I’ve been a basketball for my whole life, and I’ve spent the last 15 years of it as a die-hard Warrior fan. Like many basketball fans who grew up in the 80’s, I was initially drawn to the hardwood by his Airness. How could you not be? He was the most iconic symbol of basketball in our lifetime. Having said that, I grew up in the Bay Area, and I was lucky enough to go to the Oakland Coliseum no fewer than five times a year every year. My grandfather was a huge basketball fan, and we had a tradition. He and his friend bought a season every year, and somehow he managed to convince him that he should give up the Bulls tickets every year so he could use them to bribe me into getting good grades. He’d pick me up regardless of what night of the week it was, and we’d take the 90-minute drive into the East Bay. On our way there we would stop at Brennan’s and I’d have an open face turkey sandwich with gravy. We’d get there early, and he would send me down to floor level to watch the players warm up.
This is how I learned to watch basketball. Every season I would watch two teams, and though my loyalties were far from divided because I was a huge Bulls fan, the Warriors stayed on the peripheral of my basketball experience. It is for this reason that even as a Warriors’ fan, I know what great basketball looks like. I know that championships are won on the defensive end, and multiple championships are won because teams are built young, taught a system, and buy in to everything their coach pushes them to do.
To me the Warriors have never done this. We’ve had a system that players bought into when Don Nelson was here (both times), but we’ve never played the type of defense that could even win a playoff game, let alone a championship. Which brings me to this year. Do I think the Warriors are close to championship caliber? Of course I do not. I wouldn’t have any credibility as a basketball fan if I did. However, I’m close to saying that they are passing the eyeball test. For the first time in my lifetime the Warriors are winning games with defense and rebounding. It’s early in the year, but when was the last time the Warriors won a tough match up without having somebody play out of their mind? In my experience this has never happened. We’ve beaten the Lakers quite a few times in my life, but there has always been the caveat that we won because Monta Ellis ripped off 36 points, or Barron Davis went nuts, or Jason Richardson had an excellent game, or Latrell Spreewell played out of his mind, or Run TMC had one of those nights.
So far, that’s not the case this year. The Warriors have beaten teams based on their play on the defensive side of the court. The Warriors have beaten teams with their bench. And the Warriors have won games in the fourth quarter by simply being the team that is in better shape. To me, this is passing the eyeball test. Of course, they’ve also failed miserably against the Denver Nuggets…twice.
The Warriors are still far from being championship caliber, but I can’t think of the last time I started a season actually feeling like we won games because we were actually the better team. This year feels different, and yet it’s the Warriors, so I’m still pessimistic (a realest?). I know we have potential injury issues that could easily derail a good season. We also seem to still have a long way to go before we can say we have a high basketball IQ. However, our physicality is far more obvious this year than it has been in years past, and to me this is the reason why we are passing the eyeball test for the first month of the season.