OAKLAND -- To discover the secret to the Warriors and their many successes over the past three seasons, you naturally begin with the fascinating defense, the spectacular offense and the collective intellect of the players and staff.
Those are the visible and quantifiable elements that have allowed them to win 207 regular-season games and make consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, and they compile the first several chapters. They attract the reader.
The classified stuff and the thread that runs though this team, binding it like a military regiment, is hidden on the margins of every page. And it’s what makes the book of this team so compelling.
For any of their visible factors to flourish, the Warriors know they have to trust each other. They don’t have to like each other, don’t have to love each other, don’t even have to enjoy each other’s company. They simply have to know everyone is committed to the common purpose.
“We have plenty of fun, but when it comes time to get serious this group understands how to go about it the right way,” veteran forward David West says. “There’s a lot of belief. It’s a pretty special group.”
Trust is a simple concept, incredibly rare in today’s NBA, and the Warriors have it.
“I’ve never been around anything quite like this,” says acting head coach Mike Brown, who has involved in the NBA for 25 years, including three stints as a head coach.
That’s why Draymond Green can bark at Kevin Durant, why Durant can call out Stephen Curry and why Curry can get after Klay Thompson. It’s why Zaza Pachulia and Green get into animated dialogue. It’s why Shaun Livingston’s ear is always available, and why Andre Iguodala can prod the collective killer instinct.
“It’s hard to be honest with someone that doesn’t necessarily trust you, or know that you have their best interest at heart,” Green says. “Because when you don’t, you naturally go into a state of defense. So it’s important to have trust and know that everyone’s main goal is the same, and just knowing that everybody’s got your back.”
That trust is why West can put a muscular arm around such a strong personality as Green and remind him, like a big brother, that for every action or inaction there is consequence for the common goal.
“We’ve got real guys, guys that are genuine,” Livingston says. “That’s what it’s about. There’s no fake love around here. Nobody is with a (personal agenda).
“The agenda on this team is to win. And when you bring a multitude of guys, starting from the top down, and that’s their agenda, everybody buys in. It makes coming to work every day easier.”
Understand, though, that egos are not checked at the door. Ego lives and breathes among the Warriors, because, for one, coach Steve Kerr wouldn’t have it any other way. Every man has the space to be himself and speak his mind. Even act out. But there is an overall maturity and character that doesn’t allow ego to poison the cause.
Despite innuendo that Green plays by his own set of rules, there has been no sign among the Warriors of what Hall of Fame coach/executive Pat Riley refers to as the “Disease of Me,” which, at its essence, is a warning about the ills of putting one’s self above the group.
No one is a better exemplar than Curry. The longest-tenured Warrior, drafted in 2009, has faced skeptics and made them believers. He has endured physical hardship that not only compromised his last contract extension but also left some wondering if ankle woes might derail his career. He has overcome it all to win back-to-back MVP awards, a scoring title and lead a team to a championship.
Yet Curry’s wondrous blend of personal humility and hoops arrogance has a way of constantly bending the Warriors in the right direction. He’s a great player who happens to be a coachable leader, such as Tim Duncan was in San Antonio.
Asked about the eight-man team that delivered a final recruiting pitch to Durant last summer, Iguodala says most of the individual credit goes to Curry. There would be no recruitment trip if he weren’t fully committed.
Being the superstar that he is, Durant needed to see Curry’s invitation and feel his warmth. He did. He signed. A Warrior for 10 months now, Durant’s personality has coordinated nicely with those of his teammates.
He is a lot like Curry insofar as each has a wicked sense of humor, as well as a natural cordiality that turns fierce on the court.
“They’re both great players, yet it’s never about them,” Green says. “When you’re playing with players with that talent level (Curry, Durant and Thompson), to be as selfless as they are is not normal. That’s a huge reason why this thing can stay so tight-knit.”
In the hours before Game 4 against Utah, Green sat courtside joking about “beef” among the Warriors because he and Durant went to a golf park on the off day, and Green said he would not have gone with Curry or Iguodala. The reason is that Curry and Iguodala are serious golfers, while Green and Durant are hackers of similar ilk.
Later that night, in the wake of a Game 4 victory that advanced the Warriors to the Western Conference Finals for the third consecutive season, Durant provided his view of how the Warriors benefit from trust and mutual respect.
“We don’t take ourselves that seriously,” Durant said. “It’s basketball. We keep it on the basketball court. When Steph sees something, he tells me. When I see something, I tell him. It’s the same with Draymond, same with Andre and Klay. It’s nothing personal. We’re going out there trying to handle business as a group. And if we’ve got something we need to talk over, we’re going to talk it over.
“It’s not about how we say it, most of the time,’ he added. “It’s about the message. We just go out there and try to execute it. We’re grown men. Sometimes, the words are not going to be as pretty as you want them to be -- or as (media) may want them to be. But for us, it’s all about the message and it’s all about the win at the end of the day.”
So there will be heated moments, just as there might be between husband and wife, or siblings. There will be times when it appears there might be animosity.
But this isn’t Utah, where late in the regular season Rudy Gobert openly questioned the tenacity of some of his teammates. This isn’t the current Lakers, where one teammate spied on another’s personal life, or the old Lakers, where Shaq and Kobe barely could stand to be in the same locker room.
Nor is this the Knicks, where the team president publicly chastises his star player. Nor is this today’s Clippers, whose internal frustrations have led to epic postseason meltdowns, or the legendary Chicago Bulls, where Michael Jordan, on any given day, might have felt the urge to savagely castigate, or physically confront, a teammate.
And what the Warriors have sure isn’t Cleveland, where everyone in the state, much less the team, knows exactly which player is beyond reproach.
“We all have to hold each other accountable,” says Livingston, who has played for nine different franchises. “Draymond is the leader in that . . . We need that. But it’s all of us, from the top down.
“It’s uncommon, because guys (on most teams) don’t want to step on each other’s toes. Then, too, it’s how a roster is constructed. If you have too many Draymonds, that might not work out. But we have a nice balance. We’ve got a nice mix. Even though Draymond is the outspoken one of the group, we all have fire in us. We all are competitors. We still want to win.”
That desire, that kinship, drives the Warriors. It’s behind the shooting, the passing, the cutting, the screen-setting, the defensive choreography and synergy.
Behind that, though, is an open floor, which creates a bond that evolves into a degree of trust not always visible yet constantly nourishing and sustaining everything they do. It doesn’t guarantee the Warriors another championship, but it’s required of them to be at their best.