FROM BIG ACCOMPLISHMENTS (A THIRD TITLE) TO COUNTLESS LITTLE THINGS (ABOUT COACH STEVE KERR'S BEERS ...), THE DUBS TOOK CARE OF BUSINESS IN A SOMETIMES-TRYING 2018, WITH AN INDELIBLE ETHOS THAT HAS MADE THEM A JOY TO WATCH AND A DYNASTY THAT ENDURES
THE BEERS ARE WARM. But then they should be. The four Coronas have been in a metal bucket in Steve Kerr's Denver hotel room for 24 hours now.
There's a reason. Four years ago, when Kerr took the job as Warriors' coach, he met Eric Housen, the team's meticulous, fireplug-shaped director of team operations. Housen's duties encompass the countless invisible tasks involved in running an NBA team: the laundry and travel arrangements, the catering and arena wrangling, the Jamba Juice runs and pep talks and crisis management. On game days Housen often arrives by 5:30 a.m. and stays past midnight. In his 31 years with the team he has missed one day of work, and that was for the birth of his first child, Sadie.
Early on, Housen asked if Kerr had any special requests for road trips. Extra pillows? A brand of organic granola? A nice Pinot Noir, like Steph? Kerr couldn't think of anything.
A few months later, though, he did. "Any chance of getting a few beers in the room tonight?" Kerr asked. He wanted to have the assistant coaches up to watch a game.
Housen was on it. What kind?
"I don't know," replied Kerr. "Coronas?"
That night, the coach returned to his room to find a bucket of ice-cold cervezas. And that, Kerr assumed, was that.
But then, on the next road trip, Kerr checked in to his room to find an identical bucket of Coronas. And again at the next city, and the one after that, and so on for the successive four years and 200-odd road games. Explains Housen, 45, "Coach is a bro's bro. He loves nothing more than to have a brew and watch the game with his bros."
And usually this is true. But this past summer Kerr decided to adopt a gluten-free diet in hopes of counteracting lingering inflammation from a 2015 back surgery. Hence: no beer.
He didn't have the heart to tell Housen, though. So now here it is, the fall of 2018 in Denver, on the third night of a road trip, and Kerr is still getting buckets of Coronas.
"Want one?" he asks a visitor.
THERE ARE myriad reasons SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is honoring the Warriors with its 2018 Sportsperson of the Year Award. For sustained excellence, business innovation and cultural impact. For injecting joy into the game and setting fire to conventional wisdom. For winning with a center built like a forward, a point guard built like a featherweight and an offense predicated on the idea that stars want nothing more than to pass the ball to someone who will pass the ball to someone else who might shoot from 27 feet. For thinking the game and speaking out. For being fun to love and fun to hate. For rewarding the stubborn faith of the Oakland fans, not only with titles but also a basketball purist's approach. And, of course, for always keeping things interesting.
After appearing in four consecutive Finals and winning three, including sweeping the Cavs in June, the Warriors have dominated the last half decade of professional basketball. They now teeter on the edge of historic greatness, the kind of extended run few franchises ever engineer. Title windows open and close. The Warriors—perhaps foolishly, perhaps admirably—believe they can knock out the glass altogether.
The margin for error is slim, though, even for superteams. Were it not for a Chris Paul injury and 27 straight missed threes by the Rockets, Golden State might not even have won the West last year. The road ahead is littered with obstacles: 29 teams massing to stop them, the specter of injuries and age and complacency, the lure of accolades and money, the rifts that form in a pack of alphas. Inevitably, things fray at the edges and unravel. This is how sports works. How the world works.
It's happening already. A month into this title defense, in mid-November, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green had it out at the end of a game against the Clippers. Durant suggested that perhaps Green should have passed the ball on the final possession. Green suggested Durant might be off-base in this assessment and, oh by the way, here are some other things that have been on my mind. Within days, the argument metastasized into something larger: a referendum on Durant's loyalty, Green's volatility, and ownership's intentions.
We won't know the full impact until June (the Finals) and July (free agency, when Durant can leave). Perhaps the rift will have been repaired. Perhaps it will have become a chasm.
