I find myself following sports less and less over the years, not just because there’s less time, but with less interest. There’s a lot to it, but maybe it’s just an old man thing, and what was once fresh and exciting and spoke to the inner child no longer does so as much?
Anyway, the story in the NBA this year has been the Warriors chase of the ’95-96 Bulls. A few days ago, the Warriors were 68-7, but after two home losses (their first of the season) to the Celtics and Timberwolves, things are starting to look dire, because besides beating Memphis they have to beat the Spurs twice to hit 73-9. The same Spurs who held them under 80 points last time and could still win 70 games this season themselves.
What I haven’t heard much of this season is how strong the western conference is, an observation constantly trumpeted in previous years. People tried to diminish what the ’95-96 Bulls did by saying there was an experimental shorter 3-point line that season (leading to career high 3 point percentages for Jordan and others), plus dilution of the league’s rosters with two expansion teams (the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies entered the league that season). So this year, even if the Warriors fall short, we should be lauding the fact that they might win 70 fucking games in what is acknowledged to be an absolutely stacked conference, one in which another team has yet to lose at home (Spurs 39-0 as of this writing) and might also win 70 games.
Instead, it feels like the ’07 Patriots. Teams don’t go undefeated in the NFL or lose single digit games in a season in the NBA unless you’re playing a video game…at which point you might either consider your home team fantasy fulfilled, or stop playing the game out of disgust for its unrealistic simulations. The articles are already starting to come out questioning if the pressure to chase 73 is getting to them, and they still have to win the championship, or even a 73-win regular season becomes a cruel joke of sorts.
I can’t hate on this team though. The way they play, all those people who talk about the unselfish teams or style of basketball of the ’80s or any earlier era, or even spoke glowingly of the Spurs a few years ago, should be proud. And Steph really is kind of a folk hero story…always undersized and underappreciated, but with the NBA in his blood. He’s basically an anime protagonist at this point. The only thing I don’t like about Steph is how he’s changing how people are playing at local runs and gyms…it’s kind of like when Kobe was big and everyone wanted to throw up double pump turnarounds and shout “Kobe” if it went in. Even people who can’t fucking shoot are pulling up from way deep now. (I might or might not be guilty of that myself, as I’m starting to inevitably move towards having old man game).
My favorite Steph story though, for all different kinds of reasons, is a night when he was still playing in college at Davidson, and the other coach decided he was going to hold Steph scoreless, and be remembered for it even if it cost his team. He decided he would double team Stephen Curry no matter where he was, and let the rest of the team play 3v4 as Curry looked on. The best part? He asked what people would remember, that his team got destroyed, or that Steph didn’t score against him. And he was right.
Call me a frontrunner, but I hope the Warriors get to 73-9 and either win the title or, unlikelier, lose to my still favorite player, Lebron. I’m a bit older now to hope for the dream season with the same intensity and wishfulness that I did for those Patriots, but there’s a sense of satisfaction when a team is good enough to legitimately challenge what everyone says is impossible, shuts everyone up and sets a new bar for that impossible. Especially under unimaginable pressure and scrutiny, brighter lights than ever, because how dare anyone get in the same stratosphere as Jordan’s Bulls? The same way that I respect Lebron for going from the anointed one as a young teenager to actually living up to his potential, I hope this Warriors team reaches theirs.