How Golden State Warriors climbed the mountain all over again

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By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer

It was Father’s Day in 2016, and as Warriors general manager Bob Myers drove across the Bay Bridge to attend Game 7 of the NBA Finals, he had one distinct thought.

In just a few hours, he was either going to be elated or devastated.

It ended up being the latter. 

The Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead to fall to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a shocking implosion for a team that had won an NBA-record 73 regular-season games.

Later that night, Myers returned home to a deafening quietude. In an alternate universe, he would’ve been jumping around a locker room as champagne sprayed from all directions like a monsoon. But instead, he sat across the dinner table from his wife in silence.

“I had a grilled cheese sandwich, and I poured some whiskey,” Myers told FOX Sports. “When you win, you get 250 text messages. When you lose, you get about three — and they’re from your family.

“For me, losing is hard because I know the work I put into the job is time away from my three daughters, my wife. And so when you make all these sacrifices and come up short, the pain is like, ‘I worked really hard for this, and it didn’t happen.'”

The Warriors were in the ultimate pressure cooker when they reached the NBA Finals five straight seasons from 2015 to 2019, a roller-coaster ride that led them to three championships.

But being atop the league takes a toll.

That type of intensity is all-consuming. It’s like taking the Bar Exam to become a lawyer over and over again, but in front of tens of millions of people with every mistake being publicly ridiculed.

For that reason, the Warriors said their run needed to come to an end.

“You can’t run a marathon every single year or keep running them back-to-back without some price to pay,” Myers told FOX Sports.

After 2019, things crumbled for the Warriors. They missed the playoffs entirely in 2020 and 2021. It was a scary time for an organization that was accustomed to being at the top.

But in retrospect, it was deeply necessary. Without that break, the Warriors wouldn’t be where they are now: back in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons.

Throughout the playoffs, Draymond Green has reiterated one point over and over again: He doesn’t think everybody in this league really wants to win.

It’s an oxymoron when you think about it. Winning is the goal of the sport. It’s how success is defined. It’s what everyone wants, at least theoretically.

But in reality, winning is a complicated pursuit. Truly laying it all on the line for that goal is deeply exhausting. It requires being vulnerable. Being tireless. Being exposed.

“For a guy making $35 million a year and never has to win, why stress yourself out that way?” Green said. “That’s what a loser thinks. I just don’t think that way. But a lot of guys around this league do, and that’s OK.”

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Earlier this month, Nick Wright joined Colin Cowherd to discuss Draymond Green’s impact on the Warriors’ dynasty.

When asked to describe what it takes to win at the highest level, Green chuckled. He pointed to all the gray hairs in his beard at age 32.

He then provided a peek into the psychology of a winner.

“It’s mentally, physically and, most of all, emotionally draining and taxing because it requires a level of focus, it requires a level of sacrifice that’s stressful,” Green said. “You fully immerse yourself into this — almost like this trance — and everything is that. Basketball, all day, every day. How can I get better with this? What am I putting in my body that’s going to help me tomorrow? Can’t eat this thing, can’t eat that thing. Can’t drink this thing.”

The Warriors lived under that intensity for five years.

They have the second-longest Finals streak in NBA history behind the Boston Celtics, who reached the Finals 10 straight times from 1957 to 1966. But back then, there were only eight NBA teams, compared to the 30 there are today.

For the Warriors, eventually something had to give.

And nearly everything did.

Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals and then tore his Achilles right before he was supposed to return ahead of the 2020-21 season. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn in free agency in 2019. Stephen Curry sustained a broken hand four games into the 2019-20 season.

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Myers said you can’t necessarily point to one of those events as derailing the Warriors’ championship run.

“Everybody has a different idea of why it stopped, whether injuries or Kevin left,” Myers told FOX Sports. “But it was probably stopping anyway. I think going back to the Finals for six years in a row is just kind of unfathomable.”

In fact, Myers and Warriors coach Steve Kerr were recently discussing that phenomenon. Kerr explained that the same thing happened when he played for the Chicago Bulls, who won six championships between 1991 and 1998.

At a certain point, dynasties just need to fall apart, at least for a while.

“He mentioned to me that a lot of people blamed [Bulls general manager Jerry] Krause or blamed the fact that [coach] Phil [Jackson] wasn’t coming back,” Myers told FOX Sports. “[Kerr] said, ‘The truth is, it was just over.'”

The scary question becomes: Will it ever happen again?

It hasn’t for the Bulls. Myers acknowledged that for the Warriors, he truly didn’t know.

During the 2019-2020 season, the Warriors plummeted to the cellar of the league, winning only 15 games in the COVID-shortened 65-game season. But there were too many injuries to gauge the team.

