There has been a lot of sniping lately among fans and NBA media about whether the Warriors are “boring,” and whether the playoffs are “boring” because of them.
In her piece earlier this week, Ann Killion wrote:
The truth is, dominance in sports can be beautiful, but you have to wait for the moment when that beauty is revealed. And that moment is likely going to be the NBA Finals, when Cleveland and the Warriors will meet for an unprecedented third consecutive time. That’s not boring. That’s historic.
She also called out the hypocrisy of Shaquille O’Neal indicating that these were the worst playoffs ever, because of how “boring” sweeps are.
If series sweeps are an indication of the “worst playoffs ever,” as O’Neal said, then he surely was part of one of the worst ever. His 2001 Lakers swept their first three series, against Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio. The O’Neal- and Kobe Bryant-led team lost the first game of the Finals to Philadelphia, then won four straight. Its final playoff record was 15-1. Horrors!
I asked the Golden State of Mind staff to weigh in, and here’s where we stand on the issue.
What are your thoughts on the idea that the Warriors are boring, and about those who call a preemptive Warriors-Cavs Finals boring?
Here is a theory about people whining that the Warriors are “boring.” Basically, America is addicted to using sports fanhood to bully people by calling them losers, in contrast to winners. Players/teams stay losers until they are winners who are redeemed through a very specific grace. So every single “interesting” modern champion, with a couple of interesting semi-exceptions, were called losers first.
Jordan, the Biggest Loser for years. Kobe and Shaq, Big-time Losers. Kobe alone? Loser, couldn’t win without Shaq. Dirk: Loser. All the Boston Big 3, Losers. Lebron was the Biggest Loser in modern times, until the Heatles. Even Bird and Magic were called Losers when they beat each other. Actually, I’m not sure Bird was ever a loser, but “Tragic Johnson” certainly was called that. Only when Jordan came in the league to become the Biggest Loser were they both elevated to winners.
The Warriors break that mold because Golden State stunk so horribly they weren’t even on people’s radar until they suddenly were one of the great NBA teams in history in 2015. People didn’t know what to do with that narrative. So they called them lucky and expected to return to the LBJ-redeems-Cleveland story.
Then, surprise, last year the W’s became the all-time great regular season team. What happened to redemption? Where did all this come from? It has to be a trick. But to many people’s delight, the Warriors lost and got to be called losers! Such joy to finally put in their place these upstarts who hadn’t suffered the initiation! Kevin Durant, of course, has been a loser this whole time, but people could despise him for being a loser for being disloyal.
So then the W’s suddenly broke the wheel by getting KD. What do you do with these two losers banding together? They aren’t redeeming themselves because they broke the rules and each got a different, better team. So you get fine parsing by Matt Moore and others about whether this counts as redemption, i.e. proper shedding of loser status to winner.
Let’s test the loser theory. How do you treat a team that comes out of nowhere but whose players haven’t been deemed Big Losers? According to my theory, they will be considered boring. By my count, that is (1) the Spurs (Duncan dropped to them, won out of nowhere in the strike year, considered respectable but famously BORING for twenty years, until they blew 2013 and redeemed themselves in 2014. (2) The 2006 Heat (Wade dismissed as referee-baiters). (3) The 2004 Pistons (so boring they are never mentioned and only to point out how funny it was that the 2004 Lakers were Losers). (4) The 1993 and 1994 Rockets who are dismissed as placeholders while Jordan was away and also are barely mentioned.
The other thing that’s boring about the W’s is that they are considered such an overwhelming favorite that teams that lose to the W’s can’t even be called losers. What’s the fun in that? How can we appreciate competition that pushes people to excellence and partnership, and by challenging each other, elevate each other? That’s ridiculous, we need to crap on a loser. It’s the whole foundation of the sports talk radio economy!
Anyway, I think the “boring” crowd is right about one thing. The W’s aren’t as fun this year because KD is not as creative and artistic as Steph. But also, they aren’t fun because the W’s aren’t on a Losers’ Quest for Redemption. They’ve embraced Supervillian status and they are on a Quest for Revenge. And I for one am here for that, because ignoramus American sports fandom crapped all over what should have been one of the great epic sports battles that we had the honor of having our team fight: the all-time great LBJ raising his game to his greatest, and Kyrie Irving — another Loser — coming through in a finish for the ages, while Curry valiantly drags his broken body to elevate the increasingly injured Warriors while Draymond grows into a star while fighting his own recklessness, plus the league office drama. You want interesting? That’s interesting! Instead, America turned it into mockery and game of Hunt the Loser. So, America can’t have nice things. I don’t know if the W’s are going to win it all, but I delight in every “boring,” “joyless,” “cowardly” whine we get along the way. These whines are part of what’s wrong about American sports culture, and ironically, part of what drove KD to the W’s in the first place. There’s only winners and losers, and losers have to stick together.
