We talk a lot about identity in sports, how the greatest teams over time, as a collective, develop a specific identity all their own.
The Detroit Bad Boy Pistons of the late 1980s had a clear-cut identity. If you drove the lane against them, you were coming out with blood on your uniform. The Lakers before them had Showtime, their rival Celtics far more blue-collar, presenting the ideal dichotomy between the two cities in which they played.
This holds true not only in basketball but across all sports, particularly with historically great teams, i.e., the1927 “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, the 1970s Purple People Eating Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates and the fun-loving 1986 New York Mets, to name only a few.
Identity doesn’t always translate into championships but it goes a long way in helping teams discover who they are and what they’re made of en route to infamy. Great teams take on the identity of their coaches, their cities, their fan bases and an oft-complicated hodge-podge of their own players’ personalities to ultimately become what defines them. It’s how we remember them over time; identity defines legacy.
Over the last two seasons, the Golden State Warriors became the latest NBA team to leave their mark on history establishing their own identity of the cocky, shoulder-shaking, three-point barrage of a basketball squad. High-scoring and flashy, yet tough and with substance, they became chart-toppingly popular. You’d be hard-pressed to find a casual basketball fan that didn’t end up rooting for the Warriors to a) break the regular season win-total record en route to b) winning an NBA championship. For much of the season, the Golden State bandwagon was ahead full steam
Well, something happened on the way to that championship and his name was LeBron James, a man who has also taken on several, different identities over his career. LeBron has gone from Cleveland messiah to Miami bad guy and back to savior again, all ironically without changing much himself. Or perhaps that’s not ironic at all considering identity has as much, if not more, to do with public perception than anything else. LeBron James, despite his otherworldly basketball skills, freight train-like physique and gazillion dollar salary, is actually a simple family man from the Midwest. God help anyone who wears a plaid shirt and switches jobs on national television for all to see for they will forever be persecuted.
But back to the Golden State Warriors. After LeBron and company showed they were actually invincible, the Warriors went out and got themselves a new small forward. Perhaps you’ve heard of Kevin Durant.
Adding a player of Durant’s caliber dramatically changes a team’s identity. The six Bulls teams that won championships over eight seasons in the 1990s all had interchangeable parts but the Jordan-Pippen-Phil Jackson core remained intact. There was no identity to change. They just went out and dunked on everyone in triangular fashion.
Rest assured the Warriors will do that as well. However, while adding a scorer of Durant’s magnitude may have coach Kerr smiling, you can bet at this very moment he’s figuring out how to maintain a delicate balance to keep all three of these scorers (Durant, Curry, Thompson) happy and in the scoring column as their accustomed to.
I’m not overly concerned with Klay Thompson’s statement that he wasn’t going to “sacrifice shit” next season. He is playing on the same Olympic team as his newest teammate Kevin Durant and I imagine they’re getting along just famously. Beating teams by fifty every outing generates a lot of smiles, at least for the winning team. Besides, Kevin Durant might be the least egotistical all-star the game has ever seen. I would imagine he’s a pretty easy fellow to get along with, even if he is used to taking twenty shots a game.
Despite what’s bound to be another successful season for Golden State, there will be bumps in the road as they work on their chemistry and attempt to find that identity.
There’s a common misconception that three all-stars guarantees an NBA championship. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce won in Boston. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh won two titles in Miami. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili rattled off four championships in San Antonio.
So what’s to stop Durant, Curry and Thompson from coasting to a championship in Oakland? Heck, Las Vegas has already listed their over/under at 68 ½ wins.
Here’s why I’m not yet sold on Golden State. The aforementioned big threes all had rebounders, guys that could play down low, power forward/center types that could make a defensive stand when needed and take a high percentage shot in the paint at the opposite end. The current Big Three in Golden State, while devastatingly sharp-shooting from the perimeter, don’t have that. I’m trying to think of a 1-2-3 (point guard-shooting guard-small forward) that ran through the league on their way to a championship and I’m drawing a blank.
And then there’s the whole identity thing.
I’m not saying the Warriors won’t win a championship (yes, actually, I am). I’m saying it’s far from a foregone conclusion that they do and the pressure on both Golden State, and more specifically Durant, to win will be greater than ever before.
These Golden State Warriors will inevitably forge their own identity with Kevin Durant on their roster. Things will come together and they will win a lot of ballgames. Whether those ballgames will translate into championships remains to be seen. You can be assured, however, that if they fail to do so, their identity will forever be that of underachievers.
At present , the entire NBA has an identity crisis .
Thank God for YouTube! It’s sad to say, but I’m a 54 yo guy who will sit at my kitchen table and watch the video clips of Bird and the Celtics going at it against the Pistons, Lakers & 76’ers (cage match). Matter of fact, I think I might just go watch another one. Spurs are the current definition of identity though – not GSW. I do like GSW but they need to prove that they can’t be pushed around. I’m not sure Durant changes that.
I think the league is doing just fine, Al. Sure they might be a pretty large discrepancy in the balance of power but I don’t think that’s anything new. I mean, shit, you have Lakers-Celtics in the Finals for nearly an entire decade.
Last year’s Finals ratings proved people are watching and furthermore, we’re talking about it plenty in the off-season.
