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Using the songs of Prince to better understand the Warriors

The late musician was a noted basketball fan so it makes sense that his music would connect to a basketball team, especially one as game-changing and unique as he was.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

One can make an excellent case that the music of Kanye West is the one that most closely connects to these current Warriors. I certainly don’t argue with it and can see how one can hear Kanye’s music in the Dubs on-court performance. However, I’ve always felt the Warriors shared a slightly closer kinship with another musical great.

Maybe it’s because I’m older (or feel a little bit older), but my idiosyncratic and constantly confounding musician of choice has always been Prince. As a noted basketball player and fan, it makes sense that Prince’s music seamlessly connects with the Warriors. He even attended the Warriors game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 3rd of 2016 and referenced Stephen Curry at his concert at Oracle Arena the following night, shortly before his untimely passing on April 21st of that year.

Beyond that, Prince and the Warriors both share something, a subversive quality, going against the grain and challenging what is expected. Whether it is the ways in which they push back against the conventional notions of toughness and masculinity or how they blend together different styles and approaches, these Warriors play in a way that echoes much of Prince’s aesthetic. In “I Would Die 4 U,” Prince sings “I am something that you’ll never understand” and, in many ways, the Warriors are something that some basketball-watchers, those more wedded to how things have been done in the past, don’t quite understand or appreciate.

To properly highlight these connections, I decided to pick out the songs from Prince’s catalogue that, in one way or another, represent something about these current Warriors.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Lacob-Guber: “7”

“All seven and we'll watch them fall, they stand in the way of love and we will smoke them all with an intellect and a savoir-faire. No one in the whole universe will ever compare.”

Watching all opposition (in Prince’s song, it’s the seven deadly sins while for Lacob and Guber it would be the rest of the NBA) fall by the wayside while ascending to an exalted place sounds a lot like being “light years ahead” to me. Also, the Warriors under the ownership of Lacob and Guber certainly have an intellect and a savoir-faire. No one is going to dispute that.

Bob Myers: “I Would Die 4 U”

“No need to worry, no need to cry. I'm your messiah, and you're the reason why”

Not to get too blasphemous or Betaball here, but so much of what the Warriors have been able to do and accomplish comes from Myers’ savvy moves. After the numerous uninspiring GM and front-office choices throughout Warriors history, Myers is someone that I can give the benefit of the doubt to when it comes to constructing this team. The strong culture of this team starts at the top and is put into practice by the coaches and players, but much of that emanates from Myers as well.

Steve Kerr: “I Wish U Heaven”

“I wish you love, I wish you heaven.”

I know that some sections of Warriors Twitter like to give Kerr a hard time (not enough Curry pick-and-rolls, playing too many bench players, etc etc), but I’ve always been a fan of his— as a player, a broadcaster, and now as our coach. And so, whether given the tragedies of his past or the physical ailments that have befallen him of late, I want nothing but the best and happiness for him. One hates cliches or saying something like “oh, finally, a nice guy not finishing last” but to use it in conjunction with Kerr makes a great deal of sense.

(n.b. Because the album this song is included on, Lovesexy, is not broken up by tracks on Spotify, I was unable to include it in the playlist I made. Instead, here’s the music video for the song here. Yeah, it’s pretty... interesting)

Damian Jones: “Still Waiting”

“Still waiting, I'm waiting for that love. Still waiting, I wish on every star above.”

Figuring out a song for the second-year big man from Vanderbilt was one of the tougher tasks of this whole enterprise. But the thing I found myself thinking about regarding Jones is that I’m still waiting for him to show us something. Jones was drafted to be a replacement for Festus Ezeli, maybe not a starting big man but someone who could play for stretches, contribute on defense, and finish around the basket. Warriors fans are still waiting to see those things from Jones, but we’re waiting and hoping.

Kevon Looney: “Strange Relationship”

“What's this strange relationship? (ship, ship, ship)”

This was another tough one to discern, but I couldn’t help but think this one connected with Looney because he’s always been a bit of an anomaly for the Warriors. Is this someone the Warriors incorporate into their rotation and count on? Is Looney a player who should be occupying a roster spot or is he someone the Warriors should move on from? He’s played well at times this season but they have players who can do similar things on the team as well.

Jordan Bell: “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”

“I may be qualified for a one night stand, but I could never take the place of your man”

Bell was tagged as being “the next Draymond” when the Warriors drafted him in 2017 with the pick purchased from the Chicago Bulls. But this wasn’t just hyperbolic draft day-chatter as a quote from Draymond Green hinted at this as well.

Much like the singer in Prince’s song (though in not quite the same way), Bell is capable to fill in as needed but he isn't taking someone’s spot in the lineup... yet. Also the song blends together different styles and genres (R&B, pop, rock, all happening at once) and Bell, much like Green, can do many different things on the basketball court.

Nick Young: “Delirious”

“I get delirious whenever you're near, lose all self-control, baby just can't steer. Wheels get locked in place, stupid look on my face.”

What Young adds to this team is the player who can come off the bench, put up shots and catch fire. Young is what Bill Simmons calls the “irrational confidence guy.” For better and, occasionally, for worse, Young brings a kind of delirium to the basketball court and thus this is a perfect song for him.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors
Nick Young, feeling about as delirious as one can on a basketball court.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Omri Casspi: “Paisley Park”

“Admission is easy, just say you believe and come to this place in your heart.”

When the Warriors signed Casspi this past off-season, everyone said “of course he would play for the Warriors, that is almost too perfect.” Casspi’s skills on the basketball court and his approach to the game fits in seamlessly with the Warriors’ style and culture. The journeyman Casspi is a perfect addition to the menagerie assembled in Golden State.

