This Warriors’ NBA title is the sweetest of them all

The Golden State Warriors did it. They actually did it. Smashing through conventional wisdom and cold, hard mathematics, they are champions again. We’ve been spoiled, so we already sort of know the feeling. Except, it feels different this time. It feels better.

This was a sprawling, unlikely victory from a team that may or may not be allowed to call itself a dynasty now. Opinions vary, as they do! But opinions have to reorient around facts and the salient one is that the Warriors defeated the Beasts from the East in six hard-fought games, including three straight victories after going down 2-1. They won with not-my-first-rodeo mettle, and because Steph Curry is still pretty good at basketball.

The Warriors, who spent a good chunk of the regular season looking listless and playing with curiously low energy, flipped the script when it mattered most, annoyingly, just like they insisted they would. What I might have taken for lack of urgency and going through the motions morphed into unflappable confidence and iron resolve in the Finals. Like the Roman legions, they proved again and again they knew how to take one on the chin and keep grinding. It was a spectacular display of figuring out how to do just enough to make it work.

After the victory, flushed with champagne brains, the elation took different forms for the core trio. Steph Curry spilled some tears. Klay Thompson may have reaggravated the growing feud with Memphis. Draymond Green almost immediately recorded a podcast. Reporters asked where they’d rank this championship against the others; they asked themselves that. You could see, even when they tried to answer diplomatically, that this one was the most satisfying.

This one hits different.

The players know it. The fans know it. Even the haters, try as they might to deny this team any morsel of uncontaminated credit, know it in their currently somber hearts. Very few picked the Warriors to make it to the Finals, let alone emerge victorious. Some didn’t even have them making the playoffs. An 18-2 start put some shine on their campaign, but injuries to key guys and prolonged uninspiring slumps knocked them back down to earth. Curry broke the three-point record and promptly forgot how to shoot the ball. Klay’s return was beautiful but awkward. The vibes were off. The blistering start was a memory as they limped into a post-season full of dangerous teams playing better than them.

Then they did exactly what they used to do and just went out and won the whole damn thing. Never faced elimination. Two gentlemen-sweeps. What are they going to say now, Curry roared to Mistah FAB I’m not sure if he answered, but not to worry: They’re already saying things again, Steph! That’s what they do. But who cares?

This one hit different, because it was different. The things they say now no longer have power. It’s all sound and fury signifying being a whiny adult baby. The win didn’t feel like a restoration so much as an exorcism. And there was more to exorcise than just those last two disappointing seasons.

They said they didn’t earn that 2015 title because of injuries – and not just to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, let’s not forget Mike Conley had to wear a face mask for a few games! The 3-1 collapse in 2016 was, of course, a shot of schadenfreude heard around the world. That’ll teach those Bay Area Icaruses. Then Kevin Durant arrived and “ruined” the NBA. The outrage machine was deafening and, at the same time, we were realizing his fit was not-quite-right. That’s not to say NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, obviously. He walked into (at best) an awkward situation, and nobody can be shocked at all he wanted to do his own thing. It all adds up to a constant hum of semi-slander against Curry, the damning faint praise coming from every corner. It shouldn’t be so grating on the soul – because, you know, this really is all just a kid’s game or whatever – but it is.

The team we grew up loving, the team that was terrible like clockwork almost our entire lives, was seemingly all at once incredibly good and fun in head-spinning time and still we couldn’t completely enjoy it. Yes, you’d be right to call that a first-world problem. To most rational people, this sort of whining probably comes off as particularly brittle behavior from the blessed. The bottled-up energy of a student arguing with his professor over an A-. But it was a real thing. From above and below, the shade and disrespect was relentless, persistent, sometimes inventive. And maybe part of the reason it chafed was that maybe, just maybe, some of it was not totally wrong. Irving and Love were injured in 2015. The 2016 collapse was unbelievably brutal. The iteration of the team during Durant’s tenure was dominant but not exactly fun, and one has to admit, not exactly fair.

That’s why this championship feels, and sorry for the schmaltzy word, special. This may be the best it ever gets and that’s OK. A new beginning or a fitting end, it’s exactly the sort of gutsy, hard-fought win the critics demanded.

And now their conversation shifts yet again. The Warriors did it, but what does it all mean? Charles Barkley, a long-time curmudgeon regarding all things Golden State, hedged on whether we can finally refer to this team as a “dynasty” without stipulations. Four titles in eight years? Not quite a dynasty. Four titles in six years? Sure, that would qualify. This sort of arbitrary, off-the-cuff adjudication is a formidable coping mechanism. Did Grover Cleveland not serve two terms as president because they were not sequential? Are the Stuarts of England not considered a dynasty because Oliver Cromwell thought Charles I would look better without a head? Bill Simmons (to whose website I am an occasional contributor), fresh with anguish over the loss of his Celtics, agrees. Not a dynasty. This time, though, the noise isn’t seeping through. Their hearts aren’t in it. It’s a sad display. Sputtering, liquidated brains, bartering with objective reality.

It doesn’t matter if this team is a “dynasty” anyway. It never did. Dynasty is just a word. This team, especially this year, feels bigger. I’m kidding, this is obviously a dynasty! Shout it from the rooftops. There’s no good-faith argument against it. That being said, after this win the caterwauling has shifted from sinister to laughable. Water off a duck’s back. Enjoy tilting at windmills.

Can Gary Payton II and Kevon Looney stay? Did Otto Porter Jr. struggle just enough to take a reduced deal? How many bazillions of dollars are Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole going to get? Oh yeah, James Wiseman, there’s a seven-foot-tall question mark in italics. Right now, none of that is penetrating the joy of what this team bumbled and swaggered into accomplishing. Everything is fleeting and moments like this are too massive to worry about the salary cap or the mid-level exception or any of that, because – we’re not going to stop saying it – this one hits different. They could win two of the next three championships or 19 of the next 20 and still this will be the one we remember.

This victory is the crown jewel of an incredible era already bejeweled up the wazoo. But this is the one we’ve been waiting for and yearning for. And now I get to call my dad (who introduced me to these guys decades ago) on Father’s Day and see if he agrees. I’m sure he will. My dad’s a smart guy.

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