–I don’t think I’ve ever watched a championship parade live. Then again, I’ve never followed a team so closely in a championship season as the 2015 Golden State Warriors. It’s all thanks to my friend and I’s decision to get a one-year subscription to Ballstreams–because that’s what you do when you’re an NBA fan living in Southeast Asia…you get up at 7 AM, convince yourself you don’t really need more sleep, make a cup of coffee, and fire up a basketball game on your laptop. For the kind of season the Warriors had, it wasn’t hard to rationalize the sleep deprivation. A franchise-record 67 wins, their first title since 1975, and serious consideration in the best-teams-of-all-time discussion–how you gonna sleep on that? If there’s anything these Warriors have taught us, it’s that sometimes everything comes together perfectly. It’s one of the reasons I’ll probably identify with this time for the rest of my life.
–After I watched the parade, all decked out in Warrior blue and yellow (not Laker purple & gold), float up the streets of Oakland amid the bodiless euphoria leading up to the speeches, the interviews, and the adventures of Riley Curry, something struck me: it was against none other than the Warriors that the Kobe Era unofficially came to an end. It was an entertaining game, as I remember, with both teams scrapping for a playoff spot, which made for an especially feisty and vengeful Kobe Bryant. He was driving on Harrison Barnes when the achilles gave out and he crumpled to the floor, famously managing to knock down a free throw on one leg before his teammates helped him off the court. Kobe’s never been the same since, and looking at it in retrospect, this Warriors title has made that moment all the more symbolic. You can almost see the basketball gods escorting Kobe off the throne to make way for a new team of destiny.
–I identify with the 2015 Warriors on several levels. First of all, the Splash Brothers are my age as are several other guys on the team, or at least in the same age group. There’s a big difference between an 11-year old watching 35-year olds win the title and a 28-year old watching other 20-somethings win the title. In the former situation there’s more reverence and awe and naivete than anything, while in the latter there’s something like kinship. I can relate more to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson than I ever could to MJ and Pippen. Especially to Steph, even though I’ve been told I resemble Klay and that we both resemble the 90s R&B crooner Jon B, which is a whole ‘nother story.
Steph is a laid-back, well-mannered mixed kid from the Carolinas who grew up in a religious household and whose mother was an educator. That sentence still stands with my name in place of his. Steph feels like one of those Baha’i kids I would have met at a basketball court or soccer field during one of our unit conventions, and just as goofy. (Incidentally, one of my closest Baha’i friends is from Charlotte and his father’s name is Dell, too!) That’s what made it especially surprising and exciting to see Steph Curry form into an unholy combination of Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Pete Maravich that continues to blow our collective mind–when I was a teen, Steph was just another gangly Christian kid hooping after school somewhere in the Carolinas. It’s like watching one of your playground teammates make the evening news. His success is more relatable than perhaps any other athlete I’ve watched. Sure, Allen Iverson was from Virginia and made big strides for the little man, but I never grew up in the hood like he did. My life has always been more comparable to Curry’s.
–There are so many interesting facets to the Warriors’ rise to the top that it’s hard to pick just one. Something about the anatomy of their success seems to reflect the little set of triumphs that have defined my time in Chiang Mai. The team is made of players of great character, each with something of a chip on their shoulder. Steph wasn’t athletic enough coming out of Davidson; Draymond Green was to small to defend bigs; Shaun Livingston blew out his knee in one of the grisliest sports injuries in recent memory and was told he might not walk again. The Warriors, in short, were a bunch of good people with someting to prove. And it wasn’t just limited to the roster–it extends throughout the organization. What can you say about the impeccable character of guys like GM Bob Meyers and head coach Steve Kerr? You know what, we can imagine them saying, let’s bring together a bunch of high quality, conscientious people and foster organically a positive and healthy environment in which ideas have free flow and no one is concerned with getting credit for the success. The result? A historical, record-breaking season. While my own activities and breakthroughs have been much less earth-shaking, a lot of the lessons have been the same.
–Looking back on a season of watching these Warriors, I can say one thing for sure: This franchise was resurrected by pure FUN. Honestly, this Golden State team may have been the funnest I’ve ever watched, on any level. It’s like they pulled the plug on decades of Oaktown roundball misery, flipped a switch, hung a disco-ball up and said “Let’s party!” Between Curry’s miraculous, walk-on-water feats and the Oakland fans’ infectious excitability, home games often took on a circus atmosphere as the Warriors ran a hapless opponent off the floor with sudden avalanches of brilliant team play, sending half of California into hysterics and the win-starved play-by-play guys into incoherence. (Imagine taking all this in bleary-eyed at 8:45 AM, when there is often nothing in your bearing that can be described as “excitable.”)
