This is good, this is very good. Sports is better with a villain. The Warriors have embraced that identity, possibly without even knowing it, like Anakin Skywalker slowly evolving into Darth Vader. Not long ago Golden State was a Jedi, righteous, fun-loving, the Good Guys. But the Duplicitous Dubs have been swayed to the dark side by their own success, arrogance and a willingness to be disliked.
Emperor Palpatine urged Luke Skywalker, “Use your aggressive feelings boy. Let the hate flow through you.” And the Warriors seem to have done so. After Thursday’s 122-96 beatdown of the Thunder it’s clear the Warriors enjoyed every bit of the thrashing. Much was made of Russell Westbrook’s first encounter with Kevin Durant after their messy divorce. The Devilish Dubs encouraged KD to let his inner dark side out and attack his former team, to even keep pouring it on late in the blowout.
The Warriors mean-mugged, laughed and danced throughout the night, making sure KD’s divorcees knew just how bad the butt-whipping was. The jawing never ceased from tip to buzzer. “Apparently, they talk a lot of trash now,” Westbrook said postgame. “We’ll see how that goes.”
Is that a new development for Golden State? “I guess so. I mean, I guess that’s what they do,” said Russ.
Oh, yes Russ. This is indeed what they do now. But as Westbrook notes, this is a recent development, fueled by success and a self-recognition of just how talented they are. Anyone with eyes noticed a very different Warriors attitude last season. En route to their record 73 wins, the Windbag Warriors reminded everyone in their wake how great they were. Columns were written titled, “Warriors Arrogance Runs Deep.” Steph Curry initiated the eyebrow-raising move of talking trash before the shot actually drops. During the arc of the parabola from 26 feet was apparently the right time to let opponents know how good he was.
The Dancing Dubs made shots and danced on everyone, everywhere. In an NBA that has no physical recourse for rivalries and hate, Golden State could shimmy and shake without fear of repercussion. Imagine pulling off these maneuvers against the Bad Boy Pistons, Pat Riley’s Knicks, or Jordan’s Bulls? The Splash Brothers skulls would be pressed into basketball puree in the paint.
In June the Warriors showed little esteem for one of the greatest ever, a player who had willed a carcass of a team to a 2-1 series lead against Golden State in the ’15 Finals. If there was any opponent that could respect LeBron James competitive fire it should’ve been Golden State. LeBron put up the greatest statistical Finals ever against them in the 6-game loss. Instead, the Disrespectful Dubs chided him for his altercation with Draymond Green, unabashedly called out his masculinity, and snickered at him in the media.
Of course, Green was the dodo in the clown suit when the dust settled. He was suspended for Game 5, LeBron smartly didn’t retaliate and risk his own league punishment, and the Cavs began their three-game quest at history. The Warriors were delivered a monstrous, sloppy serving of humble pie.
But that has not changed their tune coming into this season, and that’s better for all of us. They have given us an easy villain, the Evil Empire of the NBA. It stems from the top, where owner Joe Lacob in the infamous New Times Magazine profile last spring said his franchise was “light years ahead of probably every other team” in how they operated their business. “We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team.” Oh.
Yet one of the most perfectly assembled teams in history was willing to break apart important pieces of its roster to land the biggest of fish, Durant. It almost seemed unfair, a league MVP joining a squad that just won 73 games? It has only given this franchise even more to crow about and us to revile. Which is perfect.
The Splash Brothers are children of NBA players, suburban sharpshooters who grew up joking around in courtside seats. In their breakthrough championship season the masses were left applauding like seals for more fish by Golden State’s passing, cutting, and beautiful basketball. They were compared to one of the most iconic and appreciated teams of all time, the ’70s Knicks. It was the good guys playing great basketball and giving the game a gift.
Two years later, they are the bad guys walking into the saloon, spilling drinks on patron’s heads, and challenging everyone to a gun fight. The Warriors don’t want to just win, they want you to fear them, loathe them. They have called their shot to the rest of the league, like the Emperor telling Luke, “Come, boy, see for yourself. From here, you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance and the end of your insignificant rebellion.”
In the end, the Warriors are overflowing with talent and experience. They are roundly motivated to push past their epic collapse this summer. And they are not shy about their goals and abilities. What could be their flaw?
Perhaps only what Luke told the Emperor: “Your overconfidence is your weakness.”
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.