The following season, frustrations began to rise. It wasn’t until they won 15 of their last 20 games that they started to look like a semblance of their old selves. Curry and Green made a final push to try to make the playoffs, but they lost the play-in game. That led them to come to a unanimous consensus.

“We can’t f—— keep doing this,” Green told FOX Sports.

Even this season, there were so many question marks. A month before the playoffs began, Curry, Green and Thompson had played only 11 minutes together over the past three years. Would they be able to figure things out in time to make a run?

“I didn’t know that we’d be any good …” Myers told FOX Sports. “I think the thing that made us stay the course was, organizationally, all the way from [owner] Joe [Lacob] to us in the front office, was we felt an obligation to give those three — Steph, Klay and Draymond — another chance. 

“They deserved another shot at trying to win.”

During these playoffs, it has seemed as if no time has passed for the dynasty. The Warriors have shown their championship DNA over and over again, highlighted by them storming back from a 19-point deficit to beat the Mavericks in Game 2 of the West finals, their third-largest postseason comeback in franchise history.

Nothing seems to fluster this team. Nothing shakes the players’ trust in themselves.

Kerr believes the team’s current success can be directly traced to its steep tumble from the spotlight.

“I think what you’re seeing this year is Steph, Klay, Draymond, Andre [Iguodala], all those guys who were a part of that, Loon [Kevon Looney] as well, really revitalized,” Kerr said. “Yes, I think being away for as long as we were, basically two years, I think fueled us, and you’re seeing the results now.”

That being said, the playoff break wasn’t exactly enjoyable for the Warriors’ superstars. In fact, it was a cruel form of torture. If there are few players who genuinely want to win in this league, Curry, Thompson and Green are among them. They need to win. When they’re losing, they’re lost.

“While going through it, you feel like the world is collapsing,” Green said. “You play basketball to get to these moments, to play in the playoffs, to possibly win a championship. And when you don’t have that opportunity, you’re not thinking, ‘This is priming us for this.’ You’re like, ‘What do I have to do to get back there?’ 

“In hindsight, it probably was a good recovery for us. But when you’re going through it, you’re miserable.”

It’s clear the Warriors are still atop the league when their superstars are together. Their two losing seasons did nothing to shake their chemistry or their resolve.

But it’s hard not to wonder how much longer they’ll be able to maintain this.

Over their five-year Finals run, they notched more than a season and a half of extra playing time. And now, they’re no longer young. Curry is 34 and both Green and Thompson are just two years behind him.

Sure, the Warriors have added young talent in Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and James Wiseman, but their Big Three is quickly becoming their Ancient Three in basketball years.

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After the Warriors beat Memphis in the second round of the playoffs, Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks succinctly expressed the sentiment of every up-and-coming team gunning for the league’s most recent dynasty: “We’re young, they’re getting old, so they know we’re coming every single year.”

But Curry doesn’t expect the Warriors’ stars to slow down any time soon. And above all else, while they’re still in their primes, they’re going to do everything in their power to get to the mountaintop again.

They know what it takes to devote every ounce of themselves to winning, and they’re still willing to make that sacrifice.

“Where our core is in terms of our careers, we feel like we have a whole lot more left in the tank,” Curry said. “And right now is an amazing opportunity for us because each time you get here, you realize how hard it is to get here, how hard it is to win. And the fact there’s a finite timeline to all of this in terms of trying to play at this level. So you’ve got to appreciate it and enjoy it, and that’s why we love what we do.”

For Myers, the past eight years have been a wild ride, and the Warriors’ return to the NBA Finals is a giant sigh of relief.

He’s lucky his players enjoy the profound angst of trying to win. He knows it’s rare. As Green said, it’s for the few and very few.

“The thing about being in the Finals that I think would be a common thread for an executive or coach or a player is the tension of it,” Myers told FOX Sports. “It’s the inability to breathe. It’s the highest stakes of our business atmosphere. I think what Draymond is saying is that some people struggle with that. I think a lot of people do. I’d say most people do. There’s a rare minority that thrive in it and that seek it.”

It comes with extreme highs.

There was the surreal feeling Myers felt after the Warriors first reached the mountaintop in 2015. Or the happiness he experienced when David West cried tears of joy after winning his first title in 2017. Or the awe he experienced in watching Mike Brown take over the helm in 2017 when Kerr was dealing with horrible back issues and then seeing Kerr return to lead the team across the finish line.

Of course, the lows are equally intense, which is why Myers’ stomach sank as he drove across the Bay Bridge six years ago.

But Myers can’t wait to experience the tumult all over again.

“It’s a very high-class problem, if you want to call it a problem,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s exactly what you want to do in your professional career. But there’s a toll to it.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter at @melissarohlin.


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