For the Warriors to prevail, both in their immediate goal of a fourth title and in their grander ambitions, they will need to rely on everything that got them this far, the many qualities, large and small, that led to this award. Some are obvious. Others, like those buckets of Coronas—or at least what they represent—are visible only upon closer inspection.
So let us take this moment to hold the franchise up to the light and examine it, to appreciate its success and to ponder which will win out: The forces of entropy, or the Warriors' way?
WHO ARE we kidding? The Warriors can't sustain this. No teams do. None are forever successful or beloved. Michael Jordan won and won and won and then became an owner and has known only defeat. Phil Jackson oversaw not one but two dynasties, then misplaced his magic wand in New York. Peruse old SI Sportsperson choices and you'll see cautionary tales. Lance Armstrong. A young Tiger Woods, of whom in 1996 we asked, Who would win, the phenom or the machine?
NBA dynasties are particularly tricky to maintain, growing ever more fragile in this era of team-hopping and the 24-hour news cycle. Every eye roll is dissected. Rising salaries and a finite player pool empower stars. GMs and coaches can no longer dictate, berate or mandate, even if some still try.
Instead, in the end, a team's fortunes often hinge upon the whim of its most important player.
COUNTERPOINT: HAVE you seen the Warriors' most important player?
Here he comes now, wearing iPod earbuds under a gray hoodie and nursing a cold, striding past the oblivious postwork businessmen at the bar of the Four Seasons in Denver.
This is Wardell Stephen Curry II at 30 years old. Still easy to miss. Still near impossible to defend. Still the heart of all the Warriors do, their "short Tim Duncan," as Kerr puts it. Every dynasty needs a tentpole—a Bill Russell, a Magic Johnson or a Michael Jordan. Curry is the anomaly: a skinny point guard who has dominated in spite of his size and athleticism, rather than because of it. And yet he's changed the game as much as any who've come before him, so dangerous as a shooter—the greatest ever, we can now all agree—that he's as valuable off the ball as on it, creating a vacuum of defensive attention wherever he is not. And he does it all with a joy and humility that, while much celebrated, also happens to be genuine. "The reason for all this," says Andre Iguodala. "The soul of the team," says guard Shaun Livingston. "Our universe revolves around him," says GM Bob Myers. Says Kerr, who won titles as a player with Jordan and Duncan and is fully aware of his current good fortune: "I cannot stress how much he's meant to everything we've done, the humility and joy." Then Kerr suggests that SI just give the Sportsperson Award to Steph.
As for Curry, he remains inclined to do what he always has: downplay his contribution without diminishing it, hide his competitive fire behind a soft voice, keep the focus on the big picture. In his 10th season Curry has already lived through the spectrum of the NBA experience. He has been doubted and deemed injury-prone. He has won MVP awards and set records. Perhaps more than any Warrior, he understands the battle at hand. "I feel like my role is to not let success derail how we got here," he says, now sitting in a back room of the hotel restaurant. "We have to overcome human nature."
This is how Curry sees the world: a constant battle between, as he says, "the carnal and the spiritual." The former encompasses all that's supposed to be important: the money and the accolades and the individual. The spiritual is what really matters: family, faith and the intrinsic rewards of doing a job the right way.
So Curry endeavors to remain centered. Even-keeled. "Even though he's a Christian, he really has a Buddhist approach, "says Gotham Chopra, a documentary filmmaker who's embedded with Curry over the last half-year. Maybe it's because Curry grew up around this world, following the career of his father, Dell, a guard for 16 NBA seasons. Maybe it's because he was raised in a virtual matriarchy. At his Montessori school, his mom, Sonya, was the headmistress; his aunt was a teacher; and his grandmother was the cook. "I literally couldn't stray from A to B without all three of them keeping an eye on me, and to this day they all check on me," he says. It's not a coincidence he married Ayesha, who now has her own career and views marriage as a partnership as they raise their three children: daughters Riley, 6, and Ryan, 3, and six-month-old Canon. "No matter what I do or how successful I am, I go home and I'm Stephen and they treat me as such," Curry says. "It's a great self-check. I like that vibe and I want to pass it on to my daughters, in terms of using their voice, being confident, being powerful."
