As you likely know, the Golden State Warriors are in China. It seems brutal: the team that played in the final game of the season being the first team to start training camp. The team with one of the worst traveling schedules in the league needing to pack up and fly around the world. Or across it, as Kyrie Irving might say.
Yet there’s an obvious reason: the Dubs are the darlings of the league. The players are individually adored, and collectively revered.
They’ve traveled to Shenzhen and Shanghai not because of bad luck or Cleveland-based schedule makers. They’ve made the trip because they represent the league, culture, and direction of the NBA.
When news broke today that Golden State had submitted a bid for the 2021 All-Star Game, I got to reminiscing. It’s been 17 and a half years since the mid-season exhibition came to the Bay Area.
I remember it well: watching Vince Carter perform magic tricks with gravity as his disappearing assistant. Watching Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan act as cats to the mice that were the NBA’s perimeter players.
The Warriors were, of course, absent in the festivities, though in watching the dunk contest on YouTube I spotted Adonal Foyle courtside, reacting to a particularly physics-defying dunk by Vinsanity. Golden State hadn’t had an All-Star representative since Latrell Spreewell three years prior, and wouldn’t have another until David Lee in 2013.
Fast forward to the current squad partaking in team shenanigans and long autograph sessions for international superfans. The team that’s 6,140 miles away from their home.
That Warriors team has 18 All-Star selections spanning five players. They have two MVPs with a combined three trophies, two Finals MVPs, and a Defensive Player of the Year.
In the 1999-2000 campaign, Mookie Blaylock led the team with 101 three-pointers. Last season, in a statistical down year, Stephen Curry had 324.
Needless to say, the game has changed. And more importantly for Warriors’ fans, the Dubs have too.
It’s easy to get lost in off-court happenings. All too often we find ourselves obsessing over the narratives and minutiae that are inherently attached to, but not confined by basketball.
No sooner had the confetti been swept from a historic 2016-17 season, then we all turned our focus to Warriors stories that aren’t contained by a 94 by 50 foot rectangle. Would Kevin Durant take a discount, and would Andre Iguodala return? (Yes). Would ownership pay for the championship parade? (Mostly). Would a trip to China impact the team’s energy after three consecutive abridged offseasons? (Stay tuned).
Our focus often drifts from the beauty of the sport, to the nitty-gritty of the business. And, of course, with the political and social happenings of the past year, it’s often hard to find the energy and attention for the sport in any capacity.
Of course, those stories are important. They’re part of why we love the NBA: it’s more than just 82 games and some playoffs. It’s 365 days of narratives being woven in unpredictable and inexplicable directions.
But as I watch the highlights from February, 2000 – the first and last All-Star Game at Oracle Arena – I’m reminded of my preteen self, sitting on my Grandmother’s couch. I was gloriously naïve enough to believe that one day I could fly like Vince; innocent enough to think that one day my team might have the next Shaq, the next Duncan, the next Kobe.
The season starts in 11 days. If the Warriors are lagging and lackluster against the new-look Houston Rockets, so what. If they sleepwalk through the first month of the season because millions of admiring fans compelled them to travel around the world, so be it.
Whether you’re a new, young fan, or a diehard from the Wilt Chamberlain days, here’s the reality: the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors will likely be the best basketball team that you root for in your life.
Enjoy the drama. Enjoy the narratives, and the tension. Enjoy the highs, and enjoy the lows.
And above all else, enjoy the games.