Is the pressure finally seeping into the Warriors bubble? For most of this historic season, they have done an expert job of drawing a line between themselves and everyone else by staying in their lane even when the social world has tried to tar and feather them as so-so champions who are lucky to be playing in this era of shrinking big men.
Last week, there was an infinite amount of critical talk from NBA legends dismissive of the Warriors style of play and of their superstar’s place in history. Whether it was Oscar Robertson being snarky about Steph’s three point game, or Chris Webber painting the Warriors with the “my era was tougher” brush, or Isiah Thomas saying the Warriors are the prototypical small ball team that would be crucified if they played in the ’80’s, it all came down to the same thing. The Warriors are the most dissected NBA champion. They are not allowed to just play and win. They have to do it in a way that other great players find acceptable. The backhanded compliments are coming so fast you can’t even duck. But, when Stephen Jackson says the 2006-07 team has more heart than the defending champions, and the media makes it a huge story (like Stephen Jackson is some sort of basketball intellectual savant), that’s when you know this season has become a referendum on the Warriors identity.
Draymond Green’s halftime tirade in OKC didn’t help things cool down. He went crazy in Oklahoma City and I’ll ask again, is the pressure finally seeping into the Warriors bubble? According to Stephen A. Smith and his sources, everything was cool until Steve Kerr showed film of Draymond Green making a mistake. Green went off on Kerr. He had to be held back by teammates. The OKC police were lingering outside just in case something went down. It was an ugly, ugly scene at the end of which Green took off his sneakers as if he wasn’t going to play anymore.
This is a case of taking the good with the bad. You’re paying Green a lot of money to be undersized and defend big men, to be physical and tough, to battle the likes of Stephen Adams and Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka. And then when he does all of that, leading you in rebounds and assists, you call him out on a mistake, as if he is the only one who made a mistake. Steve Kerr was right to do so; he is the coach. He needs to call players out when he needs to call them out. But, the collateral damage with an emotionally reactive player like Green, who threatened the nuclear option, was inevitable at some point during this season of Warrior critics.
Green has since apologized and all is well in Warriors land, save for the Curry sprained ankle. But, nothing dies in the social media industrial complex. Green has to defend his actions, show contrition and still it is a black mark on his record until the Warriors win another title. For his part, Green understands he has to make things right. Perception is truth. Now he is viewed in a far different light.
“I admitted my mistakes to my teammates, my coaching staff. I apologized to my teammates and my coaching staff, this organization. That wasn’t the right way to handle what needed to be handled. As a leader of this team, I can’t do that because it sets a bad precedent how everything is ran around here, how everything should be ran, how everything has been ran and how everything will run going forward. It won’t happen again.”
The emotional temperature of Green, he can go from zero to a hundred in five seconds flat, has been a catalyst for the Warriors, one they feed off of. Rarely has it gotten out of control and lets face it, if this happened twenty years ago, no one would have known the story. It would have slipped in the cracks of the Warriors histology and then forgotten. But the small little pitfalls of playing in this era is the challenge of playing in this era. Phones are everywhere. Cameras are everywhere. Yes, the small ball works in the Warriors favor. But the media intrusiveness is a complication you have to accept.
The worst thing you can call a professional athlete is a quitter. You can call him a choker. You can call him a loser. You can call him average. You can call him a whiner. You can say he is soft. You can say he is weak. You can say he is scared. You can call him a liar. But if you call him a quitter, you are slandering his competitive character, the reason he is being paid to perform.
Green’s emotions are fragile at times but his threat of refusing to go back in the game was a mistake he wishes he could take back. Though it brings to light an unspoken question: long term, can Steve Kerr’s niceness handle the passion of Draymond Green?
“I would never quit on my teammates as some have reported. I would never quit on this organization. This organization has given me everything I could ask for. I support and represent this organization to the best of my ability.”
Steph Curry is in agreement. “We know he’ll never quit, he’ll never do anything to put our production on the floor in jeapordy. Obviously, he’s an emotional guy. A fiery guy. That’s what we love about him. I’ve been in this league a long time. That wasn’t the first time it happened.”
So, it is the Warriors business as usual approach that is keeping them in tact. Everyone seems to forget that in spite of Green’s tantrum, the Warriors won the game. Their march towards history is still in tact. Draymond Green’s mother, Mary put it best, thought it won’t stop the haters.
“Whatever happened to wanting the next generation to be better than the last? What ever happened to being supportive, proud and uplifting, considering what this team is doing to spread the appeal of the game? Stop spewing envy. Especially, you former players, even you legends. These players are who you used to be. They are walking, following your footsteps. And nothing they have said or done suggest they aren’t appreciative and grateful.”
Even when they have temper tantrums.