These days Curry lives the Dad Life. He drives Riley to her school when he can, singing along in the car. When he visits Las Vegas, he eschews the clubs and casinos to practice his golf swing in the hotel room. Like all parents, his perspective is evolving. He tries to compartmentalize basketball. His worries are different. He tells the story of going to Riley's first-grade parent-teacher conference and learning that, upon meeting her new teacher, Riley had announced, "I'm sure you know my name." Says Steph, "We're going to have to keep an eye on that!"
With the Warriors, he's cautiously trying on a more proactive leadership approach. Three days before training camp, he asked assistant coach Bruce Fraser to come to his house to talk shop. Over dinner and then in his man cave, Curry hit Fraser with questions: What's the big picture plan? The approach to practice? The messaging from the coaches to the team? "It's like learning to dribble and always looking down," says Fraser. "Now Steph is looking up too."
His teammates notice. Green deems him, "much more vocal this year." Klay Thompson, the second-longest tenured Warrior, who can be as Zen-like in affect as Curry, says, "Whenever Steph speaks, everyone listens. We all respect him because he walks the walk. He lives such a wholesome, beautiful life. It shows itself in the way he plays."
When this is your ballast, the joyride has to continue at least a bit longer, right? Even if, as everyone says, all good things must come to an end.
OR MUST they? "I don't get why everyone says that," says Joe Lacob, the Warriors' primary owner and most ardent optimist. He is sitting in a room at Oracle Arena in October, 30 minutes before tip-off. "People always say to me, 'You know this can't go on forever, you're going to be a crappy team at some point.' And I say 'Why? Why do you presume that?'"
In 2010, Lacob and Peter Guber bought the Warriors for $450 million, stealing the team out from under presumed buyer Larry Ellison with a brash take-it-or-leave-it ploy. Immediately, Lacob predicted a championship within five years. ("Was it crazy to say that? Yes, but I did believe it.") In some respects, he's the caricature of the venture capitalist: brash, unapologetic, forever acting as if he understands the world better than you. He's also an inveterate pickup player—twice a week with business buddies at Stanford, spot-up shooter, self-administered green light—who says, "I'd kill, do anything to win." He's the guy who's always on email—send one and it pings back within minutes, because, as he stresses, this is his life. "Not to be critical, but most owners inherited their team or it's a sideline thing," he says. "I was a managing partner at one of the leading venture firms in the world and I stepped down for this."
Lacob, 62, is also the guy who famously said in a 2016 New York Times Magazine story that the Warriors were "light years" ahead of the league. At the time, he got pilloried. In hindsight, well, he was sort of right. The team wins relentlessly, sells out every home game and has become a beacon for talent desperate for a ring and a reputation upgrade. One example: In July, a succession of Kerr's old tweets were suddenly liked en masse. All, it turned out, came from the same veteran free-agent big man. (The ploy did not work; Golden State signed DeMarcus Cousins instead.)
At the time, Lacob's business peers got it: He was just being confident. And not necessarily about the basketball side. "People don't really understand yet," Lacob says. "When this arena opens, they will."
That would be Chase Center, the long-delayed, $1.2 billion hoops Disney World rising on the eastern San Francisco bayfront. Funded without public money, the arena will provide multiple revenue streams. The Warriors will lease the accompanying 100,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. They also control all concessions and the adjoining office space. (Uber is the first tenant.)
The arena is part of an invest-and-reinvest growth strategy borrowed from the startup world. Despite the franchise's valuation of more than $3 billion, none of the owners have taken money out, according to Lacob. Neither do the Warriors hesitate to enter the luxury tax or make big-name hires.
Another factor in Lacob's favor: his willingness to hire people who are—how do we put this?—unlike himself. In particular, the three pillars of the management team, Kerr, Myers and COO Rick Welts. All are long on emotional intelligence, humility and sense of humor. (Lacob is aware of the contrast: "Someone said to me that it's amazing how humble those three guys are and how they represent the organization so well and I said, 'What about me?!? Wait, don't answer.'")
