Millionaires at Play
Sports commentary is not my thing, except to read and enjoy it. However, in this case, I have to comment as the Golden State Warriors are breaking the mold and creating a new kind of basketball which seems to mystify sports commentators. To listen to them go on about the same old boring Warriors winning every game by double figures, setting new records every day, makes me wonder if they are awake. I love the new Warriors ad which says asks: “Who are the Warriors?” And answers: “A bunch of nobodies.” What is happening? In a nutshell, I think the Warriors have rediscovered the team sport. Why is this remarkable? Because it is hard to get millionaires to play like a team.
Years ago I had a job building a deck for Šarūnas Marčiulionis, a Warrior in the 1980s, at his mansion out in Orinda. He was injured at the time, but, nevertheless, worked out every day with doctors and trainers who came and went as I banged nails out in the backyard. He was like an institution in himself. I learned then that all the big players are like that. They come into the game like millionaire businessmen come into the board room, full of themselves and seeking to maximize their own personal profit, records, playing time or whatever. Like corporations everywhere, the military model of command rules them. You sign up and pledge allegiance. The impact of this mentality on the NBA is obvious and regrettable. The bigger and rougher the player, the better. But big and rough does not always produce the finesse that is the heart of the game of basketball. Watching stars excel has become the main focus for fans and, too much of the time, for the other four players standing around watching the one-on-one match-ups. And many have seen this as a perversion of the sport. Fans are very loyal though and tend to jump on bandwagons that seem to be going to the top. We idolize Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, and all the other great stars who rotate through the game.
Now, here come the Warriors and that little guy, Steph Curry. Warriors are millionaires too. They are subject to the same pressures to maximize their profits like the big corporations now running things around the world. But something new got added to the mix. Steve Kerr came on board. He brought with him the experiences of playing with Michael Jordan and under some great coaches. He had a long career in the NBA and knew how it worked and what pressures each individual millionaire player was under. And somehow he broke through the barriers that divided the players, the institutionalized walls of self-aggrandizement and maximization, to create a selfless sharing team that brings the sport back to life. And the results are spectacular, to say the least. The command structure turned the players loose to work together without the rigid lines of past command formations cluttering their play. Spontaneity and innovation rose to the top. Improvisation came with it creating the surprises and thrills that we are witnessing. And no surprise surpasses Steph Curry who gives hope and inspiration to all the regular sized kids playing that sport.
We live in a time of individualism and selfishness that exceeds anything ever known, probably since the fall of the Roman Empire. Sports will not remake the world, but sports reflect what is going on. And the rise of teamwork, cooperation, selflessness, and sharing is happening all around us. It is unheralded, mostly, but it grows and offers our youth a real path in life very different from the one that is currently in vogue. The Warriors are bringing it to the front in sports. As a fan, I can’t help but love the winning. But as a sports commentator, I can’t help but think that a new world lies ahead for us if we can learn this lesson. I recently read an internet post on Steve Jobs’ last wish, before he died. It had a photo of him at the time, weak, pale, and thin, standing with the help of a friend. His wish was that he would have spent less time making money and more time with his loved ones. He learned the lesson at the last moment. Better late than never.