Forty years is a long time, but the wait was worth it. All of California applauded on Tuesday as the Golden State Warriors won their first NBA championship since 1975.
The victory was a study in teamwork, an East Bay startup in a world better known for Hollywood-sized ego. It wasn’t just rookie Steve Kerr’s creative head coaching, or the offensive skill of Stephen Curry, or the defensive intensity of Andre Iguodala, though all of those surely were factors.
Rather, everyone played a role. Or, as the Warriors’ playoff motto put it, there was “strength in numbers.” There was Draymond Green, with his team-leading rebounds and Tuesday night’s clinching triple-double. There was Nick U’Ren, Kerr’s 28-year-old personal assistant, whom the coach credited, graciously, with the key strategy change in midseries.
Iguodala, the eventual series MVP, had been a starter his whole career until this season, when Kerr asked him to contribute off the bench. He did as he was asked, no grumbling. His first start for the Warriors didn’t come until Game 4 of the Finals.
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The Warriors led the NBA in assists, both in the season and in the playoffs. In postgame interviews, what was striking was how much each player credited the other guys.
Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so hard for Californians beyond Oakland to set aside regional rivalries and pull for a team that had long been shrugged off as a perennial non-contender. After toiling for all those years in that old arena, in that far less glamorous second city to San Francisco, the Warriors had a secret weapon – they could be humble. It’s hard to greet a win like that with anything but joy.
Great victories are often looked to for lessons. Cleveland yearned, too; their wait – they’ve never been the champions – has been even longer than Oakland’s.
Without two of their stars, though, the Cavaliers struggled, and not even LeBron James, who referred to himself, not inaccurately, as the “best player in the world,” could save them. Though his powerful play was a thing of beauty, it takes more than one great athlete, and sometimes more than two, to win a championship, as James knows.
Here, in one of those California cities where postseason joy has been elusive, the search for a winning formula continues. Some may find a lesson in the Warriors’ well-roundedness and focus. Some may point to their skill, not only on offense, but on defense.
There may even be a larger message for a state that historically has had trouble pulling together, maybe something about hard work and common purpose and endurance of dry spells.
In any case, it was an unexpected delight to see the Warriors find their sweet spot. Today, the whole Golden State cheers.