the bigger picture

words: erik malinowski

art: kimou meyer

"I only scored two points. Why the fuck would anyone want to talk to me?"


I doubt anyone else heard Draymond Green utter those words besides myself and a senior member of the Golden State Warriors’ media relations staff, but I think about them all the time.


We were in the Warrior’s locker room last season,  a half-hour after a pedestrian 20-point win over the visiting Detroit Pistons. Green had missed all four of his shot attempts but racked up 13 assists and nine rebounds, all while anchoring a defense that forced 19 turnovers and held the Pistons to 21 percent shooting on threes. In other words, it was a very Draymond Green-type of game, so of course the media would want to speak with him afterward.


A few minutes after head coach Steve Kerr compared Green’s play to that of Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman—"competitive freaks" was how Kerr described his current power forward and his old Chicago Bulls teammate—Green took to the dais that sits in Oracle Arena’s press conference room and readily embraced the Rodman comp. “He’s a Hall of Famer, his jersey is retired,” Green said. “I can only hope those things happen in my career.” Of course, the Warriors were already very much accustomed to the role of NBA superpower and rolling toward their second championship in three years. Yet this was a moment where they didn’t seem to comprehend or even accept the greatness that was obvious to anyone else.


The Warriors are now entering year four of one of the greatest sustained runs of success by any NBA team ever, but the way they play and the way they act off the court seems to belie much of that burgeoning reputation. Steph Curry, confident to the point of cocky, is defined more by the archetype of the humble, family man superstar. There’s little that Kevin Durant can’t do with a basketball, but his recent social media faux pas show even he’s capable of shouldering massive self-doubt. And Green, whose unbridled bluster has transformed him into one of the NBA’s must-watch stars, can’t understand why the media would want to interview someone who only put up two measly points on the stat sheet. If much of what the Warriors do is unfathomable to NBA crowds, they often have trouble fathoming it themselves.


Perhaps this is something you only witness if you’ve spent any appreciable time around the players. I’ve covered them since 2011; I even wrote a book detailing just about every move and machination that went into constructing this behemoth. (The book just came out. You’d probably like it!) While Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History focuses on the franchise’s embrace of science and Silicon Valley principles, it also illuminates the disconnect between what the team has accomplished and where they see their own place in history. Even after three seasons atop the NBA, the Warriors have somehow maintained a sense of normalcy, of profound grounded-ness, even as their stars continue to ascend.


Some three weeks after the Pistons win, the Warriors whup the Charlotte Hornets at home in Oakland, thanks to Steph Curry’s 39 points on 11-of-15 shooting from deep. After the game, as Curry is getting dressed, his father Dell, who is in town as a color commentator for the visitors, enters the room and steps up to say goodbye to his son. He’s wearing a classic high school-style backpack, which looks extremely dad-like with the two shoulder straps coming out and around his suit jacket, but that’s fine because he’s very much in Dad Mode at this moment. No one is standing within 10 feet of them, so the greatest shooter in NBA history (right after one of his most sterling performances of the season) gets to just spend a private, relaxing moment with the man who drove him to tears so many summers ago as they worked to rebuild a cockeyed shooting stroke from scratch. Curry is a player who is regularly derided as a product of privilege, due to his father’s 16 years in the NBA, but this encounter felt eminently relatable to me, my zero years of NBA experience notwithstanding.


That moment was a rarity; now, it feels like an impossibility. Heading into the 2017-18 season, the team has never been more enveloped by this circus atmosphere—or, for all the inevitability surrounding their nascent dynasty, more defined by uncertainty. The Warriors will rule the roost for the foreseeable future. The question is, what’s really left for them to do?


They’ve broken their share of individual records. Curry has swished 13 threes in a game. Klay Thompson, who would be content to never give another interview so long as he’s hooping, truly scored 60 points in one night despite fewer than 30 minutes of playing time. (That one I still wouldn’t believe if I hadn’t been there.) And Kevin Durant (along with each of his online aliases) strung together 72 straight games of 20 or more points or more; only Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson have pulled that off.


As a team, the Warriors have scraped the NBA’s stratosphere like no team before them. They won 73 games in a season and 207 across the past three, marks that will likely never be bested. They won a league-record 54 straight times at home. The Warriors’ 16 wins in 17 postseason games this past spring? By winning percentage, it stands as the most dominant run to a title in league history.


Going forward, every ensuing title will likely be remembered less on its own merits and memories and more for how the team continues to stitch together the pieces of its still-evolving legacy, which could become increasingly less sports-dependent, simply because there’s nothing left for them to prove there. If interactions with the White House over the past few weeks are any indication, the Warriors seem poised to use their platform to perform feats on a broader, societal level, to not just help imbue Colin Kaepernick’s social movement with long-term visibility but tackle any number of other political or socioeconomic issues. I’ve never been around a team that is this comfortable with who they are and full well understands not just the power of their words but the influence of their actions. In an age where the definition of what qualifies as “sports” has never been broader, the Warriors feel like a team suited just for this moment.


Maybe all that humility and self-doubt in the face of unprecedented basketball greatness was a trial run for something even bigger. And maybe it’s also the underlying reason why all this has come about so swiftly, since to fully comprehend the breadth and scope of their influence would be, in some way, to impede its true, natural progression. Sometimes Klay Thompson gleefully folding box scores into paper airplanes after a ho-hum win last fall is as goofy and trivial as it seems, but I also don’t think you can master the bigger stuff until you’ve fully embraced the small.