The NBA Playoffs took a leap this weekend and the Golden State Warriors are trying to achieve what no team has achieved in more than half a century. Not the Michael Jordan Bulls. Not the Magic Johnson Lakers. Not the Larry Bird Celtics. The Warriors are trying to make their fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and win their third consecutive title. Golden State thrives on an extravagant collection of talents: in a moment you will know most of the star-studded line-up. But the main question in basketball right now: the best team of a generation can triumph not only over opposition, but over human nature, forces like ego, money and fatigue? We recently spent a week with the Warriors in this, their last season in Oakland. One observation among many: when you are the hottest act in sports, the show starts early.
Ninety minutes to start at the Oracle Arena, home of the Warriors. Stephen Curry emerges for his warm up. No matter the night, no matter the opponent, the fans appear early to see this.
Curry throws dozens of shots, from every conceivable place on the ground. Once it is released, it keeps it loose. And for his latest trick: the mother of all Hail Mary's. Halfway to the locker room, he drains it. Of course he does.
The best shooter in NBA history, Curry, is just Exhibit A in the Warriors' shame over wealth. Here is Kevin Durant, MVP of the finals two consecutive years.
Meet Klay Thompson, whose 14 triples in a game earlier this season broke the NBA record. But wait, there is more.
That's Draymond Green, one of the best defenders in the league.
And, with authority, it's DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins.
This list is enough to make a coach relax. Steve Kerr, who arrived five years ago, admits that he adopts a non-intervention approach with this team, especially with Curry.
Jon Wertheim: What are you telling him to do?
Steve Kerr: I do not say anything.
Jon Wertheim: Do not you say anything to Steph Curry?
Steve Kerr: No.
Jon Wertheim: That's the confidence you have in him.
Steve Kerr: yes. I had to learn my first year of coaching. It is likely to be in the middle of the first season. We are playing the Clippers. So Steph gets into this, like, the personification of Curly Neal, Harlem Globetrotters, from the back. And I'm like … like that. Do not drip through traffic. Move the ball. And of course, swish.
Steve Kerr: And I walk back to the bank and "Good shot, Steph, there's still a long way to go." But that was actually a key moment. The important thing for me to realize was … who was Steph, who was Klay …
Jon Wertheim: Who are they?
Steve Kerr: They are gunmen.
Kerr knows greatness when he sees it. He was a major player in the Michael Jordan Bulls teams in the late 1990s. He told us that the vibe at Golden State feels similar to a certain extent.
Steve Kerr: I sat and watched Michael Jordan every night in Chicago, something special was happening. The difference is that it could happen from Steph, Kevin, Klay, could happen from any of those guys on a certain night.
We stayed a day after the practice to meet those guys, along with veterans Andre Iguodala, who was finishing his Wheaties, and the unconditional Shaun Livingston. It was a rare five-on-one interview, with players showing some signs of mid-season fatigue.
Klay Thompson: Come on, Steph!
Jon Wertheim: If I told you that Steph would be the last, would you have predicted it?
They were not willing to confirm or deny that Curry is always late.
Not until a few questions later, when it was delivered.
Jon Wertheim: Is it likely to make the bus wait?
Klay Thompson: This guy here.
Jon Wertheim: This guy?
Klay Thompson: Prima donna after the games, man.
Stephen Curry: I am the owner of that. I own that.
Andre Iguodala: Who has more fines, however? Who has more fines?
Kevin Durant: Great question.
Stephen Curry: Who had the most fines?
Andre Iguodala: For being late.
Kevin Durant: You have a set time, however. After the games, we usually have a time on the board when we're supposed to be on the bus, but a couple of guys just do not care about that. They only come when they want.
In spite of its delay, the style of game of the Warriors recalls a symphony, emphasizing the collective on the individual.
Jon Wertheim: There is so much talent in this team that sometimes they have to sacrifice the ego. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to simply show all your talents?
ALL: I think we do it now.
Jon Wertheim: You feel like you're doing that right now.
Jon Wertheim: Do you feel like you're sacrificing?
Kevin Durant: Maybe a few minutes.