Who knew a championship run could be so awesome? Steph with a salsa-dance off-the-dribble 3 arcing theatrically towards the rafters before its splashy descent into nylon; Andre Iguodala (the jack-of-all-trades) dribbling through defenders on a fast break and tomahawking over some more; sweet-shooting Klay pulling up from Nevada for another heat-check; Harrison Barnes draining a wide-open corner 3 that often punctuated a magnificent sequence of “round-the-horn” passing; Draymond dematerializing opponents with searing acts of hustle; Leandro Barbosa turning back clocks to his Phoenix Sun days with haphazard dribble-drives to the rim, still a “Brazilian blur” at the other side of 30. This team was like a sugar rush that never stopped going to your brain.
For Steve Kerr’s coaching staff, there was no such thing as bad matchup. The roster was amorphous–there wasn’t anything the Warriors couldn’t adapt to. Picking up on the innovations of Mike D’Antoni’s (and Barbosa’s) Suns, the Warriors would often overwhelm teams with deadly “small-ball” lineups that ran the floor and stretched defenses to their limits. If they needed some shotblocking and rim-protection, Andrew Bogut or Festuz Ezeli could come in and shore up the paint. Even then, they had in Bogut one of the best passing big men in the league. Aesthetically fluid and endlessly versatile: this is the working legacy Kerr has forged after taking elements from Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and D’Antoni and amalgamating them into a futuristic hybrid of basketball dominance.
The electricity of the championship parade, what I’ll call Riley’s Rally, didn’t just stem in its fervor from having ended a championship drought of 40 years and adding a millenial banner to the rafters along with that lovely one of yesteryear, but also from an irrepressible sense that this Golden State team represents an evolution of the game itself. In an area of the country known for innovations and cutting-edge ideas, the Bay Area’s sunny optimism for its Warriors carries with it the sense of having reinvented the wheel. And considering their flawless health all season long while big names around the league dropped like flies in an especially injury-plagued campaign, it’s hard not to consider this a team aligned with the stars.
–One thing I’ll always remember about the 2015 Warriors is the uncanny inevitability of them taking over games, even when they were playing poorly. I remember a regular season game in which the visiting Mavericks jumped all over the Warriors in the first quarter, going up by about 15 or 20. Despite the deficit, however, there never was any doubt that the Warriors would come back and win, whatsoever. We all knew they would. And by the end, they had. Curry went for 51 in one of those games where lightning bolts sizzle off his fingertips (recalling the team’s previous logo, fortunately discontinued) and the Oracle was rocking in yet another business-as-usual blowout of a playoff team.
We’d watch the same thing happen in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs against the New Orleans Hornets, where the Warriors were at one point down by about 20 in the 2nd half before predictably roaring back and finally tying the score in the final seconds on a gut-punching, laughably unlikely corner 3 from the Carolinian MVP as long-armed Anthony Davis arrived a split-second late and sent Curry to the floor, where he could only identify his swish by the deafening silence of a stricken enemy crowd. The Warriors went on to win the game in overtime and sweep the series in four games. It was like those Power Ranger shows I used to watch as a kid on Saturday mornings in which, despite the crayon-costumed good guys getting their ass kicked by some futuristic robot villain in the beginning, you just knew that, by the end, the Power Ranger galaxy of goodness would be restored to its rightful order. That’s right–Golden State’s entire season was like a sappy, scripted fantasy show syndicated for the simplistic right-or-wrong formulations of children. That kind of stuff just isn’t supposed to happen in professional sports.
–As the royal blue and yellow confetti showered endlessly under the California sky on a Friday afternoon, Dub Nation didn’t celebrate the blessing of a single championship so much as they celebrated the theoretical dawning of a new dynasty, right there in the Bay. It was a fitting end to a wildly entertaining year, one that won’t soon be forgotten. For me, the highlight reels of that season are inextricably intertwined with scenes of my best days in Chiang Mai, days where I talked to all the right people and felt, with much confidence, that I had legitimately decoded important secrets of the universe. All the shots were fallin’ and, well, why not? When you start your mornings off with a team like this one (along with some local hill tribe coffee), the rest of your day can’t help but reflect an essential optimism.
Oh, and don’t worry, Riley, you’ll have plenty of time to get over that stage fright!