The narrative says championships are earned through relentless flame. But Golden States motivating is not the fear of losing its the joy of winning together
These were the NBA finals that the Golden State Warriors were losing last year, and yet they acted as if the whole thing was a joke. They were supposed to be practising in Clevelands arena, trailing the Cavalier 2-1 in the series, but this hardly looked like basketball practice.
Music boomed from mini-speakers the team brings on all road trips as players kicked balls around like they were on a soccer field. Several of them lined up for half-court shots. They were laughing. Anyone who walked into the arena that day would have gazed at the spectacle, more open gym at the Y than NBA workout, and decided the Warriors didnt care.
And suddenly everything attained sense to the teams general manager Bob Myers.
Sitting in the stands I had this epiphany, Myers says now. I said: I get it!
Basketball ought to be fun.
For months, he had tried to comprehend the gentle frenzy of Steve Kerr, the rookie head coach he hired the spring before to assistance his squad reach missed potential. Kerr was different from every coach-and-four Myers had known. He didnt shriek or push, yet his squad had dominated the Western Conference. Eventually, in the franchises most important series in decades, he understood that Kerrs brilliance came not from how hard he coached, but how content he made his players.
Steve had maintained those guys relaxed all year round, Myers says. Ask anybody if they can perform better at their chore if they have a level of elation around their chore. They will say yes. And if you can create elation while working with people you like, then you can do an either better job.
Want to understand how Golden State could come back from 3-1 down to the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the Western Conference Finals? Want to know why the Warriors are on the verge of a second-straight NBA title even as their best player, Steph Curry, fights to make his jump shots? The reason lies in that Cleveland morning. They have stimulated their squad the most wonderful place in sports.
You hear the word pleasure a lot around the Warriors, who are two wins from a second straight NBA title. This is not a common athletics term. The longstanding narrative says championships are earned through a relentless fire , not morning playtime. What was it Vince Lombardi once said to his Green Bay Packers? The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. The Warriors defined an NBA record for victories this year, winning 73 of 82 games. By that imperfect measure they are the best squad in NBA history, but they rarely speak in war metaphors. Their motivating is not the fear of lose, but the jubilance of winning together.
All the old gimmicks of conjuring foes dont apply with this team. There are no bulletin boards with dismissive quotes pinned to the front as a route to inspire anger. Several days in the last two years, Bruce Fraser, the Warriors shooting coach, has expected Kerr to explode at his players the way coach-and-fours do when things go wrong and he is always astonished when the cyclone never comes.
So, yes, just two wins from a second-straight title, that morning in Cleveland last June, where his players played football on the floor and took half-court shots , now induces perfect sense to Bob Myers. It is the justification for hiring an unproven head coach-and-four for the carefree Curry and the other players who had lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2014.
We felt, as an organization, that if we put two positive people together they would bud, he says of Kerr and Curry.
But none of them could have imagined this. And that, everyone agrees, is because of Curry.
Our best player is also our very best person, Myers says.
This is not the kind of thing basketball people say about superstars. Nobody called Michael Jordan the Chicago Bulls best person. Kobe Bryant was never adored by his Lakers team-mates. Their leadership was the kind we have become familiar with in sports. They were propelled by rage, conducted in accordance with anger. They fed off criticism, parsing their foes terms, searching for the merest clue of a slight that could kindle a flame. They pushed, harassed and humbled team-mates into winning, freezing out those they felt unworthy of their outrageous lust for victory.
Curry does not fury. He does not stare down team-mates or bully them in practice. His leadership comes from the happiness of find everyone succeed. His press conferences are rarely about himself, even in a year where reference is became the leagues first unanimous MVP. Several periods this season he has stopped conversations about his game to remind people that his fellow guard, Klay Thompson, is as valuable to the team as himself. Unlike most huge superstars who have an uneasy relationship with their so-called sidekicks, jealous of any attention that player gets, Curry wants everyone to bask in the same sunshine as himself.
Steve said it best: Steph plays with intensity but joy, Myers says.
Its hard to imagine another player like Curry pushing his team to titles with happiness. The closest might be San Antonio center Tim Duncan, who has never been a furious player. But Duncan has never looked like he is having the fun that Curry has, giggling as he launches shots from center tribunal. His contentment eludes every principle we hold sacred about superstars. Human of his stature are supposed to be angry. They demand perfection in in furious tones. Curry almost seems sad if everyone else doesnt using the same exhilaration as him.
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