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OAKLAND, Calif. — Here’s a major reason people are so quick to resent the greatness of the Golden State Warriors:
They already resent the greatness of LeBron James.
James’ dominance of this game and this league is like a river that has flowed from Lake Erie into Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and then up again…and now here are the Warriors building their own massive, seemingly long-standing bridge over all that James still controls.
It’s an absolute overload of superiority at a time when our world-is-flat society is so much more able and amenable to overturning heroes’ pedestals than in the Michael Jordan idolatry era.
This goes beyond resentment about Kevin Durant‘s arrival.
The Warriors brought us beautiful basketball, and Stephen Curry was like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s why everyone went gaga for all of it two years ago…until we grew used to it, limiting our appreciation of it.
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The novelty was long gone before Durant and Curry, with this tremendously talented support system, blew through the competition more easily than any team in NBA history.
Therein lies the key word in all of this: competition.
Whether from critics or haters, the argument against the status quo is that the bedrock of the game should be competition. An NCAA tournament game with guys dribbling mindlessly deep into the shot clock or teams of 10-year-olds at the neighborhood gym can offer legitimate fun and entertainment because value lies in the purity of competition.
Good games are called good games because they are competitive, not necessarily because they are played well.
Competition is the real reason anyone who feels anti-LeBron or anti-Warriors should do something about it.
Business advisers might be suggesting to NBA owners that this is a convenient time to rebuild, except then you’d be acting out the very problem you’re complaining about by furthering the lack of competition.
Fans who don’t like the current situation should be pressuring the Boston Celtics to get Paul George or Jimmy Butler—or both. They should be loudly throwing support behind the Toronto Raptors for at least trying to compete late this season in trading assets for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, even if it didn’t work.
And if you are someone who plays great basketball, the onus is on you as a competitor to swing that pendulum rather than capitulating to the Warriors or Cavaliers. Free agents such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap have to decide for themselves if they believe they can and should compete for titles or would rather prioritize other parts of their lives and assume Durant will get all the gold.
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Yes, it was pre-KD, but we need only go back a year to be reminded: Stuff happens. The greatest regular-season team in NBA history nearly blew the Western Conference Finals…and then did blow the NBA Finals.
You can argue that the latter happened only because Curry wasn’t 100 percent and Draymond Green got suspended, but allow me clarify something: Curry has been injury-prone and Green has been unstable.
That’s part of their humanity. Durant, Andre Iguodala and even coach Steve Kerr have thick medical files too. Streak shooter Klay Thompson was cold most of this postseason.
Assuming Curry, Durant and Iguodala are all back under contract to keep this core together, the likelihood that Durant is better integrated with the Warriors next season will be offset by how innately difficult it is to repeat as champions. Egos swell from every individual being told all summer that he is the best while being disconnected from his teammates. Golden State will still need some luck in 2018.
And let’s be clear that the Warriors got some during this 2017 run: While Golden State got Durant back from injury just in time, Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic, Utah’s Rudy Gobert and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard all were hurt on the other side. Both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hurt for Cleveland two years ago, remember, to make the 2015 Finals a mismatch.
But full credit should go to James, Irving, Love and the Cavaliers for trying their absolute hardest in the 2016 Finals instead of surrendering automatically to what appeared by all logic to be a 73-9 team of destiny.
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That is precisely the mentality it will take to re-establish competition at the top of the NBA. Those who weren’t in the 2017 Finals (which had plenty of superteam admirers as the most-watched Finals since the Jordan era in 1998) have to dig deeper. They have to demand their own best instead of submitting to a defeatist, resentful attitude that pre-empts their ability to compete.
Rooting for the implosion or breakup of the Warriors is anyone’s prerogative because there have always been people rooting against the Yankees or Cowboys or Lakers.
James, for one, grew up a Yankees and Cowboys fan, and a basic reason to differentiate between Jordan and James is that James has rightly always felt like a front-runner. He has been uniquely superior for so long, from “The Chosen One” to “The King” to “The Decision” that made many of us feel as if he were talking down to us.
To be honest, the Warriors have more of that Jordan-like backstory—that of the apocryphal tale that Jordan was cut from his high school team—with numerous players initially undervalued. The long-suffering franchise was revitalized only when Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the club from Chris Cohan in 2010.
Whatever the once-underdog perspective, though, neither James nor the Warriors feel like Jordan. Back in the day, his god-like stature couldn’t be reached by any information superhighway or soiled by simple overexposure.
Nothing could touch Jordan’s legend as the ultimate competitor.
And that item is essential to this discussion.
Some will never respect the greatness or titles of a Durant-joined team or a James-graced roster the way they did with Jordan because they view them as won on sheer talent, while he won his through fierce competition.
That’s why it’s imperative—for all of us who love a good game and for the Warriors and Cavaliers whose success is resented for being too easy—that others in the NBA meet their challenge as soon as possible.
There’s hope these two elite entities will garner the respect they deserve if everyone keeps trying to climb.
There isn’t if the others surrender to the steep slope of the mountain.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.