The short answer is they are not. However, that would make for quite an abrupt article.
The longer answer requires some clarification first. I personally believe you can separate the people making these claims into four rather distinct groups:
- The jaded fans.
Sure, Oklahoma City fans and Cleveland fans will (for the most part) revel in the opportunity to criticize the Warriors — and, understandably so: one is our biggest rival and the other, well ... we “stole” their franchise player. Most people expected this going into the season. What’s interesting is how quickly people are resenting the Warriors after losing to them. If Utah or Portland had drawn any other match-up how far would they have gotten realistically? Of course, if I’m one of these people who buys into all the criticism then I would be quite mad that the Warriors keep tearing my favorite team apart, especially when they’re supposed to be soft little cupcakes and yet somehow dirty/bullies who play a “girly” brand of basketball (putting aside the blatant misogyny in the last remark). Not to mention Curry and Durant are supposed “chokers.” A lot of these comments are coming from fans of opposing teams who are still in the heat of the moment.
- The hipsters.
Basketball hipsters are like all hipsters — they love you when you’re an underdog but hate it when you make it. Whatever the trend is you can always expect hipsters to go the other way. With the Warriors trending up, the hipsters are doing their best to bring them down (or at least bring down their fans). They don’t necessarily believe the Warriors are truly boring; they’re just conforming to non-conformity.
It’s cool to dislike the Warriors and will continue to be for a while. Dub Nation will need to get accustomed to it.
- The trolls/haters.
This makes up quite a large chunk. Some people just like to stir the pot and see what rises. Not much else to be said about this. They dress up their hatred and flaunt it as if it’s genuine analysis. They don’t find the Warriors boring to watch; they just hate them.
- The selective memory analysts.
These are my personal favorites — the people who will say the Warriors are boring because they’re sweeping the first and second rounds (like any first seed should do if we’re being honest). Meanwhile, they completely gloss over LeBron James strolling through the inadequate Eastern Conference every year. Do the Cavaliers blow teams out in a more entertaining way than the Warriors? Maybe I’m missing something. What about the showtime Lakers? Jordans’ Bulls?
These people will also complain about the lack of parity inflicted on the league by the presence of this Golden State squad. Quick fact check while I’m on the topic of parity:
From 1980 until 2014, six franchises won 31 championships between them (out of a possible 35). To break that down a little more, between 1980 and 1989 the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics won 80% of the championships. Between 1990 and 1999 Houston and Chicago won 80% of the NBA championships.
Before the Warriors’ “lucky” run in 2015, three teams owned 13 of the previous 16 championships.
The 1970s is the closest the NBA ever came to parity. The Warriors didn’t “ruin” anything. They’re trying to do what all the greats have done, just in their own unique way.
So, are the Warriors boring? Well … sort of. I’m sure some people are bored by the blowouts. And if you “prefer close competition over good competition” or if you think first-round matchups between first and eighth seeds should be going the distance. But even if you buy into that you can’t possibly think the style that they play with is boring.
I agree with what Apricot said: “KD is not as creative and artistic as Steph.” So, there’s that. But as a unit? They’re one of the most fun teams to watch for any basketball purist.
In the end, these things go in cycles. How long will the Warriors be at the top? Three years? Four years? It won’t be long before a new super-team takes over. Everyone needs to find a way to accept this for what it is and just sit back and enjoy the show.
For the last two games of the Utah series, I watched the Warriors with people who a) could hardly be considered basketball fans or b) had just started watching the Warriors this season. In almost every case, people watch this team — with no real frame of reference for the nuances of basketball or real investment in the team — and find something that is simply remarkable. As in, they find some moment or some move that seems to just exceed expectations for what's possible on a basketball court. I've even been around people this season who have expected to be bored while watching the Warriors — either because they aren’t into basketball in particular or sports in general — and ended up leaving thinking that this team is somehow the outlier that captures their attention.
