The end of the Warriors’ dynasty, materializing for months, came into sharp focus during a slow departure from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Kevin Durant needed crutches, Bob Myers needed a hug and their vacant stares disclosed a falling of the curtain.
Nothing in American sports has approached the level the Warriors reached before Durant ruptured his Achilles’ tendon, Klay Thompson tore his ACL, Andre Iguodala was traded, Shaun Livingston descended into retirement and Andrew Bogut said farewell for the final time.
The magnitude of who the Warriors were, and what they represented, reentered the mind recently, as Draymond Green and KD discussed the highs and lows of their three seasons as teammates.
While it’s trendy to fixate on the potentially combustible segment of their recent conversation, one portion that still resonates is the logic behind Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder and join the Warriors.
“I felt like I was the absolute perfect fit with what you guys were doing at both ends (offense and defense), and I knew my game had reached a point where I needed to really see what that looked like,” he said. “That was a no-brainer. I’d do that s--t a million times. I didn’t second-guess at all.
“And I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I was going into these meetings. But I had to confirm and go through the process. But I knew from watching the games, looking at interviews, just seeing everything that y’all were about, that’s the way I wanted to play.”
Durant saw the future, which held epic possibility. He knew his move would be seismic and the results historic. He has no regrets and neither do the Warriors. How could they?
With two of the NBA’s top-three players in Steph Curry and Durant, and a tremendous supporting cast, the Warriors became the most remarkable team in modern NBA history -- and in 21st century American sports.
No matter which league is examined -- MLB, MLS, NFL, NHL -- there is no comp.
The Giants won three World Series in a five-year span, but fans lost fingernails in the process. The team had precisely as many losses as wins in the other two seasons. The Boston Red Sox have won four titles this century, but the other 13 championships are divided among 12 different teams.
The best 21st-century MLS team is either the Los Angeles Galaxy or the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders have been more consistent, the Galaxy has had higher highs. Both touched greatness. Neither rocked the league to its core.
We rightfully think of the New England Patriots, behind Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick and Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, as the NFL gold standard. They opened the century with three Super Bowl victories in four seasons, posting a 39-9 regular-season record. After 10 years without a Lombardi Trophy, they won three in five seasons, posting a 37-11 regular-season record. As great as the Patriots were, they always were substance over style, a testament to marvelous schemes executed by good players amid a few legitimate stars.
The best of the NHL is tougher to gauge; it’s a league where only two years ago all four division winners were bounced in the first round. The Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins offer good arguments, with Chicago perhaps at the top on the merit of its turn-of-the-decade stretch.
Four professional sports, 80 seasons, and generally with little that separates the good, the great and the magnificent.
Which brings us back to the Warriors, who at their 2016-17 peak made a habit of leaving sneaker prints on the heads of teams good and great.
The Warriors, by showing up, crushed all pretense of suspense. Their 2017 postseason -- 16-1, the best playoff record in NBA history -- was a portrait in practical perfection. They opened with 15 consecutive wins, 13 by double digits -- and four by at least 25 points -- before a lapse in inspiration one night in Cleveland cost them an unbeatable record.
Those Warriors had a matchless blend of lethal offense, stifling defense, keen intellect, symphonic precision and high-wattage star power. They became a metaphor for the unstoppable, which can’t be said of any of the other best teams of the century.
KD would do it “a million times,” as would everyone else on the roster or coaching staff or in the front office. They sought and found a level most teams, regardless of era, can’t approach.
On that night in Toronto, a couple hours after KD limped off the court in Game 5 of The Finals, he knew. Myers felt it, too, but had hoped to salvage another great season or two -- only to lose that wish with Klay’s knee injury in Game 6.
That’s when Myers knew, as did everyone on the coaching staff and the roster. For the last two years, they’ve had only memories to savor.
The Warriors of today are chasing ghosts. They surely realize they’ll never catch up, no matter how much luck comes their way.