", so he probably played a lot, too. I hedge because I have a photo of him with a high school basketball team, but he’s not in uniform. Was he injured? Suspended for smoking during practice? Or was he just the scorekeeper?
I’ll never know, but I do know that whereas he never wanted to take me to a baseball game, he was fine about taking me to an NBA game, particularly after we moved near Philadelphia, where Billy Cunningham, a star player from dad’s high school, was carving out a Hall of Fame career. My last vivid memory of my dad was sitting with him a week before he died and watching a New York Knicks game on TV.
Still, I’ve never felt much passion for basketball. I went to a Warrior game shortly after I moved here — World B. Free was the big attraction, so it had to have been 1982–83 — and haven’t gone back since.
I do admire the Warriors, though. They are the latest in a line of innovative, progressive, and successful Bay Area teams that started with the San Francisco 49ers in the early 1980s (Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense and Eddie DeBartolo’s generous treatment of players) and included the Oakland Athletics of the late 1980s and early 1990s (Walter Haas’s civic-minded ownership and Tony LaRussa’s aggressive field generalship) and the San Francisco Giants of the later 1990s and 2000s (the Magowan group paying for its own stadium rather than extorting public funds and winning three championships in five years).
While establishing the Bay Area’s latest sports dynasty, the Warriors have espoused a progressive political ethos. Coach Steve Kerr is the son of Malcolm Kerr, a scholar who shortly after assuming the presidency of the American University in Beirut was brutally assassinated by terrorists, and Kerr’s grandparents met while helping Armenians escape the Turkish genocide. So epigenetically speaking, he’s been conditioned to resist the evils of racism and terrorism. He has supported his players (most of them African-American) when they speak to those issues and engage in civic philanthropy. The Warriors won their first championship while Barack Obama was president, and they went to the White House.
They won their second championship when Trump was president, and decided not to go to the White House.
Progressive thinking also characterizes their play. They started the three-point shooting craze, correctly reasoning that it’s more efficient, even though it results in fewer baskets, than two-point shooting. They’re unselfish, passing the ball around to get the best shot rather than doing what’s best for themselves. And they accommodate “immigrants” — new stars like Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins — without pouting about how it might affect their playing time or the number of shots they get.
This year, however, their vaunted cohesion and court discipline showed signs of crumbling. Durant and Draymond Green got into a nasty spat early in the season, and Durant has been sulky and diffident since. For long stretches — perhaps whole games — the players seemed to sleepwalk their way up and down the court. Don’t worry, they seemed to be saying, the regular season is prologue, and once the playoffs begin we’ll pull together and win another trophy.
I don’t watch them closely enough to know whether they can just snap into gear — and if they can, whether that will assure a fourth victory parade in downtown Oakland. The rest of the NBA is starting to catch up to the Warriors, and they’re getting older. All good things come to an end.
But I’ll be rooting for them, and if they make it deep into the post-season, I’ll probably watch, too, wondering whether, like me, my dad would be tempted to think of them as a superior version of the legendary Willis Reed-Walt Frazier New York Knicks we used to watch together in the early 1970s.