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The Battle for the Warriors’ Soul Is Just Beginning

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Getty Images

Are the Golden State Warriors villains? On Sunday, coach Steve Kerr weighed in, contending that the recent vilification of his players is unfair. “To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd. Especially Kevin,” Kerr told ESPN Radio’s TMI With Michelle Beadle and Ramona Shelburne. “This is one of the most likable people in this league. He’s just an awesome human being. What he did in Oklahoma City was just amazing for that community.”

And to Kerr’s point, the Warriors are many things: the greatest regular-season team in NBA history, the shocking losers of the 2016 Finals, and the almost comically assured favorites entering the 2016–17 season. But whether they are still seen as national sweethearts, the next iteration of the 3-point-launching golden boys who took the league by storm en route to 73 wins, or whether they’ve become something a little tougher and meaner is very much up for debate. As we wait for the Durant-Curry-Thompson-Green superteam to inherit the earth, it’s worth considering just who gets to determine the Warriors’ identity.

Does the team belong to the players, who strained throughout last season to burst out of their Boy Scout mold, and then executed a nationally televised heel turn in a blaze of groin kicks and flying mouthguards? Does it belong to Kerr and the rest of the coaching staff, who saw magic where everyone else saw bad ankles, or to majority owner Joe Lacob and his partners, who refashioned the team in Silicon Valley’s image and infamously bragged about being “light-years ahead” of every other franchise? Does it belong to long-suffering fans, who looked on as a perennial loser became good and then great and then the best ever, and who were there in 2007 when the team made its first playoff appearance in 13 years and offed the top-seeded Mavericks? Or does it belong to newer fans, who fell in love with Steph and Klay and Dray and then with the NBA, who may have priced some of the older fans out of Oracle Arena, but who more than likely represent the future of the team’s base?

For now, Durant and his new teammates seem intent on steering the conversation — and donning the mantle of being take-no-prisoners bad guys, much in the way the Heat did after LeBron James christened them a superteam in 2010. “I can’t say that I haven’t been a villain once or twice in my career anyway — so, looking forward to it,” Draymond Green told ESPN’s Marc Stein in an interview last month.

And for all his insistence that his team’s growing bad rap is unfair, Kerr has also acknowledged that there may be something of a strategy to it. “At first we were on our honeymoon period and then we got married I guess,” he said in response to Green’s comments. “Reality kind of set in. We had that feeling of being the villain, or whatever. Now I’m sure we will be more so. But you want to be one or the other. You want to be either the darling or the villain. When you’re stuck in between and nobody cares, that’s when you’ve got a problem.”

In other words: If Golden State can no longer have our universal adoration, it will try like hell to win our scorn. The battle to control the Warriors’ narrative is just beginning, and if the players’ and staffers’ early remarks are any indication, everyone in the organization is concerned with shaping it.