Stephen Curry: Yes, in terms of, like, obviously, everyone, if they really wanted to, they say they play 48 minutes a night. Shoot 40 shots. But, at the end of the day that gets old. When you're on the podium with the trophy, you run around embracing everyone because you know, what we've been through together. So, that's the fun part.
Beyond the dressing rooms soaked in champagne and the parades of championships, they also managed to transform the sport. The Warriors shoot from long distance more often than to the edge, which makes them almost impossible to defend.
Steve Kerr: The geometry of the game has changed. And now you're seeing it throughout the league. Guys are firing three pointers from all over the place.
Jon Wertheim: The three points are no longer a trick.
Steve Kerr: It's not a trick. It's … it's a kind of staple food.
That staple food requires constant maintenance. Once the practice ended, we saw how Durant got into his extra work. Its intensity is fascinating.
Steve Kerr: It's so marked. It's like he's in the area. It is, like, a Zen state.
For decades, there was no Zen to the Warriors. The only constant in his seasons of 82 games: lose. Once they pbaded 12 consecutive years without reaching the playoffs.
Jon Wertheim: Does that make it sweeter that you have not started like this champion-caliber team?
Klay Thompson: Trust me, I would also have loved to win my rookie year. It was not fun to win 23 games. But, even last year winning 58 games, people thought it was a low year for us and we won 58 games. I mean it would be a historic record for so many teams.
Stephen Curry: No, you know how my ten years of being here, I feel like I've played for three different teams.
ALL: Ah, mmhmm.
Jon Wertheim: What are teams?
Stephen Curry: Like the team that sucked. For the team that tries to solve it, for the established team that we have now, in which we have a lot of confidence in who we are, in what we all bring to the table. I like this one.
But after five long seasons and five short summers, it begins to show signs of wear.
Andre Iguodala: We've been playing, you know, 90, 100 games per season. And the grinding of that not having out of season. I also know that the teams play their best basketball against us.
Jon Wertheim: Everyone is bringing their game A when the Warriors come to town.
Kevin Durant: It's supposed to be like that, especially when you set the standard in the whole league, you know? Everyone wants to beat that every night.
Keeping this team up and running is a costly proposition. It is expected that the combined salaries of Curry, Durant and Thompson alone will exceed one hundred million dollars next season. The Warriors already pay tens of millions in taxes to the league for exceeding the NBA salary cap.
More talent also means more ego and expectation. And everything is complicated by free agency. There has been relentless speculation that Durant, in particular, left Golden State after this season. There has been an unmistakable tension.
Jon Wertheim: It is inevitable that sometimes there are frictions. How do you handle the conflict?
Kevin Durant: Are you looking at me?
We were looking at it.
Jon Wertheim: You said that peace is an important word for you these days. What do you mean by that?
Stephen Curry: Did you say that?
Kevin Durant: I do not remember. (Laughter) I'm sure I thought about it.
Kerr, who had never trained before the Warriors before, has fallen heavily in favor of the team's culture. He told us that most of his work is done outside of playing time.
Steve Kerr: You know that drawing the works is maybe 20 percent.
Jon Wertheim: What is 80 percent?
Steve Kerr: Oh man, 80 percent is being a psychologist.
The strategy of Steve Kerr to deal with the drama: something he calls a factor of fun. It has given a touch of joy to this championship race. This is a coach who will cancel the occasional practice in favor of bowling time.
Jon Wertheim: What is the fun factor of this season?
Steve Kerr: The fun factor is –
Jon Wertheim: It's like your campaign promise.
Steve Kerr: It is. Is.
Jon Wertheim: Have you met him?
Steve Kerr: Yes. But it's more difficult than ever. You do something with the same group of people over and over again. Maybe you stress a little more often.
If anyone understands the burdens of winning, with eight NBA titles to his name, it's Kerr. He has a special ability to take care of his backup copies, as well as beginners.
Jon Wertheim: You relate to those guys at the end of the bench, not just the stars that make up the All-Star teams.
Steve Kerr: I really do not relate to the stars at all.
