The NBA has gotten a bad rap over the years, perhaps for good reason. The complaints echoed are typically along the lines of, “It’s a money-driven league, filled with large egos, focused on the spotlight instead of the team play.”
While I disavow myself from the stereotyping, I will attest that singular play and the frequency of buying a team is a valid criticism of the past decade. It’s the reason why many have opted out of watching the NBA Finals and left those of us who care cheering for a team to lose rather than a team to win. Sorry, San Antonio Spurs fans, but it’s the truth.
The good news is that, while LeBron James is still gracing us with his presence, the Miami “dynasty” is no more. Better news: This year’s MVP, Stephen Curry, is part of a team that many can stand behind for more reasons than “it’s not LeBron’s team.” Here’s how the Golden State Warriors brought heart back to the NBA and give us all a reason to watch.
Shaun Livingston’s Dramatic Comeback
When we think of shooters on the Warriors, we automatically think about the “Splash Brothers.” But their shooters off the bench have proved to be deep and effective, and Shaun Livingston is a big reason for that.
When you see him play you almost forget—almost—the gruesome injury he sustained in 2007. It’s considered to be one of the worst basketball injuries ever— there’s a reason Livingston says he still won’t watch the video, because it isn’t for the faint of heart.
To say Livingston blew out his knee is an understatement. Never had a player done such extensive damage to a knee. It was a first in basketball history. He was even told that the leg may need to be amputated.
But he fought his way back, first with recovery and then by bouncing between NBA teams (including D-League teams) before landing with the Golden State Warriors this year. But making it back wasn’t enough for Livingston.
Last year, he told USA Today, “It’s easy to fall into a trap as a player. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s just OK that I made it back and the work stops here.’ It’s not OK just to make it back.”
He is more than back. This year he’s been a spark off the bench, whether to matchup on defense or to score when needed like he did with his 18 points against the Houston Rockets in the playoff matchup. Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the San Jose Mercury, “I think a lot about Shaun and the horrific injury he had, the amazing comeback he’s made. And now, to be in a position to play for a championship when there was a time doctors told him he was close to having an amputation. When you think about that, what an incredible story.”
All-Stars Off the Bench
Speaking of the bench. Two NBA veterans, both former All-Stars, prove that ego isn’t everything and the team matters more. Enter Andre Igoudal, a 2012 All-Star, who for the first time in his career served as the sixth man instead of a starter. Even last year, he started every game he played under the leadership of Coach Mark Jackson. But this year, Coach Kerr did some shifting and put Igoudala in a position to relieve Klay Thompson when needed.
Kerr better hope it pays off because, as Igoudala told ESPN with a smile, “If we win a championship, that will save me from kicking Steve Kerr’s a[__] for making me come off the bench.”
But even more notable is the decision to bench David Lee. He’s the highest-paid player on the Warrior roster and a 2013 All-Star. These days he sits the bench and sometimes doesn’t play at all. Part of the reason is due to nagging injuries he’s sustained in the past couple of years. But a bigger reason is the stellar play of Draymond Green, who received the most votes for Defensive Player of the Year (even though the title went to Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard).
Starting Green over Lee is what Kerr has noted as one of the toughest decisions he’s had as a rookie coach. Most star players would show their displeasure, but as Kerr told USA Today, “David handled his lack of playing time beautifully. He’s got to be crushed. But he keeps coming in and working.”
Lee told the San Jose Mercury, “First of all, I still have a job, and that’s to be cheering on my teammates. I just see this as an opportunity to prove that I’m a team guy, prove how much I care about winning.”
And one of those players Lee is cheering for is Stephen Curry, the “Baby-Faced Assassin,” who was always told he couldn’t. Unlike LeBron James, whose talent was on display throughout his high-school years, Curry’s entrance in the NBA was not easy. He’s been told many things over the years, most of which begin with “too”: too short, too skinny, too weak, too nice, too (you fill in the blank). But he seems to thrive as the underdog.
Of course, having a former NBA sharpshooter as his dad didn’t hurt. Dell Curry worked with his son over the years to perfect a shot that compensates for Stephen’s lack of height. It’s one of the reasons he is the quickest draw in the league.
But beyond good genes and good instruction, it was outworking everyone else that helped Curry lead small Davidson College to two consecutive NCAA appearances, and has helped him lead the Warriors to where they are today. If you don’t believe me, just check out one of his pregame routines.
Even with the media hype, Curry has kept his ego in check. He seems to embrace the moniker “Splash Brothers,” which includes his shooting partner-in-crime Klay Thompson. In the off-season, when there were talks about trading Thompson, Curry went on record with CNS Bay Area.com. He said, “I definitely want him to continue to be my backcourt mate and keep pushing, keep growing together, and not to waste the nickname.”
The nickname hasn’t gone to waste. And tonight we will see it on display as the Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. It’s the matchup between the Prodigal Son returned home (and the city that wants to believe in him again) and the team led by the underdog-turned MVP.
I’m just glad that this year I can once again cheer for a team to win instead of a team to lose.