Strength in Fun
The Golden State Warriors’ secret sauce is playing with sheer joy.
The Warriors have fun on the court.
Courtesy of the Golden State Warriors.
It’s visible in their bouncy body language and infectious smiles and spontaneous team celebrations. It’s apparent in their swelling fan base, loaded with kids and non-basketball fans alike. It’s there as a reminder in an era of big money that basketball is a game to be played. It’s audible in the language they deploy to describe their run, starting with this year’s NBA coach-of-the-year Steve Kerr.
“He always uses the word ‘joy,’ ” noted CSN Bay Area commentator Garry St. Jean. “There’s happiness in the locker room.”
Indeed, the most compelling thing about the Golden State Warriors isn’t so much how much they win as how joyfully they do it. Yes, they set a league record with 73 wins in the regular season this year, but it’s the sheer fun they have playing the game—and with each other—that’s contagious. It’s the reason why they’re the hottest team in sports. Everyone loves them—even people who don’t really like sports.
And they love each other. Kerr and players like Klay Thompson can’t stop saying how fun it is to be a part of the group, one that is constantly group-texting when they’re not together. “We’ll look back at this as the best time in our lives,” Thompson said as the playoffs approached.
A key to their uniqueness is how much joy they get from helping each other on the court. They’re a model of unselfishness, routinely passing up good shots in order to dish the ball to an open teammate who has a better one. They averaged nearly 30 assists (28.9) a game during the regular season, highest in the league, three more than the next best. And their fun equals fan fun, to the tune of 114.9 points a game—the most in a quarter century.
Former Warrior-turned-announcer Tom Tolbert spoke for many when he admitted that he can’t watch other teams play without longing for Golden State’s more generous and elegant style. “The Warriors ruined the NBA for me.”
In the first round of the playoffs, the Houston Rockets’ petulant Patrick Beverley tried to ruin the Ws’ high by shoulder-checking Stephen Curry before tip off and tangling arms during a scrum that drew a double technical foul. Curry simply smiled. After the game, he said, “Was that dirty? Nah, that’s the game. That’s fun.”
When Curry went down with an ugly knee sprain against the Rockets in game four of the first round of the playoff, the Warriors might’ve reacted with the same anxiety as did their fan base. Instead: More togetherness, even joy, as improbable as that might sound—and a then-record number of playoff three pointers.
“It was a fun night,” Thompson told reporters. “You can’t sulk. That’s the last thing [Curry] wants us to do.”
And Curry himself? Sidelined, he became the team’s top cheerleader, smiling and jumping for joy whenever his teammates did well.
General Manager Bob Myers credited Kerr (who often credits everyone else) with setting the tone. “Steve has created a culture of joy and it resonates throughout our team,” Myers said. “Everyone is usually a little bit better at their job when they’re having fun.”
The not-so-joyful news for the rest of the league: The Warriors are still improving. After blowing away the record for threes two seasons straight, Curry made 40 percent more this year (402 total). As his scoring leaped from 23.8 to 30.1 points per game—and he led the entire league in steals—he shot an otherworldly 50-45-91 percent from the field, three-point range, and the free throw line, respectively.
Curry not only won his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award this year, but his season was so amazing he finished fourth in the vote for Most Improved Player.
Meanwhile, Thompson went for 30 or more points 17 times this year, compared to 16 total in the past four seasons. And in the early rounds of the playoffs, he became the first guy to ever make seven threes in four consecutive playoff games.
Forward Draymond Green, fresh off his best season yet (including an All-Star selection and second place in best defender league wide), notched 13 triple doubles and became the first player to go for 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, 100 steals, and 100 blocks in a season. Teammate Andrew Bogut calls him “probably the best all-around player in the league.”
But that isn’t Green’s message though: “We gotta continue to improve,” he said.
Which means less fun for the rest of the NBA—and a lot more for the rest of us.
Editor's Note: This story appears in the June edition of Oakland and Alameda magazines, but we decided to post it now because the Warriors are facing a possible elimination from the playoffs on May 27.