The trio in turn adds more kindred spirits to the staff. The goal is a horizontal rather than vertical organization. You know, Strength in Numbers. Employees and players are encouraged and expected to speak up. Meanwhile, Kerr goes to at-times comical lengths to avoid taking credit. Sometimes it's intentional. Other times, like in 2015, it's reflexive. Perhaps you recall the scenario: With the Warriors down 2--1 to the Cavs and chasing their first title in 40 years, Kerr replaced 7-foot center Andrew Bogut with the 6'6" Iguodala, creating the shortest starting lineup in modern Finals history. After the victory Kerr credited the lineup switch to Nick U'Ren, a then obscure video scout. Recalls Myers, "Everyone in the press conference is shuffling through stuff like, 'Who the f--- is Nick U'Ren, is he an owner?' How many coaches, in any sport, would say that?"
This Myers-Kerr dynamic—one always crediting the other—is both natural and practiced. They are close friends. They live near each other in San Francisco. Their wives hang out. When Myers lost his brother-in-law, in the fall of 2015, Kerr was a rock. Still, they know that theirs is a historically precarious alliance. "If you look at a GM-coach relationship, in any sport, it's honestly built to fail," says Myers. He points to a moment a year later, in 2016, when the Warriors lost Game 7 to Cleveland after being up 3--1 in the series. Lacob, still pissed about the league's suspension of Green in Game 6, reacted with a focused fury, telling Myers, "We start working tonight to make sure this s--- doesn't happen again." Myers found Kerr in the locker room, half an hour after the game. It was a moment ripe for blame. Instead, each had the same message: I could have done some things differently.
Says Myers, "That conversation rarely goes that way. Usually, it's me saying, 'You could have done something different,' or Steve says, 'You didn't leave me many options here.' And that 10-second exchange has now ruined our relationship." To Myers, this is key to all the Warriors do. "That's the trust we need," he says. "There have been many subtle and overt attacks on us. I look at it like getting a sliver in your finger. You have issues. You don't quite get it all the way out and it gets infected. Then all of a sudden you went the wrong direction."
Perhaps, what matters, then, are the slivers that don't take.
ANDRE IGUODALA could have blown it all up, or at least tried to.
This was in October 2014. Golden State ownership had fired Mark Jackson and just installed Kerr, whose only previous coaching experience was with his son Nick's seventh-grade team, back in San Diego. The Dubs were fresh off a 51-win season. Really, all Kerr had to do was not screw up. Instead, he benched Iguodala—an All-Star, Olympian and one of the most respected players on the team.
As Warriors lore has it, Iguodala's selfless acceptance of the demotion set the tone for all that came after. Iguodala provides a more nuanced version. Yes, he says, the move always made sense intellectually. He and Kerr both played under Lute Olson at Arizona. They were brought up in the same system. "We can see basketball the same way," Iguodala says. "I never wavered in him."
The challenge was the emotional side. "When you grew up playing sports where I did [in Springfield, Ill.], it was shameful being picked last on the playground," he says. Get to the NBA and that shame becomes something more insidious: "In our world, starting is everything. It's just the culture of the game, of basketball and our egos."
Iguodala's friends didn't get it either. "They're older guys, they're not yes men," he says. "And they were really upset, like, 'This doesn't make any sense.' I just tried to get them to be patient."
The transition was difficult, though. Iguodala had been killing it in preseason, and now he began to question himself. "Others saw it as shameful and I guess I bought in," he says. In the opener he played 29 minutes but made only one of six shots, scoring two points. He hit double figures just once in the first nine games. "There were times I came in at halftime, and was like, 'This is f------ my whole game up.' And if you lose confidence, that's a killer. I was like, 'My game is in shambles, I'm about to be out the league.'"
In a larger sense, it was as if Iguodala were a prisoner of his own basketball IQ. He knew this was the right thing to do; it also felt wrong. It took time—months, if not longer—but eventually he came to a realization: He had to change his value system. That first game, when he missed five of six shots? The team was +25 with him on the floor; the next game it was +22. And on it went, the rest of the season. "That's when I realized, hey, I was actually playing really well," Iguodala says. "I did my job for this team."
