Once again, the Golden State Warriors met a challenge they didn’t like and whipped it anyway. Once again, they were congratulated and fawned over for the wrong reason. And in the end, none of it mattered, because when you win eight of every nine games, you get to say whatever you want about what it all means.
In beating San Antonio Sunday night in the Pop-O-Drome, 92-86, the Etats d’Or re-established the true pecking order in the Western Conference while reacquainting themselves with the difficulties that await in the postseason. They started slowly, had a hard time establishing an offensive rhythm, and then used their defense to make the offense go and run away from the second best team in the sport.
You know, the way they used to in the good old days of 2015, when winning a title was merely unthinkable.
Yet all anyone really wanted to discuss was how they were now within Wednesday’s final regular season game against Memphis of breaking the single season wins record currently held by . . . well, you know. It’s not like you could avoid it given that it has become the nation’s principal numerical fixation.
You know, using the regular season to explain the things we have traditionally used the playoffs to do – define greatness in April because we haven’t the patience to wait until June.
After all, the Warriors as they currently exist serve us by allowing us to force a perspective upon their era while their era is still emergent. We want them to be called the best team ever without having won the requisite number of rings, and we resent when the oldtimer/coot element diminishes their accomplishments without our permission.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors win 72 in San Antonio, tie Bulls' record]
Fortunately for the Warriors themselves, none of this seems to penetrate. They needed a few brushes with failure to remember how difficult winning championships is supposed to be, but now they seem fully cognizant of what really is at stake here.
Rings. Not reputations.
We are an odd group of sports fans, you see, in that we say we want one thing but much prefer the other. We claim we want good behavior from our athletes, but we are most interested not in the behavior but the quality of the apology when the behavior goes bad. We claim to enjoy the rags-to-riches tale when in fact we much more greatly admire the towering colossus, to the point where we feel compelled to say that sports is better when the Yankees/Dodgers/Lakers/Celtics/Patriots/Cowboys/UConn women are at their butt-kicking, name-taking best.
Indeed, we put it to you that more people are fascinated by the Warriors chasing a relatively valueless regular season record now than were interested in them a year ago. Coming off the pace to win isn’t what we really enjoy. It’s a good old-fashioned competitive curb-stomping, and it’s how we really like to keep score these days.
Never mind that a year ago, the Warriors were making history rather than chasing it. Last year, they were working against their own threadbare legacy with a clean slate and the unbridled joy that comes with filling it. Now, they are being asked to redefine Chicago’s legacy twenty years later, thereby proving that what we are really searching for is a way to say, “They’re the newest bestest ever” a year after saying, “Holy hell, who saw this coming?”
Maybe it’s me, but the “holy hell” stories always seem like more fun – the way Leicester City is going to win the English Premier League despite being even more persistently forlorn than the Warriors ever were.
In the last 15 years they nearly went broke, they got relegated twice, they fired coaches left and right and the year after made it back to the Premiership, the son of coach who orchestrated their late-season rally to avoid being sent down again got caught in a racist sex tape and helped get his father fired again.
No, the Warriors never managed that one.
But they have continued their steady climb from irrelevance to iridescence, going from 23 wins to 47 to 51 to 67, and now to 72 (or 73), with the best chance to get the next 16 they need to continue their merry march to actual rather than mere mathematical glory.
They are, Wednesday or no Wednesday, still in the early stages of that path. Winning the title means being the 13th NBA team to repeat, while winning 73 games is a neat affectation along that way.
Because the truth is, history runs at its own pace, and the Warriors are still in the early stages of what they really want. And no, 73 wins isn’t that thing.