Steve Kerr: My favorite nights are when our starters play really well and our bank plays, like, a whole quarter, the entire fourth quarter. And during that fourth quarter our starters jump for joy.
Jon Wertheim: That's the best for you.
Steve Kerr: That's the last thing.
And this spirit from top to bottom seeps all the way to the team laundry. We did the rounds after a game one night with Eric Housen, the team's operations director, who has been with the Warriors since the 1980s. Among his duties: keeping track of all those shoes.
Many championship teams give rings to their employees. The Warriors not only gave Housen a ring, they surprised him with one in the center of the court during the ceremony.
Eric Housen: "Oh man" my heart sank. And I was like, "Really, you know, me?"
Jon Wertheim: What does that mean to you?
Eric Housen: The time and effort that I put into that recognize it.
Jon Wertheim: You're still excited to talk about this, right?
Eric Housen: It was an incredible feeling.
Next season, the Warriors will pack everything and move across the Bay to downtown San Francisco. The new stadium is ten miles away, but to a world of Oakland.
The team president, Rick Welts, gave us a tour of the model suites on the court, which come flush with a butler and a private wine store.
Jon Wertheim: What is the price of this?
Rick Welts: If you have to ask, you can not pay it.
Most fans can not afford it, at $ 2 million per suite each season. The Warriors may have sold all the games in Oracle, but many of the faithful will not be able to follow their team to San Francisco.
Tyri Kayshawn: Warriors mean a lot to us.
Tyri Kayshawn lives in Oakland and walks 45 minutes for each game at Oracle, home of the Warriors for the past 47 years.
Jon Wertheim: What is the atmosphere in Oakland about this movement? How do people feel about it?
Tyri Kayshawn: They do not feel very good, man, because it's difficult when the team you've been pushing for so long, even when it was bad, it's like … you're leaving. It's hard, you know?
The Warriors still have the longest NBA season ticket waiting list. We were in the central courtyard of the new arena the day after the concrete was poured.
Jon Wertheim: Have we told your owners that they paid three times more for this building they paid to buy the equipment ten years ago?
Rick Welts: I'd rather you did not describe them exactly that way.
So of course, we could not resist. Joe Lacob, a venture capitalist, and Peter Guber, a Hollywood producer, bought the team in 2010 for what was the highest price for an NBA franchise. Warriors are now worth at least seven times more than that.
Jon Wertheim: So, the good news is that you paid $ 450 million for a franchise that is now worth three billion. The bad news is that you are going to spend more than a billion in a new arena.
Peter Guber: financed privately–
Jon Wertheim: Did you guys pay for that?
Joe Lacob: Everything. Every dollar There is not a dollar of public money and that makes him very nervous because he calls me all the time. I say: "Do not worry, we'll get over it."
Peter Guber: I'm worried Every minute.
Joe Lacob: He is the one who cares most.
Peter Guber: he is a warrior.
Joe Lacob: He is the one who cares most.
Peter Guber: – I'm a worrier.
Joe Lacob: I am the warrior, he is the one who cares.
Jon Wertheim: The worried Golden State
Peter Guber: those worried about the Golden State.
But we noticed that the laughter stops abruptly when you call defending champions to this team.
Jon Wertheim: You enter the playoffs and the best you can do is defend.
Stephen Curry: I think it's a bad perspective.
Jon Wertheim: Bad perspective. How would you reformulate it better?
Stephen Curry: You have to change it. You have to be like– attack. You know, you have to go later. You can not just sit down and, like, I'm protecting something.
Kevin Durant: We're not bady to get in here and say that our trophy is ours, we have to defend against it. You know, let's go find him.
By June, this team can get its triple and cement its dynasty; or the joy walk may end. Either way, let the owners worry about the Golden State, the coach is happy to savor the moment.
Steve Kerr: It's our last year at Oracle. It's our last year in Oakland. And this city has been really special for us and … for the Warriors for the last four decades.
Jon Wertheim: I know of a hell of a farewell gift.
Steve Kerr: yes. I also. I also. So, that is the goal.
Produced by Nathalie Sommer and Vanessa Fica. Associate Producer, Ian Flickinger