You might remember how it played out. Iguodala came up big when needed most, capturing the 2015 Finals MVP. Not for his offense but for the way he defended LeBron James. For his value to the team. "Without Andre, I don't think any of this happens," says Kerr. He's speaking not only about the titles, though Iguodala has been instrumental in those, but the culture. "Once he did that, no one else could complain."
Andre made out just fine too. The Warriors re-signed him to a big contract last year. He has a memoir, written with Carvell Wallace, coming out in July. It's as much about experience of growing up as an African-American athlete as basketball. The title: The Sixth Man.
TURNING A DEMOTION into an attribute is a very Warriors thing to do. So is using your platform to amplify your voice. Over the last handful of years Golden State staff and players have been at the forefront of a movement toward activism in sports, unafraid, as Welts says, "to use this incredible megaphone we've been given." Welts, after all, is the first openly gay prominent sports executive—he came out in a New York Times story in 2011. Curry leads a corps of players who speak up, including when he publicly (and proactively) turned down a White House visit with President Trump in '17, saying, "hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country." (Trump then tried to rescind the invitation.)
Some owners might balk at this, especially one with conservative leanings, like Lacob. "At the end of the day, this is a business and we have a lot of customers and employees and players," he says. "As long as someone doesn't embarrass the NBA as an institution or embarrass our organization or do harm, I think people should be able to speak up."
And then there's Kerr. In the last decade the coach has found his voice on political issues, using the platform of press conferences and media availability, amplified by the viral nature of social media. He's written op-eds (including two for SI), participated in a South Bay town hall on gun violence and fund-raised with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. This past fall, he spoke at leadership conference in San Francisco, then—as he does with all of his speaking fees—donated the entire $100,000 he received to the Malcolm Kerr Family Fund, a scholarship within the Warriors' community foundation that he set up in honor of his father. Within the team, he encourages discourse and civic engagement. This fall, when the team hosted Rock the Vote, seven players and two coaches registered on the spot.
As much as Kerr hates making it about himself, he's an obvious influence on the players. "It starts with Steve," says Livingston. "He's such a gifted speaker at voicing his ideas and opinion. We're following his lead." Plenty have hoped the coach would run for office. Kerr's stock answer remains the same, though: He's just trying to run a team right now. And, at the moment, he's got his hands full.
ENTER ENTROPY'S star witness. Depending on your perspective, Draymond Green—second-round draft pick, first-team All-Defense, last man to keep his opinions to himself—is either the primary reason this will all go to hell or the primary reason it won't. After Curry, he's probably the most irreplaceable player. He can also be the most destabilizing.
Two examples, a month apart: First, the second game of this season, in Utah. The Warriors struggled. Green looked particularly disengaged. "Pouting," Kerr describes it. Then, in the third quarter, Green got into one shoving match, and another. The refs called a technical. Kerr called a timeout.
"F---, yeah!" he said to Green. "Keep it going!"
He did, and the team followed, pulling away late. To Curry, this is the brilliance of his friend: "He got in the two scuffles purposefully. First, he puts the other team on notice that he's still here, but second, he's stoking the flames a bit for us. Those are really, really impactful moments for us. The problem of course is if it spills over where it's a distraction."
Usually, Green is good at picking his spots. Still, his intensity can be hard to take, even if he switches targets weekly. "In that moment you might hate it or get a little sensitive, but at the end of the day the whole point is, like it or not, he gets us on the right page," says Curry. "It's productive in terms of keeping people comfortably uncomfortable."
From the outside, it can be easy to misread this passion. "People talk about Draymond, and it's like they don't know how to relate to him because of whatever they have locked inside themselves that they never let out," Iguodala said in an interview a week before the Durant incident. "So they're afraid of it and he's expressing it." Iguodala pauses. "It happens with all of us. But I think for those that have something negative to say about Draymond it says something about you when you failed to understand that person's perspective. It's something I've learned from him and work on every day."
