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Why did we start to hate the Warriors?

The Warriors were once beloved. Now, they’re the NBA’s villains. When did the tide turn and how will they handle that label?

Golden State Warriors Media Day Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Golden State Warriors. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.

FLANNERY: I've been thinking about something all summer and I still don't think I've figured it out yet, so here's hoping you can provide some clarity.

Here's the question: At what point did people turn on the Warriors, and why?

I know it was sometime during the conference finals that Warrior schadenfreude began to reveal itself, and that obviously escalated during the Finals. There are a hundred different reasons, from Joe Lacob's self-satisfied proclamations to Draymond Green going all Bruce Lee on opponent's groins. I get all that.

But at some point, everything the Warriors did became grounds for derision. I'm wondering if you think it was something deeper, lying in wait all season below the surface. Honestly, I freaking loved this team during the regular season and I think a lot of others did, as well.

ZILLER: As the foremost lecturer on Warriors' hate, I can relate that this was always going to happen. The American sports fandom paradigm of our time is that of derision, amazement, and laughter in all its forms, and all at once. In a bewildering world, we meet a bewildering sports ecology with a potent mix of cynicism and wonder. We can sit in slack-jawed amazement at 73-9 all while hoping it gets derailed. Come on: this is the American sports fandom that will stone anyone who challenges Michael Jordan's supreme greatness, yet also invented the trope of using a photo of a crying Michael Jordan to signify an athlete's failure. We contain multitudes.

There are certainly discrete threads to the Warriors' heel turn. I detailed them in a piece early in the playoffs. The Lacob profile was a masterpiece of karmic askance; only losing the Finals after being up 3-1 could honor such a gift. No one likes a nut puncher (this and the flopping hold CP3 from more appropriate historic esteem), and in general folks like to see the mighty afflicted. The Thunder and then the Cavaliers gave them that. And so it goes. With Kevin Durant, it will get worse.

There are also important undercurrents worth watching. One is the wealthy pedigree of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson compared to, say, the rougher upbringing of LeBron. (This effect is so complicated given the diversity of paths to the modern NBA. But the undercurrent exists.) There is an avatar for societal issues in the gentrification of the franchise, fanbase and surrounding metro area. And there is the whole issue of the Warriors essentially breaking the NBA with math. Having added Durant, that's not going away.

Golden State of Mind season preview

FLANNERY: My friend has a term for when you're about to break up with someone but haven't gotten around to it yet: instant revulsion. That's when everything that you used to enjoy, tolerate, or dislike about someone blends into the same toxic brew and you don't even remember why you liked them in the first place.

I confess that I still enjoy the Warriors: the shooting, the skill, the team play, the effortless comebacks, the overwhelming blowouts. That's all still there, although now that KD is added to the mix, it feels superfluous. I get that they needed another prime scorer to take the heat off Steph, but they added perhaps the best pure scorer in the league. Crikey.

Let's pivot to KD here. I've been grappling with this, as well. Of course he has the right to play where he wants to play and I will defend that right with anyone, anywhere. But man, this still feels kinda lame, no?

ZILLER: Something can absolutely be totally valid and simultaneously lame. Teams do a lot of lame but valid things.

I don't know if I qualify Durant's move as lame necessarily, though, if only because it appears Durant did not have fun in Oklahoma City and will have amazing amounts of fun in Golden State.

To me, agency is not just technical validation for your choices. Agency is the ability to prioritize values as you see fit in decision-making. Durant valued some combination of winning a title, having fun, and living near Silicon Valley enough to (according to him) narrowly tilt his decision toward the Warriors. Until and unless we have a full and honest accounting of his decision-making factors, I don't feel comfortable marking it as lame. Even if I personally wish as a fan and commentator that he'd have stayed in OKC.

I sense you disagree.

FLANNERY: When I say lame, I don't mean villainous. I mean, lame, like the kid that would hide behind the trees at recess while you were choosing sides for a pickup game to make sure he went to the stacked team. I feel comfortable calling it lame, and I also feel comfortable not losing any sleep over it or what it means for the ecosystem of the game itself. KD to the Warriors was a fluke, brought about by a half-dozen other factors that have been well chronicled over the years, from Steph's cut-rate extension to Draymond's second-round selection.

I think it's fantastic. We've talked about this before: super teams are great for the league. Whether we're reveling in their glory or rooting for their demise, super teams make us feel things that mediocre clubs simply can't muster.

I'm left with one more question: Should the Warriors embrace their new roles as the league's arch-villains? My sense is outside of Draymond, they won't wear that mantle well.

ZILLER: Steph as a purposeful villain makes me laugh. Yet he was certainly a villain -- or at least a large-scale target for derision -- in the Finals as Kyrie Irving outplayed him and LeBron chattered in his ear.

I think "punk" is the operative word for how the wider fandom will frame Steph and the Warriors in general. Klay Thompson questioning LeBron's manliness? Punk move. Draymond calling LeBron a bitch? Punk move. Steph throwing his mouthpiece? Punk move. Durant joining the Warriors? According to many, a punk move. This is the Warriors: they are the NBA's punks.

If they win 34 straight or 74 games or go undefeated in the playoffs, all is forgiven, because our instinct to be impressed by wonder will overtake our cynicism. LeBron and the Heatles experienced that in 2012-13.

It will no doubt happen here, too. They are just too damn good.


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