There’s finally anticipation for next season which I’m not sure is something that can be said about the league in recent history.
As a kid watching those old Lakers-Celtics series, I wanted more. I found it got kind of boring that only those two teams made the Finals all the time.
Little did I realize at the time that I was watching two of the greatest basketball teams ever assembled and some of the greatest basketball ever played.
While I yearn for yesteryear like the rest of us, I do like what the game has become. Sure there are some slouches but there’s some damn good talent in this league.
I’m not sure if the current talent is historically Lakers-Celtics good but I guarantee you if you put LeBron James on one of those teams or even replaced say, Dennis Johnson with Kyrie Irving, those guys would be able to hold their own and then some.
How dare you mention three headed NBA monsters without dropping the names West, Chamberlain and Goodrich….Or Magic, Kareem and Worthy?
Steph, Klay and KD rank right up there with the best as far as a scoring trio…I wouldn’t bet against them winning because at the end of the day, the name of the game is outscoring your opponents…Though LeBron’s block heard round the world proves timely defense matters too.
I was concerned when they dumped Bogut because he was their paint protector, but they still have Draymond and Varajao as well as adding bigs David West and Zaza Paculia to hold down the paint. That might be enough to cover the loss of Bogut. …They have also recently taken a chance on Shaqtin’-a-Fool Hall of Famer JaVale McGee and invited him to camp. That could end up being a game changer if he can pull his head of of his ass long enough to contribute 20 minutes of solid defense nightly.
…And they still added KD and still have the core of Curry, Klay, Green, Iggy and Livingston. They are the favorites for a reason.
You are too damn funny, Bleed. I mentioned the Lakers in the first damn paragraph… just not by name.
Even so, they still didn’t comprise a 1-2-3 and that’s what scares me about Golden State.
Look, I don’t know how much West has left in the tank. And if Varejao were THAT important, Bron Bron would never have let him go. I guess I wouldn’t mind the McGee pick up if he got his head out of his ass.
None of those guys you mentioned are as good as a young Tristan Thompson and he’s not even all that good. He just gets the job done.
Would it shock the world if they didn’t even come out of the West?
Short answer? YES.
…Though those who look past San Antonio, do so at their own peril.
And yes, I have NEVER been one to hide my Lakers bias…I mean, my screen name says it all, no?
Wait a cotton pickin minute….
They don’t constitute a 1,2,3??
ALL SIX names I dropped are Hall of Famers.
And the only reason I subbed Goodrich for Baylor is that Gail was the leading scorer for that 72 championship squad, where Baylor retired 9 games into that season.
Matter of fact, if you look at it from another angle, both of those Lakers teams could be considered a Big Four because both had 4 HOF’s on the roster at some point if you add Jamaal Wilkes to the early Showtime squad and Baylor for the earlier incarnation…Even if it was for only 9 games.
Would Wilt, Jerry and Elgin fit your Big 3 criteria?
What I mean for one-two-three are their positions on the floor: point guard, shooting guard, small forward. That’s what Curry, Thompson and Durant are.
Wilt, Jerry and Elgin were champions, most definitely a big three. They just kept running into those damn Celtics.
Let’s be clear here. I don’t mind what the game has become in terms of skill / finesse. I’m just saying that the physicality that gets you thrown out of the game now was routine back then. Not saying yesteryear was more talented, but it was a whole lot more WWF than the patty-cake they play now. Go to the local rec league gym and watch those games. They look a whole lot like what we played or saw played in the day – no blood, no foul. Just shows my age I guess.
I think there’s plenty of contact in the game today. Sure there’s not as many forearm shivers but heck, they also cancelled tonight’s HoF game for fear of injury. Heck, when was the old Boston Garden ever suitable for playing?
And the kids I saw shooting around that inspired the piece were younger, literally launching shots from anywhere.
Again, much of this is to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not the Great Santini but I’d at least teach my kids the importance of a high percentage shot.
Gotcha. My bad.
Damn Celtics indeed.
I’m currently reading West by West…Jerry West’s book. That poor bastard won’t even go to Boston because of the torment constantly being bested by those little green fellows. Fortunately for me, I was too young to have to endure that kind of torture, but my dad filled me in on how frustrating it was to live through….Let alone PLAY through it like Jerry did. As valiant as his efforts may have been, in the end, second place is just that and it haunts him to this day.
I heard it was a big part of his pitch to convince Durant to come to the Bay.
I’m in the middle of that book too, Bleed. I picked it up a while back recognizing what a freak the guy was, then put it down, then picked it back up his work with the Warriors.
Guy’s got some demons but damn if he doesn’t know hoops.
I’m about half way in, maybe a little more…The most shocking part to me so far was the lack of respect Phil showed him once he was hired on.
…Maybe it goes back to their playing days because the Lakers and Knicks had some history with Finals match ups that they were both a part of. But still, West seems like a pretty stand up, humble dude. Even the Celtics referred to him as “Gentleman Jerry” at the peak of their rivalry. His accomplishments as both a player and GM speak for themselves. Phil’s blatant disrespect of Jerry seemed unwarranted as well as a bit classless to me.
I haven’t gotten to that part about Phil yet.
I’ll be on the lookout.