Example two: A month after Utah. The Clippers game. The blowup with Durant that spilled over into the locker room. Within days, oddsmakers sent emails with subject lines like, "Most Likely Trade Destinations for Draymond Green." Durant was deemed gone for sure come summer, maybe to the Knicks, possibly to the Lakers. The team, in a decision made by Kerr, fined Green $120,000 and levied a one-game suspension. Fans took sides.
The man with the power, for now, is Durant. So what of him?
HE IS sensitive. Hard to read. Trusts slowly. He doesn't like direct confrontation; if he wants the ball in the post, he'll often come to an assistant coach first, who'll relay the message, even though Steph would likely be happy to accommodate him. At the same time, KD is uniquely talented. He's never pretended to be anything other than what he is: one of the best scorers in the history of the game. When he shouted at Green to "Pass the damn ball!" it was merely a vocalization of what he'd done so many times in Oklahoma City, and at times in Golden State, clapping for the rock, hands up, exasperated because he believes he is always the best scoring option—which, incidentally, he often is.
Maybe this is why, despite winning two rings and two Finals MVPs with the Warriors, Durant has never truly seemed one of them. And perhaps that's O.K. Less than a week before the Green incident, he repeatedly used the word partnership to describe his time in the Bay, like how one singer guests on another's album. Durant came to the Warriors, he said, because it was, "the perfect partnership between how I wanted to play and how they wanted to play," citing the three-point prowess of Curry and Thompson and his own mid-range game. When asked if his time in Golden State has changed him, he was quick to say no. "This was the natural progression of me," he says. "I was going to be this way no matter which team I was on. I was going to start to see things for what they were as I got older in general."
In the light of what's occurred, it's easy to read that as a signal that, no matter what, Durant wasn't coming back. That his journey is personal, not collective. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that. Maybe Curry and Thompson are lucky enough to already know who they are, and Durant is still trying to figure it out, like so many of us. "Peace is a big word for me," Durant says at one point. "I just felt like my whole life has always been about playing ball and being the best player I can be. And I felt like a hit a lot of roadblocks, you know, like how you have writer's block. Like, what's the next pivot for me? I don't want to be comfortable where I am right now. I think there's another level I can go to."
So where does this leave him and Green? Their history is not insubstantial. It was Green who called Durant to recruit him to the team, moments after that Game 7 loss in 2016. And it's Green who's been one of his closest confidantes. "I normally don't like guys who come into the league talking s---, but Draymond talked s--- and went hard on the court," Durant says. "He didn't give you nothing easy, and I appreciate a player like that." Green's personality reminded him of Kendrick Perkins'. "And I was raised on Perkins, who was raised by [Kevin Garnett]. I feel that same feel from Draymond that I felt from Perk."
That was in early November, though. Two weeks later the two men weren't speaking.
THE WARRIORS will prevail because, c'mon, you think this is the first time they've been through this?
Perhaps you recall Green's going after Kerr in the locker room at halftime of a 2016 game, the argument escalating until a security guard rushed in. And don't forget that Kerr is experienced in this realm; he famously got in a fistfight with Jordan during his Chicago days, sporting a bruise for days. The Bulls turned out just fine.
Take one example among many, from last season. From mid-March to April, the Warriors went 7--10. Often, they lost ugly. "We had a bad vibe around the team," Curry says. "Just brutal," says Kerr. Injuries played a part, as did lack of motivation; Golden State was locked into the second seed, effectively ceding the top spot to Houston. Still, it was unnerving.
The nadir came during the final regular-season game, at Utah. A flat first quarter. A disastrous second half. At one point Green unleashed a string of f-bombs at the bench, questioning the heart and desire of some of his teammates and Durant in particular. The eventual 40-point loss seemed worse. Usually, Kerr aspires to be a big-picture guy. Forest for the trees and all that. But he was at wit's end. The team couldn't score and wasn't playing defense. Green and Durant were in a funk. Curry, whom Kerr relies upon for leadership, was injured and out another couple of weeks. (It's no coincidence that bad stuff tends to happen when Curry is not playing.) And now they faced a Spurs team in the first round that was sure to be assiduously prepared.
