The Golden State Warriors, the happiest squad in sports

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.

Marreese Speights and Ian Clark share a joke before Game 5 against the Thunder. Photo: Noah Graham/ NBAE/ Getty Images

Stephs a pleaser, says Fraser. He wants to please people. Its an incredibly redeeming quality.

A few weeks ago Fraser, who works the most with Curry of any Warriors coaches, asked the MVP how many of the off tribunal things he did the charity appearances, the interviews, the favors for friends of friends of friends were because he simply didnt want to say no. Curry paused. The fact you are thinking about it means that it exists, Fraser said to him.

Curry shrugged off the conversation, as Fraser expected he would. And telling the narrative now, on the side of the Warriors practice court one recent afternoon, he chuckles and shakes his head.

How do your guys remain happy? We have guys like that, Fraser says. How do you not remain happy around a guy like Steph? We have good pieces that complement the whole. Its a great place to start if you are going to build something really good.

Fraser has been around the NBA long enough to see how great players act. Most big stars come off jerks, he says. They are self-absorbed, which is a natural byproduct of their notoriety. He understands how this can happen. He wont judge such behavior harshly. Narcissism is often the driver of athletic potency. Belittling others to conjure success is something most big stars on most champs do. They demand their team-mates are burning to win as much as them.

Even after an NBA title and two MVP awardings Curry remains the cheerful player who giggles with team-mates, takes 100 shots after practise, and performs an elaborate home pre-game ritual that involves a number of Oracle Arena playing starring roles.

He is the first huge hotshot who doesnt intellect being a huge superstar, but doesnt want to act like one.

Thats whats so miraculous about everything there is, Fraser says.

When Kerr first took over the Warriors in May of 2014, he and Fraser gratified for coffee nearly every day to plot the culture they wanted to create with their new squad. They wanted to do this right. Eventually all the coaches went on a retreat to Napa to discuss their vision even more. They came back with a listing of four values that has served as the base for what they have become: competition, mindfulness, compassion and joy.

And when we hit all four of those things, we are not just very tough to beat, but we are very fun to watch and very fun to coach and to be around, deputy coach-and-four Luke Walton says.

The easy presumption is that Kerr is a copy of Phil Jackson, who coached him for five seasons with the Chicago Bull, s back when the Bulls owned the basketball world. This is partially true. Kerr has clearly pulled from Jackson, who was known more for his unorthodox motivational tactics with players like Jordan and Bryant than his in-game coaching maneuvers. You can see evidence of Jackson in the way Kerr manages players, encouraging them to try things like yoga and meditation.

Sometimes Fraser will look at the team, sense they are tired, like he did one time on a road trip-up to Minneapolis, and say to Kerr: Lets do something Phil would do. And sometimes when Fraser suggest this, Kerr will listen and do something like he did that day, in Minneapolis, when he canceled practice and took the Warriors bowling.

But Kerr has taken things from every coach-and-four and every team he was involved with as a player, from Lute Olson at Arizona to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. His approach is a confluence of ideas and experiences, good and bad, that have been melded into a style he embraces.

Steve has been able to balance our players, Myers says. You can still detest to lose, but that doesnt have to be everything. It cant is around hating to lose. Somewhere this squad has received the joy of winning, too.

Perhaps this has a lot to do with how Golden State survived the conference finals, after they appeared certain to be done when Oklahoma City blew them out in Games 3 and 4. Curry was struggling, and the Warriors seemed lost, yet their confident rhetoric never hesitated. Curry kept as each big game approached. Kerr repeatedly spoke of biding on the same route. There was strangely little worry on a squad that had defined a record for victories in a season and was suddenly facing their first adversity and didnt seem to have the answers.

Then, when the Thunder did panic, throwing up wild shots in Game 6 and 7 collapses, the happy Warriors chugged merrily along, riding big games from players like Thompson and Andre Iguodala, showing that unlike Jordan and Bryants championship teams, their culture does not demand that Curry carry them.

We dont look at the instant outcome, Fraser says. Some squads look at the instant result, and if we stumble that doesnt detract from the ultimate aim. I think that this is a unique team. The day-to-day doesnt affect us. That process is our day and as long as the process is productive and has pleasure to it then we feel we have been successful.

How many other teams could shrug at the loss of their head coach-and-four at the start of the season the way Golden state did when Kerr missed four months after back surgery? Instead of stumbling through the opening weeks, the Warriors won their first 24 games and were 39 -4 when Kerr returned in late January. Who, too, could overcome the loss of a player like Curry for much of the playoffs first two rounds and continue to win when he has still not been himself against the Thunder and Cavaliers?

Imagine the Bulls winning championships with a hobbled Jordan or the great Lakers teams of a few years back marching through the playoffs without Bryant. But the culture Kerr set up with the Warriors demands the next-man-up should be ready to thrive. Walton seamlessly replaced Kerr in the same easy way that Shaun Livingston and Iguodala picked up for the fallen Curry. Nothing changes, the winning maintains happening.

Much of that is Kerrs ability to build every player and coach feel important to the success, regardless of their role. He didnt start for much of his NBA career and can relate to the annoyance of not playing as much as some players. I have a lot of empathy for bench players having been one myself, Kerr said after Game 2. Jackson was great at getting people to accept lesser places on clubs the hell is winning; Kerr has espoused that too.

If you look at the history of our season, and seasons, youll see this guy didnt play for three games, and then he comes in and has a big night for us or does something, Fraser says. I believe once players understand they are not left out and they will be involved, they stay involved, and their minds become actively involved, and their bodies become active.

You dont lose at the end of the bench, and that helps the exhilaration, too, because if you are losing guys( then) thats human nature to only not care. All of our guys care, and thats a powerful thing.

After the Warriors lost the first game of the Oklahoma City series, Myers was amused where reference is heard Curry say in a postgame press conference that he thought it would be fun is how the team responded in Game 2. This was a jarring thing to come from a player of Currys level. Fun? Could anything be fun after a playoff loss?

Looking back, he chuckles.

Who says that? he asks.

He loves that Golden States best player doesnt obsess over himself which entails he doesnt berate his teammates after a defeat. Instead he remains measured, trying not to seem frazzled when things dont progressing well. He doesnt rattle so the Warriors dont rattle.

Steph has a quiet confidence, and Steve does too, Myers said. Both lead with confidence and a sense of meeknes. You are under such great scrutiny as a player and a coach-and-four. It can be hard. But both sets of guys are very confident in their ability to lead without arrogance.

Yes, there is rage on Warriors. Kerr, for example, smashed his clipboard during a timeout the other night. And star forward Draymond Green has exploded so much at public officials and resisting players, famously kicking the groin of Thunder center Steven Adams in the last series, that he is precariously close to a league suspension. But even his fire fits Golden States system, complementing Currys gentle approach when the team requires someone to scream.

Steph gives us our culture, Draymond dedicates us our voice, Fraser says.

Sometimes Fraser worries that he sounds sappy talking about Kerr and Curry and the rest of the Warrior. He imagines no one else can believe what it is like because its like nothing he has been around in his coaching life. Its like nothing any of them have been around. Its just what it has been for the last two seasons and maybe a for a little bit longer

The happiest place in sports.

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