After 40 long years, the Golden State Warriors have finally hoisted the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy. The Dubs won a masterful 4-2 series versus the greatest player on the planet (LeBron James) and his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs managed to even lead in the series early on behind the one-man heroics of King James but it wasn’t enough as the Dubs were just too deep, too talented, and too hungry to be denied.
Some say that the Cavs were not at full strength with playoff ending injuries to two superstars (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) but that’s just nitpicking. Elite teams are expected to play through challenges and still make it work. At least the Cavs came close.
The Warriors’ championship story is one we can all identify with. It is a story of frustration, of heartbreak, of overcoming adversity, of coming together, of triumph, the story of our lives. Their journey to the title has been quite a long one.
Before that, the Warriors were long the league doormats and laughingstock. Since their 1975 championship, the team has only been to the playoffs 11 times including this season. Bad personnel decisions and awful draft decisions made past Warriors’ team mediocre at best. If I recall in 1997, the team drafted Todd Fuller when Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Jermaine O’Neal were still on the board. The following season, the team picked Adonal Foyle, missing out on Tracy McGrady. But all those bad years are well past.
In the era of super teams wherein the favored formula is to trade and poach superstars to come together under max contracts, the Warriors have built their current team from the ground up. After years of draft debacles, the Warriors have finally gotten it right. Reigning MVP Steph Curry was drafted in 2009. Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson was drafted in 2011 while Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green joined the team the following year as rookies. Basically their entire starting unit was picked from the draft except center Andrew Bogut who was traded for fan favorite Monta Ellis – another draft pick from 2005.
With this line-up, a new ownership, and a 5-time NBA champion as coach (Steve Kerr), the Warriors put together one of the best seasons in history with a 67-15 regular season record. This was anchored on the team’s ability to play “small ball” and an egalitarian mindset wherein no one took the credit and every member of the team just played to win.
During the regular season, veterans Andre Iguodala and David Lee – former All-Stars and starters for most of their playing careers – took to the bench and sacrificed playing time after it became apparent that Barnes and Green were a better fit especially for the kind of offense and defense Kerr wanted to run. Result, the Warriors became the best defensive and offensive team in the league.
The sacrifice of the two starters epitomized the team’s mindset which was carried all the way to the Finals. In Game 4 with the Warriors down 2-1, the coaching staff made a strategic move to insert Iggy in the starting line-up to replace Bogut. Bogut took it in stride and the adjustment worked perfectly as the Cavs had no answer to the versatility of the Warriors. The team won 3 straight and the championship. To further underscore the selflessness of the team, Iguodala was named the Finals MVP, the most unlikely MVP ever.
With most of the main players under contract for next year, the Warriors have a shot at a back-to-back championship. Taking a piece from the San Antonio Spurs playbook – which also defeated a LeBron James-led super team last year – the Warriors have found a new way forward. It isn’t necessary to have a team of superstars and break the bank to win, you just need patience, a right mix of players built slowly, and more importantly, a team first ethos across the organization.