On just a very basic human level, Curry flicking the ball through a cylinder strikes even people who are not confined by the expectations of average players as exceptional; you don’t have to watch long to realize that most people wouldn’t even imagine taking the shots he makes. Ditto for watching Durant: seven-foot humans just don’t normally move that fluidly and it’s almost impossible to digest even as you watch it. On a team level, it’s the fluidity of the ball and player movement, the constant threat of beating the defense from so many angles and the speed at which they play that is almost immediately intriguing.
I suppose that as a seasoned viewer you come to a point where the novelty of all this wears off — at some point it might just become normal and, thus, more routine than exciting. But in terms of their postseason success ... boring? Maintaining this level of excellence against the top tier of the league is a challenge unto itself, especially considering that last year’s playoffs introduced the looming possibility that even a historically great team can find adversity as the level of competition increases.
Some people require drama or something to criticize to be stimulated so badly that just sitting back and enjoying the show for what it is actually feels uncomfortable. But I guess I'll just say to those people what I say to fans who panic and nitpick any time the team’s lead falls into single digits: if you can’t find some joy in experiencing this team, basketball might not be the sport for you. That’s perfectly fine, but I’d find it exhausting to expend so much energy trying to find fault with one of the best teams we’ve ever witnessed.
I think it is a pretty fair criticism. As a kid, I used to increase my video game sports teams to insane levels via trades, or just making a bunch of 99 skill level players. Turns out though, it isn’t as much fun - and I think that’s sort of the complaint here as well. There wasn’t enough of a chance of losing to keep it interesting.
The fact is that coming into the season, everyone KNEW that it was all about the Cavs and the Warriors. Sure, something crazy could happen, but odds are strongly in favor of a Cavs-Warriors showdown as the ultimate result of the season and that just takes away all the suspense. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I have to admit that there’s enough of a disparity in talent across the league that we have lost some of the suspense/drama this season.
Typical. Sports fans complain that major sports networks have devolved from news channels to reality debate – yet those shows get the highest ratings. Sports fans say they want tougher defense and grittier basketball, yet high-scoring teams and players consistently sell jerseys. And hoops heads say they want parity and upsets galore, yet they keep waxing poetic about Jordan’s Bulls and Bird’s Celtics in the same breath.
The Warriors are not boring. They’re right in the middle of what could be a historic championship dynasty. They reinvent the definition of great on a daily basis while challenging the most revered icons in the history of the sport. We’ve never seen a team like this – iconoclastic like Billy Beane’s Moneyball A’s and utterly overwhelming like the Murderer’s Row Yankees.
Boring? Maybe if your appreciation for the sport of basketball only goes so deep as not knowing who will win on a given night (to which I would tell you to start following less competitive basketball – it may scratch your itch). But sports aren’t about upsets. They’re like everything else in human history: an always-progressing not-yet-finished story, with one team or player building on the work of those who came before to achieve greater heights. When a team stops improving – that’s when it gets boring.
From science to music to fashion, we all seek a perfection that may not exist and may not be attainable. But getting closer is progress – and that’s what these Warriors represent.
I understand the frustration of watching your team grind all season long, only to know that it won’t matter in the end because even if they make it to the playoffs, there are one or two teams that will likely end their season.
I understand the frustration of watching your star player languish on a team that is unlikely to see a championship any time soon. Or worse, see that star leave because of it. Or worst of all, seeing your team rebuild only to rebuild again when it doesn’t work out.
That sucks and is something most can empathize with because it will ultimately happen to every team in every sport.
My issue comes with those who wish to re-write history, or have it both ways. Those who claimed that 73 wins meant nothing last season and that the Warriors were actually bad because they lost in the Finals. Those same people who said it was unfair for the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant because they were already too good. Which is it?
Those fans who were saying the Warriors were overrated during the regular season are the same ones saying they’re boring-ly good now. Which is it? Are they an unfair super-team or just a fluke?
Perhaps most frustrating are those who’ve gotten lost in a recency bias where the Warriors have been dominant in their minds for the last decade or more. I know the last year has felt long, but the Warriors have only started to be competitive in the last five seasons, and only dominant for the last three.
But guess what? Teams don’t stay dominant forever. This too will pass, so if it’s all the same to the haters, I’d like to kindly tell them to let us enjoy this while we can.
We are watching the greatest team our franchise is likely to ever see play exceptionally great basketball. We will need these memories some day and don’t need them tainted by the likes of the TNT crew.
As Klay Thompson recently said, “Only boring people get bored.” If it’s so boring, why are they watching? Playoff viewership is up 7% from last year. Which would suggest that those who find it boring are actually among the minority, whereas those who find it boring and watch it anyway just to complain are among the saltiest minority.