David West: “Sign O’ the Times”

“Sister killed her baby 'cuz she couldn't afford to feed it ad we're sending people to the moon.”

A profoundly socially conscious song (which stands out in Prince’s oeuvre as most of his songs are focused on the interpersonal, the romantic, and the physical/sexual) that matches up perfectly with West’s awareness and thoughtfulness regarding current events and history. Also, the tension between the restrained music and the powerful lyrics mirrors West’s game, which is very tough but in a more subdued or restrained way (except when he’s pushed a bit too far).

JaVale McGee: “Housequake”

“There's a brand new groove going round (housequake) in your funky town (housequake) and the kick drum is the fault. You got to rock this mother, say (housequake). We got to rock this mother, say (housequake).”

There’s something that sets Oracle off when McGee throws down a dunk. It’s like a Stephen Curry three-pointer in the way it electifies and shocks the crowd.. You can tell that the players know this because when McGee’s in the game, they’ll look to get him the ball for an alley-oop. Coming off of the bench, McGee is someone who can give the Warriors a boost of energy and get the house quaking with his athletic and aerobatic play.

Patrick McCaw: “Private Joy”

“All the other kids would love to love you but you're my little private joy”

McCaw has ingratiated himself to the Warriors fans, especially us long-time fans and close watchers of games. Part of it is his style of play, providing tough defense and stretching the floor on offense, doing all those little things that can help the team succeed. But because he’s not one of the four Warriors all-stars, McCaw flies under the radar amongst more casual NBA fans and thus he’s someone the die-hards really appreciate.

Shaun Livingston: “I Wanna Be Your Lover”

For this song, it’s more the sound that I associate with Livingston than the lyrics. The song has a disco, Chic-esque vibe to it that seems to be more of a throwback than what we associate with Prince’s music. It mirrors Livingston’s game, which is definitely an anachronism in the current NBA, and that slinky silky sound is the perfect sonic equivalent for Livingston’s turn-around jump shots.

Zaza Pachulia: “Dirty Mind”

“Whenever I'm around you, baby, I get a dirty mind”

Prince is obviously singing of a different kind of “dirty” than I’m talking about here nor am I saying that Pachulia is dirty in the same way Greg Popovich tried to claim he was during last year’s playoffs. But Pachulia is definitely one of the guy’s on the Warriors’ roster that isn’t afraid to do the tough, what some might call dirty, work.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Iguodala: “Take Me With U”

“To be around you is so-oh right, you're sheer perfection. Drive me crazy, drive me all night, just don't break up the connection.”

This great run of Warriors basketball was really precipitated by Iguodala joining the Warriors for the 2013-2014 season. As a member of the Death Lineup and now the Hamptons 5, Iguodala gives the Warriors a steady, veteran player who will make the smart play and can match up against an opponent’s best wing player. That Iguodala is also willing to come off of the bench and play with the second unit, allowing the starters to get rest during the game so they don’t wear down, is another part of what makes these Warriors team work. There’s something perfect about him being on this team and the way Iguodala plays with Curry, Thompson, Green, and Durant speaks to a strong connection between all of them.

Klay Thompson: “Starfish and Coffee”

“If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you'd understand.”

The sheer irreverence and surreal quality of this song matches up perfectly with Thompson’s demeanor. The whole “China Klay” experience was like something out of a psychedelic dream. Thompson sometimes seems like he’s in his own world, but it’s a world that’s a really fun one to be in. To quote head coach Kerr, “I want to be Klay. He’s got it figured out. He just wants to play hoop and have fun, play with his dog. He’s the most low-maintenance guy on earth.” Just set your mind free and you can spend a little time in Thompson’s world.

Kevin Durant: “Uptown”

“Everybody's going uptown, that's where I want to be. Uptown, set your mind free.”

Durant’s move to join the Warriors in July of 2016 was based around freedom. To be free in a place where there wasn’t an undue or unreasonable amount of focus and scrutiny on him. To be able to move around and not always be the center of attention. But also in a basketball sense, to play for a team where the burden is shared amongst the other players and thus he can be free to focus on the things he does best. Durant’s coming to Golden State from Oklahoma City was him going to the kind of place he wanted to be and where he would be free to do what he wanted. And now, like Prince sings in the song, “Good times [are] rolling.”

Draymond Green: “Controversy”

“I can't understand human curiosity (controversy)Was it good for you? Was I what you wanted me to be? (controversy)”

Probably the second-easiest choice to make for this list, given that Green is pretty much synonymous with controversy at this point. Plus the ways in which his game invites questions— is he tough or dirty? Is he a fiery leader or distraction? Green is as controversial a figure in basketball as Prince was in music and that controversy, that willingness to go just a little bit beyond what’s comfortable, that’s what makes each of them great.

Stephen Curry: “Purple Rain”

This was the easiest pick for me. I could talk about rain and the Splash Brothers and raining down 3-pointers, but I feel like this connection is better explained through a story. So dig, if you will, a picture.

Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals just ended and I’m sitting in my apartment, drinking champagne and feeling on top of the world. I decided I didn’t want to listen to the postgame chatter on ESPN and NBATV but that the occasion called for some music, something that was a little subdued but also grandiose and triumphant. And that’s when Prince’s 1984 jam popped into my head.

Listening to that song, particularly its enrapturing guitar solos, feeling a little tipsy from the champagne, it was a moment where that feeling of victory and happiness completely overtook me. After the disappointment of the 2016 NBA Finals against Cleveland, all the ups and downs of the 2016-2017 season, the Warriors were champions again. To see Curry, who received most of the flak after the Warriors lost in 2016, get that redemption, it was a bit like “bathing in the purple rain” and washing away all that disappointment. It’s not quite “purify[ing] yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka” but it was that idea.

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