Monday, July 4, 2022

NBA Finals: Warriors win ‘most meaningful’ championship yet thanks to unprecedented trio of selfless stars

Steph Curry couldn’t hold back tears. Klay Thompson couldn’t leave the stage. Draymond Green couldn’t wait to bring his kids to the podium.

The Golden State Warriors won their fourth NBA championship in eight seasons with Thursday night’s 103-90 Game 6 road win over the Boston Celtics, but something about this one felt different. More impressive, to be sure, given the ups and downs of the franchise over the past three years and the relative lack of star power compared to previous titles.

But also something deeper, more introspective.

“You get goosebumps just thinking about, you know, all those snapshots and episodes that we went through to get back here, individually, collectively,” Curry said after the game, sitting next to his first Finals MVP trophy. “That’s why I said I think this championship hits different. That’s why I have so many emotions, and still will, just because of what it took to get back here.”

On stage after the game to accept the franchise’s seventh overall NBA title, Warriors owner Joe Lacob said that the 2022 title is “probably the most meaningful one.” That’s saying a lot, given the uniqueness of the 2015 team that started all of this off and the otherworldly greatness of the ’17 and ’18 teams with Kevin Durant. Though it’s not hard to see why Lacob and the Warriors might value their fourth championship a bit more than the others — after all, everybody loves a good redemption story.

About 36 hours before he would hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Green recounted an otherwise banal occurrence that shines an illuminating light on the provenance of Golden State’s dynastic reign. He mentioned how, on the plane to Boston before Game 6, he, Curry and Thompson were sitting at the same table (yes, their planes have tables). Warriors general manager Bob Myers walked by and said, in Green’s words: “Y’all are funny. Y’all still sit together.” Green then mentioned how rare it is for three players to even be on the same team for 10 years, let alone still get along well enough to sit next to each other.

The trio, composed of three historically unique players who complement each other on the court in ways that render opponents paralyzed, have also reached a balance off the court that has allowed them to ascend, excel and persevere for the past 10 seasons. All drafted by the Warriors. All carrying a chip on their shoulder due to their draft position and countless other reasons, both rational and fabricated. Most importantly, all with an insatiable, preternatural yearning for competition and victory.

“I couldn’t imagine sharing this journey with anyone else,” Green said of Curry and Thompson after practice on Wednesday. “You know, we built this thing from the ground up, and when you build something from the ground up, that’s your baby. And I think for us, we all appreciate each other and we understand what each of us bring to the table. It stretches far past what we have accomplished on the basketball court. You’re talking bonds. Those bonds will last forever. We are linked and connected together forever.”

Those bonds allowed the Warriors to become the first team in NBA history to win a title just two years after putting up the worst record in the league. Those bonds allowed Thompson to return from consecutive season-ending surgeries to produce vintage performances throughout the playoffs despite only having 32 regular-season games under his belt over the past three years. Those bonds allowed Green to start the season as the hands-down favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, then return from a serious back injury that forced him to miss almost 30 games. Those bonds also allowed Curry the room to flourish as the unquestioned head of the snake, facing defenses never before seen in the NBA, on a team that lacked the offensive options it once had.

“With Steph, Klay, Draymond, what they have done in this league and the foundation they have been able to build, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” said Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, who was alongside the trio for all four titles. “In a hundred years, you’re going to be talking about some of the best players and teams and foundations, and those three guys, they kind of did a template of how do you build championship pedigree.”

When these Warriors won their first title, nobody had seen anything like them — a team led by the two best shooters on Earth and a defensive monster with one of the highest basketball IQs of all time. They’d never been there before, so they played free from the burden of expectations. Then, from 2017-19, Golden State was basically penciled in as champions every year thanks to Durant and the historically beautiful basketball that accompanied his arrival. That weight is its own burden, but it’s certainly preferable to the alternative.

This year the expectations landed, at least externally, everywhere but the Finals. Most projections had Golden State finishing in the middle of the Western Conference playoff standings. Some had them missing the postseason entirely. There were questions about how the core players would fare with all the mileage and injury history, how the young players would develop, and how the new acquisitions would acclimate themselves into a Warriors system that quickly exposes those who can’t keep up.

“They are all unique, they are all special,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of his four coaching titles. “I think this one may have been the most unlikely, just from the standpoint of where we’ve been the last couple years.”

Kevon Looney and Otto Porter Jr. said on Thursday night that they knew this team was capable of greatness all the way back in training camp. When they raced out to an 18-2 start, Thompson — who had still yet to make his debut — said he labeled the season “championship or bust.” The doubt coming from the outside served only as motivation and made this most recent title even sweeter.

“A lot of chatter. A lot of doubters,” Thompson said after the Game 6 win. “But you know what, you just put that in your fuel tank and you just keep going. And it does definitely hit different.”

It’s easy to say that this championship means more to Thompson because of what he’s been through over the last three years. What’s evident from hearing the Warriors speak, however, is that this title also means more to the entire organization because of what Thompson has endured. Nearly every Warrior got misty-eyed when asked about Thompson’s journey back to the championship podium, looking to the ceiling and shaking their heads in equal parts disbelief and unsurprised.

“The anguish that Klay has felt over the last three years — people can guess as to what it is like, but we saw it up close,” Kerr said on Thursday after the win. “Between a second year-long injury and losing what he loves to do most in life, you know, playing the game, it’s been a rough go for him. So his return was special for us on and off the floor because of what he’s meant to the organization, what he’s done for this team, and then of course his play.”

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Throughout the playoffs, Curry, Thompson and Green have continually said that they weren’t going to allow themselves to take this run for granted. They took photos. They enjoyed the media frenzy. As we know, they sat next to each other on airplanes. After five years during which a trip to the Finals was all but assured, the insecurity of the past two seasons made them realize the ephemerality of ultimate success. 

Green wouldn’t put a number on how many more titles he thinks the Warriors can win with this core, and the front office certainly has some massive decisions in its path this offseason. But given their mix of established star power and emerging youth, the Warriors will certainly enter next season at the top of the pecking order. No matter how far they get, whether they make it back to the Finals or not, you can expect Curry, Green and Thompson — the unique, selfless, superstar triumvirate — to appreciate every moment along the way.

“To go through this season with the ups and downs, and even these playoffs, I’m just at a loss for words at times,” Thompson said after winning the title on Thursday. “I knew this was possible, but to be here in real time, man, I don’t want to leave. I want to enjoy every second of this. I know how fleeting it can be.”

Warriors NBA championship gear now available

The Golden State Warriors have won their fourth NBA title in the last eight seasons. Now, you can celebrate with championship hats, shirts, hoodies, and more. See the entire collection here.

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