We’re more than halfway through the regular season, and the Warriors are finally delivering on their promise. According to most metrics (aside from the win-loss column), the Warriors are better than their world-beating regular-season selves last year. But they’re also duller. A lot duller. Despite all the potential for villainy and transcendent on-court performance, they’re not the cultural heavyweights they were last year. Why? The Ringer staff offers some reasons (and a lone voice of dissent).
Because They Have Kevin Durant
Shea Serrano: The Warriors have felt (mostly) boring this season because of one reason. One big reason. One 6-foot-11 reason: Kevin Durant. To be clear, Kevin Durant is not a boring basketball player. In fact, he can be quite exciting. But here’s the thing: Watching the pre-Durant Warriors, it felt like they had transcended the “You Have to Have a Superstar for Your Team to Be Excellent” theory. I mean, yes, Steph Curry is of course a superstar, but he always felt like an Underdog Superstar, you know what I’m saying? The stuff he was doing on the court was always in opposition to the way he appeared (unlike, say, LeBron, who looks like an Avenger and plays like an Avenger). So when they were reeling off win after win after win after win, it just really felt like there was a little bit of magic rolled up into everything. And that magic is what was so exciting.
You take that 2016 team and compare it to this 2017 version of the Warriors, who as of late have been even more dominant than last year’s Warriors, and it’s just like, “Well of course they’re destroying everyone, they have Kevin Durant.” Him being recognized as one of the five best basketball players on the planet for the past several years took that magic, that mysticism, that unexplainable allure of the Warriors, and made their excellence feel practical and expected. That’s why the Warriors have felt (mostly) boring this season. Because of Kevin Durant. (As a trade-off, though, Kevin Durant will be the reason they win the title this year.) Basically what I’m saying is: Bring back Harrison Barnes. Let’s get this fucking party started.
Because Steph Curry Is Bad at Being a Celebrity
Juliet Litman: There are a few mainstays of a Warriors broadcast: Graphics about the shooting percentages of Curry and Klay Thompson, Ros Gold-Onwude’s sideline reports, and crowd shots of Steph’s family in attendance, which usually includes his wife, Ayesha, and his parents. And during the breaks, there are Steph Curry commercials. Check that. There are Curry commercials.
Is there any other NBA superstar who shares commercials with his wife? Chris Paul and LeBron James have ads with their sons. Wanda Durant makes an appearance in Kevin Durant’s Thunderstruck. No other superstar costars in his own ads. Steph may be a model husband, father, and son, but he is the most boring of celebrities. The Warriors share the ball, but I’d prefer it if Steph refused to share the spotlight. Make statements beyond sneakers paying tribute to Obama. Get angry when you’re benched on defense. Go at Kyrie next time he embarrasses you. Write an open letter to your fans. Post a screenshot of your notes app on Twitter. This is what true stars do, and Steph should play the part right.
Because They Aren’t Chasing History the Way They Did Last Year
Danny Chau: In spite of all the concern trolling we’ve both endured and projected in the first half of the season, the Warriors are, at this point, exactly what we thought they’d be. They’ve separated themselves from the rest of the NBA; there is only one team within four games of their win-loss record. For all the side drama, they’ve mostly made good on their promise of an on-court utopia, with an assist percentage of 71, the highest rate since the 2003–04 New Jersey Nets assisted on 71.4 of their field goals. But even excellence can become blasé without a compelling backdrop. There is no 24–0 this year, no 45 straight home wins, no realistic shot at beating 73–9. Their opening-night loss to the Spurs shattered the Warriors’ air of invincibility before it even had time to set; their Christmas Day loss to the Cavs felt like a rerun when you were expecting an all-new episode; their overtime loss to the Grizzlies was either soul-draining or soul-satisfying, depending on your vantage.
But it’s in those losses that the Warriors have felt, ironically, most like the Warriors of last year. With a team so great, the actual regular-season game doesn’t matter as much as the metagame the Warriors impose on themselves. Chasing history is part of that; so is watching a rupture in the team’s faith amid a collapse, like what occurred against Memphis. This Warriors iteration is legitimately one of the best basketball teams I’ve ever seen, but at some point last season, the franchise became a cultural presence. And as such, they’ve been substandard. Going 32–1 for the rest of the season would bring the eyes of the world back upon them. So would a five-game losing streak.
Because They Have No Rivals Out West
Jonathan Tjarks: It’s easy to forget now, but the Warriors weren’t chasing 73 wins last season just because they wanted to make history. The Spurs were breathing down their necks all year long, only relenting during the final week of the season and finishing with 67 wins. Everything was building toward an epic showdown in the playoffs.
While we didn’t get Spurs-Warriors in the conference finals, we got something even better in Warriors-Thunder. The Thunder were the perfect foil for the Warriors: a team built around two ball-dominant superstars who could overwhelm you with elite athleticism and one-on-one play. The real tragedy of Durant signing with Golden State isn’t that he made them too good; it’s that he robbed the Warriors of their greatest rival in the conference.
There’s just nothing to look forward to in the postseason, at least until their inevitable third bout with the Cavs in the Finals. The Spurs have taken a step back. The Clippers are always injured, and even when healthy, they haven’t had many answers for the Warriors. Maybe you can talk yourself into the Rockets or Grizzlies or Jazz, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we are just playing out the string until June.
