Why journeyman Alfonzo McKinnie is the Warriors' folk hero this year

Why journeyman Alfonzo McKinnie is the Warriors' folk hero this year

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have a folk hero every year, someone who isn’t on page one of the menu but somehow ends up getting ordered as a side dish merely by word of mouth from patron to patron.
So this year’s blue plate special, as though you couldn’t guess, is Alfonzo McKinnie.
I mean, cheering for TUS (The Usual Suspects) is fine and all if you’re bent that way. Backing front-runners is easy when they run to the front as easily as Wardell S. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Kevin Durant. It’s almost not worth the bother, really, the antithesis of a value bet.
But there is always one off-brand choice who the crowd gravitates toward, a once-battered fan base showing its DNA by finding someone who doesn’t get noticed quite so much or quite so often, but has backstory and front hustle to spare.
The current inheritor of that role is McKinnie, the little engine that couldn’t stop rewvving and helped fuel Golden State’s 117-101 win over traditional hard out Memphis. He was already a teammate favorite because of his bottomless tank, and is now the people’s choice once you skip the big names.
As there always has been, it seems.
In 2015 and ‘16, when everything was new and electrifying, there was Leandro Barbosa, the antediluvian Brazilian who created energy between the lulls and charged the crowd with his veteran guile. There was also Marreese Speights, whose nickname explained all of it – Mo Buckets.
In 2016, there was also Ian Clark, who fit that surprise fixture in the rotation, and we should mention Luke Walton, the assistant who took over when Steve Kerr’s spinal cord stopped playing defense and not only kept the ship righted but properly fueled for the 73-win season that ended five minutes too early. 
In 2017, all of the above were gone, but there was JaVale McGee, the seemingly cringeworthy signing who turned out to be a limited-minutes demigod, for whom fans always tried to concoct ways to get him more money just for services rendered. He was a different kind of energy-generator from a position that had been dominated by more plodding outlanders like Andrew Bogut, Anderson Varejao and Zaza Pachulia, and if his jersey isn’t retired, someone in Marketing should be fired as an appeasement to the god of misplaced opportunities.
There was also David West, but he was the thinking man’s work of art. He came in to calm people’s fears, including those of the players themselves. McGee was a different kind of genre entirely, and always will be.
And between those two subsets stands McKinnie, the 26-year-old perpetual undercarder whose path to the NBA is now less interesting than what he provides on the floor. Monday, it was 29 minutes in Green’s absence due to a foot bruise, in which he did what Klay Thompson says he always does, “knock down his first shot, from the time I first saw him,” and then bodied and scooted around the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol, and chased down loose balls and rebounds and captivated a crowd first worried by Memphis' stern early start, and then becalmed by the Warriors’ overwhelming third quarter.
“The atmosphere’s crazy,” McKinnie said when asked about the now standard crowd reaction to his work. “I’ve never seen anything like it, hearing everyone say my name, when I make a shot and everyone’s going crazy, it’s a great feeling.”
And it is a feeling he will have to grow accustomed to without ever taking it for granted or imagining it to be more than it is. He is the surprise in a banquet the arena patrons know by heart, and because he is the newest item, he is the one getting the buzz and the enthusiastic “you gotta try this” nudges. And he knows that this is only the start rather than enduring validation. After all, Patrick McCaw is still waiting for an enhanced contract offer that may never come because he overvalued himself on a team that seems to always have a new, cool roster get at the ready.
And Alfonzo McKinnie is this year’s get, this year's McGee. He may not have JaVale’s inherent quirkiness, but his more traditional gifts are being appreciated by a discerning audience that always likes it when the chef brings out something new.

Stephen Jackson reveals Baron Davis gave him best compliment of life

Stephen Jackson reveals Baron Davis gave him best compliment of life

Programming note: Watch all four of the "We Believe" Warriors' wins over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, May 30, beginning at 2 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

In Game 6 of the "We Believe" Warriors' series-clinching victory over the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, Stephen Jackson scored a playoff career-high 33 points.

"I remember BD (Baron Davis) coming to me before the game and telling me, 'Jack, I ain't got it. I ain't got it, Jack. My legs, my knees, my back. I just ain't got it,'" Jackson recently told Warriors broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald. "I'm like, 'Cool. I'll do what I gotta do.' I was locked in to play well."

Perhaps Davis just was trying to motivate his teammate, because BD recorded 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists that night. He clearly had some left in the tank.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

But that's beside the point. You're reading this because of something else Jackson revealed to Fitzgerald.