Myers felt the season slipping away. He texted Kerr constantly. Even playing hoops, his salve, didn't help. Neither man could figure it out. Finally, Kerr decided, Screw strategy, let's just push all our chips in. So he ran out his best defensive lineup in Game 1, starting Iguodala at point guard. If we can't score, Kerr decided, at least maybe we can defend.
And? "It was our best defensive game of the season," says Kerr of the 113--92 win. "And that one game—literally one game—and I was like, 'Bob, we're good.' That's how competitive and experienced our guys are."
In retrospect, Myers and Kerr still marvel at the shift. "My whole life, the only times I've been remotely successful is when I've given 100% to every single thing and every stupid pickup game," says Myers. "I wasn't good enough to flip any switches. Flip the switch? I don't even know what that means. But that's the brilliance of these guys. Maybe if they hadn't gone 7--10 at the end we wouldn't have had it in the playoffs." Myers pauses, laughs. "I don't know what they were doing! It worked for them." (Asked about it, Green says, "I could try to come up with all these technical explanations for it. We did this or we did that. But ... we flipped a switch. I know Bob doesn't get it, but that's exactly what we did.")
Two months later the Warriors were standing with the Larry O'Brien trophy. No one recalled the late swoon, or, increasingly, the hard-fought series against the Rockets. Already, the public narrative was shifting to how the Warriors were now unstoppable. Unfair. Ruining the game.
That's not how it felt to Golden State, though. The team that long relied on joy as its fuel had slogged its way to a title. "I can't speak for anyone else," says Myers, "but I was completely exhausted. I think I shook Steve's hand and said, 'I'll see you later.' That was it. The unbridled joy you should experience was missing. And that goes with the effort it takes to maintain this."
NOW WE see that effort playing out, in real time.
The night of the Durant-Green incident, according to players who were there, Kerr addressed the team in the locker room, followed by Iguodala and then Thompson. In the days after, Iguodala and Livingston provided perspective. We've been on teams where this s--- happened 10 times a year. You're lucky this is the first time. Curry joined the team for a Texas road trip. Sitting on the bench in a black blazer, he whooped giddily when the team did well and squinted, disbelieving, when it didn't. Nothing about the display was—or ever is—fake. "You know when he's not around," is how Fraser describes Curry's presence. "I don't know what that is, but that's the effect he has." Says Kerr: "After what we'd been through, it was almost like he was giving us CPR."
Initially, Kerr had diagnosed his team as "banged up," both physically and spiritually, then preached big-picture perspective. As the team continued to struggle, he blamed himself publicly, telling the media: "All in all, I've got to do a better job." The messaging, he explains a few days later, was purposeful. "As a player, I wanted my coaches to know what the hell they were doing but also be somewhat vulnerable and human. That was a signal that we're trying to get better, too." Meanwhile, Durant recorded a podcast, sounding the right notes. Green remained subdued: a media availability here, a group presser there.
Now, however, after some wrangling, he sits down to talk after practice during the waning days of November. Out on the court, Curry (still rehabbing) and Cousins (recovering from a torn Achilles tendon) run through a light scrimmage. Green watches. He is not his usual boisterous self. He smiles, but in the way you smile in a DMV photo. He looks jittery. But, at times haltingly, he answers questions.
"It's an inexact science and an imperfect thing," he says of his leadership approach. He allows that he's "taken a lot of lessons" from the last few weeks. "Different people express themselves in different ways," he says. "A lot of people are afraid to hear their own voice. I've never been afraid to hear my own voice ... but it's a slippery slope, a very slippery slope, because sometimes it can not go as you see it. Sometimes it can not come out the way you think it was going to come out when you say or do something." He pauses. "Nonetheless, that's me."
He is open to change, though, or at least calibration. He harks back to a conversation late last season with Kerr, during the team's funk. Recalls Green, "He said, 'You have the ability to take this team left or right, up or down. You can carry that weight, but right now you're killing us. Your body language is not good, your energy is not good and you're pouting every play when something doesn't go right. And you're dragging Kevin down with you.' And I immediately noticed it. I said, 'You're right, and I'll be better.'"