The defining play of the Warriors season last year was Steph’s 38-foot buzzer beater to beat the Thunder. There’s just no one out there out West who can push them to that extent, and it’s kind of sad. And a little boring.
Because the Games Are Over Before They Even Begin
Micah Peters: I don’t know that boring is quite the word. Because I don’t want to further refract the optics of Durant’s Independence Day through the prism of moral superiority, I’m going to put this in the simplest and most selfish terms possible: I now have to be on time each and every time I want to watch a game the Warriors are playing in, and it’s bullshit. What if I’m on my way to catch the latest installment in a formerly great rivalry between the Warriors and the Clippers at a friend’s house, and I get frozen in the beer aisle at the supermarket trying to decide between light and hoppy? I show up a just a little late, and stuff like this is already happening.
“But Micah, there was plenty of game left,” you might say. Steph would later hit a casual half-court floater and belly slide into the half with his team up 21 points on the current 4-seed in the West. I don’t wanna hear it.
On Inauguration Day, Chris Ryan and I were trying to find a dim-enough bar in which to avoid all eye contact while taking in the Warriors-Rockets re-up (Houston beat them on their home floor on the back of a billion 3s in December). But this time around, Golden State harried them into last-ditch pump fakes and wild, contested prayers well behind the 3-point line, from whence they went a ghastly 7-for-35. Houston went into the locker room down only five, but it felt like a lot more, mostly because of the Jaws theme music that plays in my head through the halftime commercial breaks and into the restart. Golden State scored 37 in the third on the way to 125–108 win against a 3-seed that’s been playing the platonic ideal of basketball for the better part of the season. Maybe “inevitable” is the right word. The 2017 Warriors are the 2016 Warriors with flat black, self-repairing armor and a grenade launcher attachment.
Because Steve Kerr Is the Team’s Most Interesting Character
Jason Concepcion: The overarching reason for the Warriors being boring is that sports are entertainment. Entertainment requires interesting characters and story lines. And everyone on the Warriors is boring. Steph Curry? Boring. Kevin Durant? “The Servant”? Snoozefest. Klay Thomzzzzzzzz … wha … oh, excuse me. Draymond Green? His penis has been on the internet. After that, what else is there? Boring. JaVale McGee playing under control? My eyes just glazed over. Zaza Pachulia is less interesting than the idea of Zaza playing in the All-Star Game. All so very, very boring. Except for Steve Kerr. When the coach is the most compelling person on an NBA team, that squad is — according to Article 21 in the statute “S.A. Spurs 1999–2016” — ipso facto boring.
In fact, to say that Kerr is interesting, or compelling, or any other oft-used adjective in the sports milieu, is to sell him short. His perspective is legitimately important.
His grandparents, Stanley and Elsa Kerr, were humanitarian workers based out of Aleppo, Syria. They settled in Lebanon where they ran an orphanage for children displaced by the Armenian genocide. After the orphanage was shuttered, the couple taught at the American University of Beirut for 40 years. Malcolm Kerr, Steve’s father, was born in Beirut, Lebanon, then under French administration, in 1931. Malcolm would spend the rest of his life shuttling between the U.S. and the Middle East in various academic capacities for the AUB and UCLA. Steve Kerr, like his father, was born in Beirut in 1965.
In 1982, Malcolm was offered the presidency of the American University of Beirut. The Lebanese civil war, a sprawling, multisided cacophony of internecine destruction which began in 1975, was still underway. Kerr accepted. In January 1984, he was assassinated outside of his office.
Recently, Kerr was asked his opinion on the president’s executive order barring people entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. “I would just say that as someone whose family member was a victim of terrorism, having lost my father, if we’re trying to combat terrorism by banishing people from coming to this country, by really going against the principles of what our country is about and creating fear, it’s the wrong way of going about it,” he said. “If anything, we could be breeding anger and terror. So I’m completely against what’s happening.”
Counterpoint: The Warriors Are Not Boring
Sean Fennessey: Here are some things that are boring: auto racing on television; the novels of Theodore Dreiser; people explaining their dreams; those same people explaining poker hands; The Americans; Mike Trout; New American cuisine.
Here is what is not boring:
Being excellent can never be boring. The Warriors are indisputably excellent. Perhaps not on the pace that last season’s Warriors team was, and given that the team has added the most elegant NBA scorer of the millennium, the expectations have become unreasonable. But I reject the notion that making something look easy — the primal power of effortlessness, the execution of a sound plan — is considered repellent.
The NBA die-hards in this blog post must eject from their League Pass chamber of secrets, stop looking for things to like in the abominable Brooklyn Nets, and discontinue breathlessly tracking the progress of marginal Denver Nuggets figures. We are living in a time in which four of the 12 best NBA players are on the same team. If only for purely historical reasons, we must watch and understand. Life is not so simple as to ignore power this great. You know how I know? I live in 2017. Is the fate and narrative momentum of the NBA season deadened by a ruthlessly efficient Golden State Warriors team? Certainly. But since when do die-hards only care about results? Trust this process, too.