Anyone would be hard-pressed to discuss the Golden State Warriors without including terms such as “class act,” “A+ organization” or “high character.” But the organization did not arrive at this reputation by happenstance. It gained it by design.
In his 2014-15 MVP speech, Stephen Curry said:
To the Warriors organization: Joe, Peter, Rick, Bob, all of your staff in the front office, everybody that works upstairs in the offices, we play for a first‑class organization, and you have to appreciate that. I love coming to work every day because of how you treat us. What you've done to change the culture around here and just your leadership, so thank you very much for all your hard work and the decisions you've made along the way.
In thanking the organization for “chang[ing] the culture around here,” Curry implied that issues existed in the culture prior to changes that made the Warriors a “first-class organization.” He didn’t have to name names or point fingers because the media already had done this for him.
One of the issues that plagued the organization prior to the overhaul would be hypocrisy. From the outside looking in, a minister leading a squad quarterbacked by a devout Christian seemed like a match made in heaven. But Mark Jackson was not practicing what he was preaching, and his dirty dealings came into the light in 2012 when an extramarital affair came back to haunt him following an extortion scheme perpetrated by his mistress.
This is not to say Mark Jackson should face eternal damnation for his sins. He made a mistake — several mistakes, actually, and repeated bad choices to cover them up — hurting most of all his wife, children, the young people who looked up to him, and his reputation in the religious community. Perpetuating lies and engaging in long-term deception epitomize indecency and debauchery. In other words, those actions severely lack integrity.
Jackson may not face eternal damnation, but it can easily be argued that he is in the middle of a living hell. He is likely very thankful to be employed in basketball and able to provide for his family. But each night his job requires him to cover a Warriors’ game must feel like a type of torture. Seeing the team excel under different leadership is a persistent reminder of all that he had and all that he lost. The quips that come out of his mouth and cause his broadcasting partner, Jeff Van Gundy, to look at him askance, and Dub Nation Twitter to spin into snarky tirades, serve as evidence that the pill is still bitter and he hasn’t managed to fully swallow it down.
Another big issue pervading the team’s culture in the pre-Steve Kerr era was the treatment of women. Specifically, former Warriors’ star Monta Ellis was sued for sexual harassment in 2011 by Erika Ross Smith, a former employee of the Warriors’ community relations department. The suit also accused Warriors’ owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber of “fostering an improper sexual atmosphere,” retaliation and wrongful termination.
The case was settled out of court, so there is no way to know more of what went on here. But the changes that followed the Jackson and Ellis scandals make clear that team ownership was intent on shaking things up. Bringing in Bob Myers as general manager followed by Steve Kerr as head coach showed a commitment to identifying and rectifying problems of the past. The measured temperament and sound disposition of both Myers and Kerr undoubtedly played a major role in fostering a principled culture based on moral integrity.
Additionally, both Myers and Kerr have endured life-altering tragedies that left them with a healthy perspective about the role of basketball in the much grander scheme of life. Keeping an eye on what is important is a cornerstone of integrity.
Hey, nobody’s perfect!
So, Draymond Green had a little mishap with social media, which resulted in him broadcasting his manly parts across the globe. And, yes, he got into a fight in a bar with a local football player in Michigan. He claims he had been heckled over the 3-1 2016 Finals loss and apparently snapped and slapped the guy. The accuser, however, claims he was punched by Green, but an off-duty officer inside the bar at the time of the incident provided a statement that Green issued a slap, not a punch. (Of course, there is never an excuse for anyone to lay their hands on another person — slap, punch, or anything else — to resolve conflict!)
Additionally, the accuser did not sustain injuries in the altercation and declined medical treatment. This is not to excuse what Green did, and it goes without saying that an incident such as this one could have turned into something much more serious and dangerous. But instead of denying involvement and entering into a potentially lengthy legal ordeal, Green admitted what he did right away, apologized, and said he wanted to make it right.
In other words, integrity does not mean being perfect. Every human is prone to mistakes and choices they later go on to regret. But to admit fault rather than hiding behind lawyers is a great example of the type of forthright honesty that is sorely lacking in our society overall.
On the t-shirt war and integrity
After the Cavs’ 2016 championship win, LeBron James wore an “Ultimate Warrior” t-shirt off the plane upon landing in Cleveland with the first trophy the city had ever seen. He denied that the shirt was a diss towards the Warriors — to the eye rolls of many — and explained the situation this way:
Okay, this is LeBron James we’re talking about, here. A man with a private jet and an ATM and Starbucks’ barista station in his home. He is the player with the power to hand pick his teammates and fire and hire coaches. If attire he needed was packed in luggage in the belly of the plane, who in their right mind believes the Cavs would not require some low-level employee — or member of the airport ground crew — to fetch his bag so that he could change clothes?
That he proceeded to throw a Halloween bash the following October featuring a “3-1 lead” trolling message on a drumkit to go along with tombstone cookies with the names of Warriors’ players on them makes his Ultimate Warrior t-shirt story even more unlikely.
By contrast, at the Warriors’ 2017 parade, Draymond Green — in clear retaliation over LeBron’s 2016 parade t-shirt diss and Halloween party antics — came out with a trolling t-shirt of his own. But, when asked about his shirt in an interview with Ros Gold-Onwude, did Draymond claim it was a coincidence or an accident? No. He stated unequivocally that it was a clapback at LeBron, but a bit of good-natured fun as well.
In light of Draymond speaking so freely about the incidents, and in such a lighthearted way, LeBron should feel embarrassed.
Integrity isn’t about appearing like a great person. It’s about being up front and honest, even when it isn’t convenient to do so. It often means putting others’ needs before one’s own. Sometimes, it means eating crow.
Integrity also isn’t about being perfect, but admitting mistakes and finding ways to correct them. So, in the championship t-shirt wars, Draymond Green wins by TKO because he had the integrity to state the truth without hesitation, and even to admit to being petty about waiting months to seek revenge.
Why does integrity matter?
Integrity is often described as doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.
Sadly, it seems a drastic societal shift is underway in which people are moving away from integrity and towards shameless wrongdoing. Many seem to care less and less who their actions affect; they seem to have zero concern about whether anyone sees them engaging misdeeds.
But integrity is something we each can choose for ourselves, no matter how those around us conduct themselves. With any hope, we can become examples in our individual lives that ripple out and affect others the way bringing Bob Myers and Steve Kerr into the mix affected the Warriors.
Integrity not only is possible, but necessary. Is there any way a civilized society can be sustained without the majority of citizens abiding by this principle?
What can be made of LeBron wearing the same color scheme in his postgame presser following the Cavs’ championship loss as the skeleton drumkit from his Halloween display?
Considering the role of these colors in his karmic smack-down, it would seem he’d avoid them at all costs.