Golden State Warriors are ready for your hate

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During the NBA Finals, something changed for the Golden State Warriors. Not only did they lose, but the perception of them and what they are changed.

This was, for a while, the season of the Warriors and of Stephen Curry, for good reason. Curry’s Vine-ability as a three-pointer shooter, shot maker and ball handler make him incredibly fun to watch, reaching the point where he became a living cliche — the human video game. Add in Klay Thompson burying threes, Draymond Green’s rise as a star, their road to 73 wins and it’s not hard to see how and why the Warriors were universally adored. They could do no wrong. Even if they were arrogant, they backed it up in a splashy, intoxicating way. No one team in the league was as free and fun as the regular season Warriors.

And then Joe Lacob said the Warriors were ‘light years ahead’ in a New York Times magazine profile. Curry got hurt and Green started kicking people below the belt while claiming ignorance. Golden State maybe reclaimed some of their hero status after coming back down from 3-1 against the Thunder, but that didn’t last. In the Finals, Thompson’s ‘It’s a man’s league comment’ aimed at LeBron James didn’t play well, right after he complained about illegal screens. Then Green got suspended for again putting himself in a situation he probably could have avoided. Curry threw his mouthpiece in Game 6 and got ejected in the process. Ayesha, his wife, tweeted out that the ‘NBA was rigged’ before deleting the tweet and apologizing.

By that point, the support had shifted to the point where the Cavs — and, for the first time maybe ever, LeBron — were easy to root for. With the baggage of decades of sports failure the Cavs became the underdog heroes and the Warriors the evil heels.

Now, a few weeks removed from the Finals loss, the Warriors have doubled-down on their villain status by signing Kevin Durant. Not signing Durant wouldn’t have made them more likable, but adding a former MVP still in his prime to join your two-time defending MVP and 73-win squad isn’t exactly endearing to fans of the other 29 teams. If anything, the talent on the roster could embolden a more brash, cocky team we saw all of last season. Sure, the Warriors lost but it took a lot of things to break right for Cleveland for that to happen. And they just added Durant.

The ship has sailed on making this team more relatable, on recapturing whatever it was that used to make them a darling for the common fan.

This all exacerbated by the fact that Durant leaving for Golden State means the end of Durant-and-Russell Westbrook a duo in Oklahoma City. For all of their purported flaws and disconnects as a pairing, they were brilliant. Watching them run a fast break together was one of the most enthralling things in the NBA over the past five years and, with Durant’s departure, it puts the recent Thunder teams in the class of ‘best teams to never win a title’ along with the likes of the late 1980s Cavaliers, the 1990s Sonics and the Seven-Seconds-or-Less-Suns. That’s not a comfortable legacy for a team or player to be connected with. It hurts, too, that Durant is leaving a city he became deeply connected with as he grew into the superstar he is now for, again, the team he almost beat.

Rightly or wrongly, Durant’s decision will mark the official beginning of what comes next for Thunder basketball, and bid an abrupt end to what seemed to be a bright future.

The idea that Durant would leave Westbrook to join the team that beat them also doesn’t mesh with what we think of sports and of competitors. In any other job besides professional athlete, no one would fault an employee for joining up with the best people possible in their field. And yet in sports, there is this idea that to become great, you have to take the hard road or else it doesn’t. count. It’s incredibly faulty logic and for Durant, who really was the Thunder in many ways, it makes all the sense in the world that he’d join the team that gives him the best chance to not be second anymore. And yet, this won’t sit well with many sports fans, many of whom want to see Durant and Westbrook run it back again and try to finish the job they couldn’t during this playoff run. The same reason he or she will hate the 2016-17 Warriors is generally the same reason why he or she didn’t root for LeBron’s Heatles teams: it’s not fun to root for the team that’s supposed to win.

All of this doesn’t really matter to the Warriors or Curry or Durant, nor should it. They will probably get booed in a number of cities next year — with particular fury in Cleveland and in Oklahoma City — and there will be people that simply want to see them lose. They will be hated but that’s the cost of doing business. If they win a ring next year, some of the hate for the Warriors — or at least for Durant — will dissipate. 

These Warriors — with a five of Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Green — will be a lot of things. They will be flashy, fun, and fascinating to watch, transformative and probably great. From a purely basketball point of view, there is no other team in the NBA that will be as must-watch as the Warriors, even if their dominance turns out to be as utterly predictable as it seems it could be right now.

What they will not be is likable.

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