"Two days later, I'm watching the game and I'm seeing the TV feed. They're interviewing BD after the game on the court, and she (the sideline reporter) asked him something about my play," the 2003 NBA champion explained. "And BD said -- this probably is the best compliment I've ever got from a brother and also a basketball player in my life -- I'm getting kind of emotional saying it ... BD said, 'A lot of people say a lot of stuff about Stephen Jackson, but they'll never admit he's a great basketball player.'

"That meant the world to me. That moment, I felt like everything had completely lifted off my shoulders."

[RELATED: Barnes reveals 'We Believe' Warriors documentary in works]

Remember, Jackson's image had been tarnished because of his role in the brawl that took place a couple years prior between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons -- aka the "Malice at the Palace."

And while some NBA fans forever will think of that unfortunate fight first when Jackson's name is mentioned, that won't be the case for the majority of Warriors fans because Dub Nation immediately will point to Jackson's contributions in upsetting the No. 1 seed Mavs.

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Steph Curry, Steve Kerr among sports stars outraged by George Floyd death


Steph Curry, Steve Kerr among sports stars outraged by George Floyd death

Face pressed to the street and eyes wide with panic, George Floyd was in handcuffs and begging for mercy. He feared he might die. His only hope was appealing to the humanity of the man threatening his life.

Humanity was denied by Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer whose left knee was resting on Floyd’s neck.

Even with cell phones recording video, Chauvin didn’t flinch. He didn’t back off until Floyd’s pleas went silent and he was unconscious. Moments later, he was dead.

Floyd had been subdued. Was not a threat. Yet he was subjected to further violence. So brazenly egregious was the brutality that visibly shaken Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey needed only a few hours to oversee the dismissal of Chauvin and three complicit officers.

The video is a graphic illustration of police terror in plain sight. It’s an example of the behavior that inspired former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to kneel in peaceful protest. If the reaction of high-profile sports figures is any indication at all, Floyd’s death could prompt high-profile dissent to become louder and more visible.

Consider this Instagram post from Warriors superstar Steph Curry.

“If this image doesn’t disturb you and piss you off, then [I don’t know]," Curry wrote. "I’ve seen a lot of people speak up and try to articulate how fed up and angry they are. All good and well, but it’s the same same same reality we live in. George Floyd. George Floyd. George has a family. George didn’t deserve to die. George pleaded for help and was just straight up ignored, which speaks loud and clear that his black life didn’t matter. George was murdered. George wasn’t human to that cop that slowly and purposefully took his life away."

Curry’s former Warriors teammate, Matt Barnes, replied on IG, saying, “Haven’t seen it said any better than my lil bro put it!!”

The Floyd tragedy, coming three weeks after the release of incriminating video of the vigilante shooting of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, is but the latest reminder of America’s inability to forcefully and effectively address systemic racism.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, upon seeing the video, offered a response with broad implications on Twitter.

Us. As in those of us who condone such conduct. As in those of us in positions of authority, such as President Donald Trump. There is zero chance of reducing state-sanctioned murder without cooperation from those of us within in a power structure dominated by white men.

“This goes to something very deep in our nation’s soul,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. “There’s definitely a responsibility of white people to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong.’ But we also have a responsibility in this country to reconcile our sins. That needs to happen.

“Sometimes I hear people say, ‘What are you complaining about? Slavery was abolished 150 years ago.’ They’re missing the point. We haven’t come to grips with it. If we had, we wouldn’t still see Confederate flags flying around, whether it’s at courthouses or at Trump rallies. I know some of those have been taken down over the past few years, but I feel there’s never truly been reconciliation with the sins of our past.”

Any decent history book reveals the United States was built on violence and suppression. Native Americans were massacred, their land seized. Slaves, most brought over from Africa, were treated as property to be punished or killed without a blink.

More than 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, blatant racial discrimination, most often symbolized by Jim Crow laws, still was the norm in the United States. Now, 56 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, racism continues. In three-plus years under Trump, there has been a resurgence in demonstrations of outright bigotry.

“I wish we had more outrage from the top,” Kerr said. “But it seems like it’s just the citizens who are expressing the most frustration.”

[RELATED: Stephen Jackson emotional over his friend's death in police custody]

The highest offices in the land have exhibited no sustained, committed desire to take healing action. But some of the citizens, black and white, have a voice that carries further than others. And they are expressing outrage at the consistency of such incidents.

Curry and Kerr are repulsed that such a small privilege as life, much less liberty, still can be revoked based on skin color. So are Stephen Jackson and Kyle Korver. So are LeBron James and retired NFL star Chris Long and former WNBA star Lisa Leslie. They all see what Kaepernick saw.

In the end, Americans of every stripe must ask themselves a simple question: How much more barbarism are we willing to tolerate?