SAN FRANCISCO – There’s always someone, a current or former NBA player, an analyst with a microphone, unable to resist pouring salt in the Warriors’ celebratory champagne. It has become, like barbecues and trips to the beach, a summer ritual.
Win a chip, wait for the disrespect.
Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams fired the first midsummer blast, proclaiming the Warriors were the inferior NBA Finals team despite winning in six games.
“I don’t follow that stuff,” coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday. “I think every team that won a championship got breaks along the way, so that can always be said. Should every champion have an asterisk?
“It really doesn’t matter,” Kerr added. “We’ve got the banners.”
Williams' comments came after former NBA star Tracy McGrady, not waiting until summer, said before Game 1 of the Finals that “the core guys of the Boston Celtics are going to outplay the core guys of the Golden State Warriors.”
After losing Game 1, the Warriors won four of the next five to snatch the trophy and host another parade.
Do these folks not know that such open disparagement ignites the fury within these guys? The core trio of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have spent their NBA careers digesting slights and converting them to energy used to clap back at naysayers. It’s part of their identity.
In the summer of 2017, they heard a chorus of observers insist that the Warriors, aka the “Super Villains” after adding Kevin Durant, caught a break in the Western Conference finals when Kawhi Leonard was injured in Game 1. Golden State went on to sweep the San Antonio Spurs, with an average win margin of 16 points, and posted an NBA-record 16-1 mark in the postseason.
The 2017-18 Warriors faced San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs, taking the series in five games, winning by an average of 14.2 points.
In the summer of 2015, then-Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the Warriors were “lucky” they didn’t have to face his team or the Spurs on the way to the Finals.
The Warriors furrowed their collective brow and responded by reeling off 24 consecutive wins to open the 2015-16 season and roll to an NBA-record 73 games won in the regular season.
It might have been difficult to consider this group, led by a point guard with a wiry physique, a part of the NBA elite at that time, but isn’t arguing against it five years later a form of denial?
Were the Warriors really so far down the NBA food chain for the better part of 40 years that winning four championships in eight seasons is not enough to silence folks that either lost the Finals or watched on TV?
That’s one explanation for the familiar reaction to Golden State’s 2022 NBA championship, and it’s the only one that makes a sliver of sense.
It took the NFL's New England Patriots more than a decade, 14 seasons to be precise, before the league finally submerged their inglorious history and began bowing at the feet of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
That fourth Super Bowl, after nine seasons without one, answered all questions about their greatness.
The Warriors? They’ve had four parades in a shorter span of time and still, doubters inspect them with a microscope, anticipating signs of defect.
After two seasons away from the playoffs, they were underdogs last season. They should have been, for there was good reason for skepticism. The core trio opened the season as a duo. They embraced underdog status, thrived within it and picked up another Larry O’Brien trophy.
Convinced yet? No.
“Draymond doesn’t mind the back and forth,” president/general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Curry, I think, might say it’s been enough. ‘Just stop. Leave us alone.’ For him, it’s like, ‘What are you going to say now?’ And he’s got a point.
“But someone will say something.”
Naturally. In an ESPN survey of 15 general managers, coaches and scouts, the Clippers received the most votes (eight) to represent the Western Conference in the 2023 NBA Finals. The Warriors and Phoenix Suns tied for second place, with three votes each.
The voting for 2023 NBA champs went in this order: Clippers (five votes), Milwaukee Bucks and Celtics tied for second with four each, and the Warriors with two.
Debate, if you will, whether this is the latest volley of hatred or disrespect. There is little doubt that it is food for fuel.