When the Giants first came to San Francisco, Willie Mays was the centerfielder. I was just a boy, I didn't know much about baseball, and Mays didn't seem that special to me. That's how all centerfielders played the game, right?
Well, not exactly. Over the years, I watched a lot of outfielders stumble around Candlestick and AT&T Park, and I realized that just because Mays made it look easy didn't mean that it was easy - and, more important, that I had missed out on the chance to truly appreciate one of the greatest centerfielders ever to play the game because I just didn't have the right perspective.
The same thing is happening right now: We are witnessing one of the most spectacular basketball teams in the history of the sport, as the Warriors are combining excellence with an exhilarating style of play that features the amazing Steph Curry, a host of three-point shooters and an open floor game that can deliver incredible runs of textbook fast-break action.
For latecomers to the bandwagon, though, it's more fun than truly amazing. But those of us who can remember the very bad days (who could forget Joe Barry Carroll, even if they tried really hard?), and those who have been around long enough to realize that all NBA champions are not created equal, are stuck between awe and open-mouthed admiration when we watch this basketball poetry in motion.
I bear no grudge against the new fans who waited until the Warriors got good to buy any gear. It's like resenting the popularity of the band you started following when they were playing Slim's instead of the Paramount, and if the guy down the bar had no idea who Shaun Livingston was before last June, so what? He's having fun now, and who can make that a bad thing?
But at the same time, I wish he knew just what he was seeing. I wish he could understand that it isn't always like this, it won't always be like this, and very likely, will never be like this again. Sure, I can credit Bob Myers (a local boy, from Monte Vista, where I started my basketball coaching career many, many years ago), and the new owners, and Steve Kerr, but to believe that this combination of talent and determination was assembled without a generous helping of luck is simply to ignore reality.
Remember, NBA careers can be over in a heartbeat. While aimlessly watching some college basketball last week, Andrew Toney's name came up. Few remember him today, but he was a tremendous talent - until he got hurt. Grant Hill, one of the great college players ever, twisted his ankle one day - and missed six years. Penny Hardaway? Gone in an instant. Tracy McGrady? The same.
And if you think the magical transcendence of Steph Curry could survive an Achilles' tear, think again. Or that a blown ACL for Draymond Green wouldn't cost him just enough quickness that he can't switch out onto J.J. Redick wouldn't make a difference. Or even a Harrison Barnes injury that will heal in a year could derail the Warriors' express because the margin for error in the NBA is way too small.
After all, what's the difference between the Warriors and the Clippers? We can glory in the fact that the Dubs keep beating them, but it's not like L.A. is just a collection of stiffs (like that other L.A. team). That's a really good basketball team, with maybe two Hall of Famers - the Clippers just lack a little depth, a little fire, a little something, and so they're also-rans instead of champions. And if you think the Warriors are immune to losing just a little and suddenly becoming mortal, then you haven't paid attention to history, sports or otherwise.
So here's the takeaway: Revel in every Curry three, every Draymond lob, every Barnes' big play. Take nothing for granted. Tape every game. Watch every minute.
There's an old saying about coaching: If you can't enjoy winning, then you don't belong in the game. The Warriors are winning, and are winning in ways that have never been seen before, and may never be seen again. They play the beautiful game, to steal a soccer phrase, and in full flight, they are glorious to behold.
So enjoy the winning, enjoy the moment. Savor it. Appreciate it. It could end in a heartbeat, or another championship. It could end with an injury tonight or tomorrow, or with chants of "Dynasty" in the summer of 2017.
But regardless of how long it lasts, it's here now. Don't miss a second.