And, both men agree, he was. It's something Kerr often talks about: How with some players you can never break through the shell, but with Green it's all right there. Instead it becomes about managing it. "It's great to have people—coaches, front office, teammates—that can remind you that your s--- stink too," says Green. "Sometimes we can see everyone else's problems and bulls--- and completely overlook our own."
Out in the scrimmage, Cousins is high-stepping his way to a layup. His return will provide another variable. For now, though, Green is asked what he sees to come. The nervous smile returns. He pauses. Thinks. Seconds pass. Finally, he says, "Every season has turning points and moments that can make or break it, and I'm happy we've gone through ours, and it's going to make the journey much sweeter when we do it again. Those are the things you appreciate more than the rings or the trophy. You appreciate the journey. A lot of people are like, 'Ah man, can they do it now? Their chemistry is messed up.' But that's the most exciting part." He looks up. "So if this year has anything to do with this story, then it just got good."
WHICH BRINGS us, in a roundabout way, to those Coronas. In today's NBA, talented players, strong ownership and a track record of success don't cut it. To build a dynasty, let alone sustain one, to overcome obstacles and put out fires, you need something more.
The Warriors are hoping—banking—that their approach is the answer. How best to explain it? Well, it's doing the easy things that mean a lot, like signing Mychel Thompson (Klay's brother) and Jaleel Cousins (DeMarcus's) and, once upon a time, Seth Curry (Steph's) to their G League team. It's allowing family to travel on the hotel bus on road trips. It's the GM having conversations with his star player not about basketball, but about raising daughters. It's about jogging with your phone, as indefatigable media relations guru Raymond Ridder does, because you take your job that seriously (and because Lacob just might email you). It's giving the video guys a chance to do a "team scout" and present it in front of the players. It's talking about values and then backing it up.
It's all the sacrifices, small and large, that can become contagious, from Iguodala's to Curry's to the ones we never learn about. It's Thompson's being self-confident enough not to need a spotlight. ("Not low maintenance, but no maintenance," as Kerr says.) It's donating $10.7 million, hosting hundreds of events last year and refurbishing more than 75 courts, so many that the legends—Nate Thurmond Court in the Panhandle, Al Attles Court in Oakland—are now joined by a host of others: David Lee Court, Stephen Jackson Court and (ahem) Joe Lacob Court in Alameda. It's center David West appearing as the guest speaker in the team's regular Q&A series for employees last year during African-American History Month. It's the whole team going nuts, including Iguodala's stripping off his shirt, after new acquisition Jonas Jerebko hits a game-winning tip-in against the Jazz, who had let him go. It's Kerr's giving a $1,000 bonus to every team employee—there are more than 200—each time Golden State wins a title. It's Kerr's hating to see that fact in this story.
And, finally, it's what happened on opening night this season.
At the end of the lavish ring ceremony, Curry took the microphone. "This is long overdue," he said, teammates arrayed behind him, a TNT camera rolling nearby. "But there's a guy who has not been a part of the ring ceremony these last three times." Curry peered toward the shadows behind the court, beyond which tens of thousands of amped-up Warriors fans stood. "We want to invite Eric Housen to come up and get his ring!"
And with that, a shortish, baldish man in a blue Warriors polo shirt sprinted into the spotlight. Upon reaching Curry and accepting a ring, Housen was engulfed by Golden State players, who punched him on the shoulder and hip-checked him and then bounced up and down, chanting, "E! E! E!"
THE SECRET of the Warriors? "Writers always want to know what's the one big thing you guys do," says Lacob. "No, you're missing the point."
That moment with Housen was Myers's idea. That morning he proposed it to Ridder, who in turn proposed it to Curry, who loved it, after which Ridder contacted TNT to make sure they had the correct spelling and title for Housen.
Housen recalls being giddy afterward. Overwhelmed. In the days and weeks that followed, as he loaded and unloaded buses, ferrying bags and checking lists and doing all the things that make a franchise run, fans recognized him. Hey, you're the guy from ring night, they said. That was the coolest part.