The Warriors were a whit petulant when they were darlings. This was three seasons ago, when they were first racking up 23-point wins and Steph Curry had overcome seemingly chronic injury to redefine the parameters of three-point range. Steve Kerr removed the car boot Mark Jackson had installed on the offense and the ball moved as if by itself, to wherever it was happiest and Draymond Green thrilled the press by walking the line between candor and villainy. To posit this joy as a shell that encased a bracing blast of douche chill—Steph’s signature come-on-and-praise-me celebration, Draymond and Klay Thompson lecturing LeBron James about manhood, Harrison Barnes’s clueless fledgling tech mogul aesthetic—would’ve scanned as petty. That didn’t stop all of us, but the definitive verdict was that the Warriors were fun and deserving champs.
Then they showed up for their title defense curiously pissed off. They were the consensus best and most widely liked team in the league, but they spent the preseason acting wounded, ostensibly miffed that—what, people had the gall to point out that they had had some seeding and injury luck on their way to winning it all? That some folks found it impressive that, without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, LeBron had taken a couple games off them flanked by the 2012 Knicks? The Warriors were up to their snotty noses in rightful praise, but they wanted credit for something they didn’t do. Klay and Draymond tough-talked the Clippers for crashing out of the playoffs too early. Barnes, who shot 37 percent in The Finals, tweeted a picture of himself dunking on LeBron. Steph apologized facetiously for snatching a ring, as if anyone had asked him to.
In response to the imagined doubters, the Warriors ripped off a furiously spiteful 73-win season. At some point in the middle of that run, public sentiment began to curdle. That they owned this was perhaps the most perversely likable thing about them. They stayed grouchy and bellowingly superior, blowing teams out, starters cracking on opponents from the sidelines during purely academic fourth quarters. But the Warriors’ blistering year didn’t end like everyone expected. Steph had a poor, slightly gimpy Finals; Draymond lost his head at the worst possible moment; and LeBron summoned three consecutive all-time performances to deliver northeast Ohio a championship. It was an exceedingly well-played and perfectly tense series, decided by empty, aching legs in the closing minutes of a Game 7. Both teams looked like they might to go full “Death of a Racehorse” at the final buzzer.
So, a rubber match in 2017? Nah. The Warriors balked and signed Kevin Durant.
No one consciously becomes death. Donald Trump is so loopily nihilistic because he’s trying to collapse time and get his deceased dad to retroactively love him. Jamie Dimon kicks families out of their homes without a second thought because he’s chasing a bottom line. Our desires—no matter how generous or stupid they might be—are not destructive by themselves, but the intensely myopic pursuit of them can lead us deep into other people’s contempt. The Warriors wanted to insulate themselves from future failure by dismantling their strongest Western Conference rivals while rendering themselves insurmountably more talented than LeBron James and his charges. Durant wanted to win a title and considered only which team would make that task easiest.
We can respect Durant and the Warriors’ right to do this while also admitting that it’s a massive cop-out, the likes of which the NBA has never seen. The league’s last three superteams—Pierce-Garnett-Allen, LeBron-Wade-Bosh, LeBron-Kyrie-Love— have altered its balance of power, but they were also constructed out of whole cloth. We knew the moment they came together that they would be title contenders, but they weren’t known quantities, and, thankfully, for entertainment’s sake, they ended up being beatable. Durant joined a 73-win squad that lost The Finals by the tips of LeBron’s fingers and a long late Kyrie Irving jumper. Joe Lacob is a mouthy, importunate clod, but he did get one thing right recently: the Warriors were the better team last year by a comfortable margin. But they weren’t invincible. After adding Durant, nobody can hang with them.
They didn’t need to waste any actual games proving this point. We all want the league not to be decided in July, so we spent the offseason picking nits and inventing problems, but, one ultimately inconsequential Durant injury aside, the Warriors have strode frictionlessly toward glory. They’re as ennui-inducingly dominant as we feared they would be.
For their part, the Warriors are having a gas scorching the Cavs like a rocket booster cooking a steak. They can keep doing this for at least a handful of seasons more. Their stars seem amenable to taking relatively mild pay cuts and Lacob is competitive enough to pay a steep luxury tax bill for a while. At the end of their reign, they will have planted themselves beside Jordan’s Bulls and Bird’s Celtics as one of the great dynastic powers in league history. There’s no weighty if here. Barring some grand, improbable player collusion that creates a coequal juggernaut or catastrophic injury, the Warriors are certain to reach whatever heights they aspire to.
Will they find this labor-light conquest satisfying? The Warriors put themselves on a cross, then clambered down and picked up a machine gun. They don’t cut the figure they think they do, but nor do they care. We all get reality wrong; we all get lost in our obsessions. Nobody looks in the mirror and sees exactly what they are. It’s that the Warriors have made this everybody else’s problem that makes them villains, that turns their glee sour and dull and bleak.