“That’s the way to win!” the security guard shouts as Stephen Curry strolls through the tunnel. Moments before, Curry had hit a majestic game winner to save the Warriors from an ugly loss to the Magic.
The tunnel walk of a conquering athlete is something to behold. It’s like the loud stadium experience but imbued with a massive postgame catharsis, condensed into a bunker. The scene is jammed with a mix of high-end ticket holders, team employees and family members flanking a runway strolled by the star. Hosannas are yelled as Curry passes by on his way to the locker room, the noise rumbling through the narrow tunnel like cascading dominoes.
Without pausing his gait, Curry matches the smile of the ebullient security guard and says, “It was fun.”
In the locker room, when asked if he likes winning more than he hates losing, Curry rejects the premise. “You can’t separate it,” he says. The joy of winning makes losing hurt (or “feel sucky,” as Curry terms it). The pain of losing fuels the joy of winning. It wasn’t hard to see that Oracle’s collective crazed reaction to Curry’s 3-pointer was goosed by the fear of an embarrassing home loss. The fans reveled in salvation, spared the bad feeling by feats of “individual brilliance” as coach Steve Kerr put it.
That wasn’t the way Golden State preferred to play, cutting it so close against a struggling East squad. And yet, a timely transition 3 made for a more memorable evening than if the Warriors had drubbed the Magic. The Warriors are 15-2, winners of 10 straight. Who can complain?
This is the best Golden State team since the 3-point line was introduced. And if being good weren’t good enough, they’re better than merely “good.” They’re fun. Long billed as a thrilling offensive team, the aesthetics have finally caught up to the advertisements. Early into this season, they reign around the top of whatever watchability rankings you might conjure.
Of course Curry is fun personified on the court. Nobody plays like he does. Nobody ever has, really. He shoots with incredible accuracy, with uncommon speed, off the dribble, out to 30 feet. By that calculus, there are 1,500 square feet where Curry must be guarded up close, without lapse. Many Americans comfortably live in homes smaller than that. This newest evolution of the point guard is welcome in houses small and large because the space on your TV seems so expansive when he’s dribbling. Possibilities are boundless and explored with a contagious joy. A one-footed 3, a behind-the-back pass in tight space, a full-court laser outlet for a Klay Thompson 3. Coaches stress valuing possessions. Curry dares to enjoy the hell out of trading possessions for points.
That powerfully carefree style has made the Warriors the second favorite team of so many outside the Bay, even if it has resulted in some turnovers. What’s different this season is the fun doesn’t wholly revolve around Curry. The ball is getting shared more, which has allowed others to flaunt their talent. Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson has ditched the isolation post-ups for drives and playmaking. Many of Thompson’s drives feature a particularly delightful quirk: He whirls around on his pivot foot in a 360-degree preamble to his journey to the basket.
Andrew Bogut is now a focal point of an offensive attack replete with dribble handoffs (DHOs). This approach simultaneously takes advantage of his passing and his screening. There’s also an added entertainment benefit of watching a giant, stationary man terrorize a defense full of athletes with countless one-handed pass fakes. Though never much for American sports, Bogut looks just like a quarterback on quite a few DHOs. He’s often either handing the ball off or play-action faking and slinging a bullet past man coverage.
Harrison Barnes, who was terrible at times last season, has been reborn in Kerr’s system. He’s moving off the ball, getting efficient looks, knocking down 3s with that quick release. Perhaps most impressively, he’s rebounding at a better rate than LeBron James this season.
Draymond Green’s next contract gets bigger by the game. Meanwhile, investigators are looking into where the real Marreese Speights is and just who this offensive machine Kerr replaced him with happens to be.
In between games, the team can be seen loving life on Instagram. On the practice court, they’re running sets to songs. Fun and winning can coexist, but there’s a Puritanical streak in American sports that insists titles only come to the dour. That’s likely the thinking behind, “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.” The glamorous pursuit (offense) will occasionally bear reward, but ultimate success is found only in unsung toil (defense). Fortunately for the Warriors, they can churn out the top-ranked defense with a smile. Curry’s game winner gets the headlines, but a rabid, collective defensive effort closed the gap. This crucial difference could separate the Warriors from other ill-fated “critically acclaimed” teams, like Kerr’s Suns squads that couldn’t quite overcome in the postseason.
When asked about the “fun” label ascribed to his team, Kerr jokes, "Makes me angry. I want them to not have fun.” Kerr continues, “It should be fun. Sports are supposed to be fun. We obviously are in a very serious business. We want to win. Our fans want us to win. But we're the luckiest people on earth. We all get to come here and play basketball and coach basketball and try to win a game. Nobody's digging ditches.”
According to Kerr, the team’s interpersonal dynamics are crucial to the good vibes this season. “As a staff, we try to keep it light and loose while getting our work in, but it's easy to have fun when you have great guys. Our guys are awesome. They're coachable. They have senses of humor. They enjoy being around each other.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Bogut, someone whose old interviews portrayed that of a loner in the NBA scene. “We're enjoying ourselves. We have good guys in the locker room. We don't have any prima donnas. We don't have any guys who are about themselves, so that makes life a lot easier. First team I've been on in a while where we actually have guys, we land in cities, we get together, and go and eat. I've been on teams where, plane lands, people are like [imitates sound of a wind gust].”
Bogut continues a bit down this train of thought but suddenly interrupts himself while looking at Festus Ezeli’s attire. “It's a bad shirt. Have a look at that shirt. It's really bad. It’s got polka dots on it. Oh my god. Let me get that on camera. It's bad. Let me get some darts."
The Warriors will keep striving to avoid a pain that hurts worse than shirts full of darts. Some painful losses will eventually curb the unbridled happiness in Warriors Land. For now, though, the Warriors are equal parts enjoyable and joyful.