Golden Year

The Man Who Fell To Earth

Every year during the NFL season, the remaining members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins gather to engage in the most obvious display of schadenfreude possible between ostensible peers in the hushed community of professional athletes. On the occasion of the last remaining undefeated team losing its first game of the season, Mercury Morris and company sacrifice a few bottles of Cristal to the sports deities in exchange for their annual moment of relevance, leaving the rest of us to go on mowing our lawns and picking up our children from not-American football practice° while pondering whether the ’85 Bears could’ve beaten the Panthers from this past season.

Watching history be made doesn’t usually feel so… humdrum. For the Golden State Warriors, making history has become as routine as showing up for the morning shootaround. Win #72, against one of the only teams who plausibly stand a chance in any single game, let alone in a seven-game series, felt almost mundane in its execution, and yet it may be the most important victory thus far, Crying MJs be damned.

You could be forgiven for having looked at the halftime score and subsequently wondered if you were watching some off-the-board, lower-tier college basketball game. Betwixt the consensus two best teams in the NBA this season, 35-35 seemed like a belated April Fool’s joke. Sure, it was a close game, but what kind of 72nd win would it be to score below 80 as the stylish forerunners of the motion offense, which has produced three-pointers and passing galore?

For as good as these two teams were, surely they could coax the best out of each other rather than the worst. Slightly below the surface, however, laid the answer: what we were seeing was the best, a pair of stifling defenses grinding each other to a perplexed halt. This was the stage on which attractiveness fell to effectiveness, at least for long enough to spell out why the latter is more imperative than the former.

Plenty has already been made of the Warriors’ quest for 72 victories, partially because it was the only unresolved issue remaining in the NBA regular season, aside from playoff seeding battles and the continuous descent of the Houston Rockets. From November onward, it seemed a distinct possibility that Golden State could match or exceed the ’96 Bulls, especially after it became clear they weren’t suffering from any post-championship malaise. Their combination of talent, will and a remarkably clean bill of health is historically unique, much to the chagrin of former players who want to rail against hand-check fouls and the three-pointer.

Certainly, as we and so many others have already covered, the Warriors are a product of their time, but they’re also setting the tempo for the next wave of potentially revolutionary programming in basketball. We see it in players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, 6’11” point guard of the Milwaukee Bucks’ present and future, and in teams like the suddenly shot-happy Charlotte Hornets. Even the planned and immediate obsolescence of the Sam Hinkie Philadelphia 76ers share some of their DNA with the Warriors, despite the recent, long-winded admission of failure on their visionary’s part.

By its very nature, basketball is an evolutionary idea, able to flex and contour with the times at the behest of people willing to take chances. In the case of these Golden State Warriors, 72 wins is something like validation without the pressure of having had to prove anything to anyone. Being the defending champions affords that sort of latitude.

If they make it to 73 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, all the better. Records are made to be broken, as we hear the almost-apologetic former record holders say when their white-knuckled grip on an abstract idea softens. But first, records must be matched, and that very act is worth a popped bottle or two as well.

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°Combined pro-tip/hot take: let American football die before your kids do playing it and/or as a result of playing it. It’s not worth letting people who weigh a quarter of a ton apiece ram into each other at otherwise inhuman speeds, unless the result is a New York Jets Super Bowl victory, which we all know is impossible. So let it go.

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