OAKLAND -- The champagne has flowed and the confetti has fallen and now the back-to-back NBA champion Warriors go into summer soaring on the gilded wings of fulfillment.
The lingering memories from the championship parade through the streets of downtown Oakland on Tuesday will be many.
Of Stephen Curry separating from his personal security aide, retired Oakland police officer Ralph Walker, to go sprinting toward the throng, high-fiving fans young and old, male and female, in all the colors of the human rainbow.
Of Nick Young and JaVale McGee, brothers from separate mothers, maligned as teammates early in their careers, wandering shirtless through the masses waving bottles of adult beverages.
And, of course, there was rookie Jordan Bell shedding his shirt and dashing through the crowd, at points scaling barricades to courageously go over and join fans offering him a swig of cognac.
This season-ending celebration, unlike the first two, was about alleviation as much as triumph. The Warriors won because they wanted to, needed to and believed all along that they were able. After failing to meet expectations in the regular season, they embraced them in the postseason and most squarely in the NBA Finals.
“It was very gratifying,” coach Steve Kerr said this week. “But it took a long time to get here.”
This season was, by all accounts, the most trying of four under Kerr, who generally handled it deftly despite still coping with daily physical discomfort.
“He does a great job every year,” general manager Bob Myers said. “But you couldn’t locate or find a better individual on the planet to navigate a team trying to get to The Finals for the (consecutive) fourth year.
“One, because of who he is and his entire makeup. It makes him unique. With all his talents, he checks so many boxes. But also, he played.”
There is no doubt Kerr’s experience as a player, specifically during his time with the Chicago Bulls, who won three successive titles (1996-98), served him well in Year 4. When times got tense, he was easing up and always communicating. When Kerr got irritable, there was Myers, ambling in with the lighter touch. And, always, there was Curry and his measured, moderating personality to bring things back to center.
“For sure, this was the toughest of the four (seasons), mainly because of the cumulative effect of doing this four years in a row, getting to The Finals four years in a row,” Kerr said. “It felt to me like the whole year, we were just trying to get to the playoffs. And that’s not a very healthy way to do it, but we didn’t have much choice. It’s human nature, and a lot of injuries, a lot of wear and tear.”
This was the first season under Kerr in which the Warriors failed to win at least 67 games, ending with a 58-24 record. This was the first time they entered the postseason without homecourt advantage throughout, forcing them to play a Game 7 -- in the Western Conference Finals -- on the road.
Moreover, this also is the first season in which no one on the roster will earn a major individual award. No Coach of the Year, as won by Kerr in 2015. No MVPs, as won by Curry in 2015 and 2016. No Defensive Player of the Year, as won by Draymond Green in 2017.
That no member of the Warriors finished among the top three in the voting for any of those awards is reflective of their collective effort and achievement.
Curry missed 31 games, the most since 2011-12; the Warriors were 17-14 in those games. Andre Iguodala missed 18 and played a career-low 1,623 minutes. Kevin Durant missed 14 games, Green missed 12, the most in his six-year career, and Klay Thompson missed nine, also a career-high. The four All-Stars -- Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson -- were together for 41 games, exactly half of the season.
“All the injuries we went through while going through that grind of trying to get back to this position was extremely tough,” Green conceded.
The Warriors enjoyed their third parade in four seasons. They wear their physical and mental challenges of the season as badges of valor. A season in which doubts cropped up from the outside ended as they all intended when arriving for training camp last September.
“We finished it off with a championship,” Durant said. “We've got a bunch of guys in the locker room that don't care about anything but just being better basketball players every day and winning.” -30-