Arrogance isn’t often viewed as an attribute, a quality that others find endearing.
Yet there’s a caveat, best expressed by the icon we’re all celebrating this week, the great Muhammad Ali, for whom — at the height of his athletic power — humility was a anomaly, a “bad man,” who was “so pretty” and “king of the world.”
“I am the greatest,” Ali said. “I said that before I even knew I was.”
The caveat, of course, was that it “ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”
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Joe Lacob, the managing partner of the Golden State Warriors, did his best Ali impersonation back in March, when he irritated many in the basketball world with a series of conceited claims in a gushing New York Times Magazine profile. Such as this, about his contemporary NBA adversaries: “We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team,” Lacob said. “We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things. We’re going to be a handful for the rest of the NBA to deal with for a long time.”
Imagine how arrogant he’ll be with a fistful of rings.
Imagine how arrogant he’ll have the right to be.
The other 29 teams — including the one (Cleveland) down 2-0 in this latest NBA Finals to the Warriors and the one (Miami) itching to remake its roster for another title run — have surely recognized the simple reality by now.
Golden State’s not going away.
Not, as Lacob humbly noted, for a long time.
Not with its four most important players — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala — all signed for next season, with Green’s deal running through 2020 and Thompson’s through 2019.
Not with close to $20 million in cap space available if it doesn’t bring back Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Shaun Livingston — enough for someone like, say, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum — though it could likely return two of the three and find some ring-hungry veteran to fill out the roster.
Not with a new arena in the glamour Bay Area city — San Francisco — scheduled for opening in 2019.
Not with the squad seemingly inoculated from what Riley has called “the Disease of Me,” as well as other deadly sins that tend to dethrone defending champions. Every dynasty ends, and all that differs are the means, but the Warriors have the means to ride this wave longer than most.
The ego clashes that create antipathy are not apparent, not like for the Lakers of the early 2000s or countless others before; Thompson and Green appear comfortable complimenting Curry, starring in his shadow.
Nor do the Warriors have the age issue that has afflicted prior dynasties; Curry, Thompson, Green and Barnes, should he stay, are all under 30.
Accounting problems? As we covered earlier, the Warriors are covered there. To accommodate the salary cap, they did dispatch a popular teammate in David Lee last summer — as the Heat did with Mike Miller in 2013 to lessen luxury tax — but have proven no worse for it.
Apathy? You won’t see that from this group, which — justifiably — sees itself as slighted. TNT’s Charles Barkley is still arguing that jump-shooting teams can’t win titles, crusty former players loudly claim that the Warriors’ style wouldn’t work back in their rugged day, and few care to acknowledge the stinginess of their defense.
We should have seen this 87-20 rampage coming this summer, when at USA Basketball in Las Vegas, the four Warriors present were clearly peeved about perceived disrespect.
“People are already saying we’re not the favorite going back,” Green told me then.
He heard that?
“I hear everything,” Green said. “It’s all right. I guess there’s enough [motivation] right there.”
Barnes elaborated: “There’s no motivation like being ranked fourth to win it this year. It’s a motivation factor because we win it, and then we’re somehow ranked behind I think the Spurs, Cleveland and the Clippers. It’s like, ‘Wow, OK, we got to do it again then.”
They’re about to do that. They’re about to go back-to- back after sneaking up on everyone, sneaking up by building smartly through the middle — with seventh overall picks (Curry, Barnes), 11th overall picks (Thompson), 30th overall picks (Ezeli), 35th overall picks (Green), one high-end free agent (Iguodala), one mid-range free agent (Shaun Livingston) and a trade of a second-round pick (Monta Ellis) for former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut.
During the Big 3 era, Riley wasn’t building a roster to resist this emerging monster; he was fixated on more traditional teams like Boston, Chicago, Indiana, San Antonio. Even with James on board, it probably wouldn’t have been sufficient to hold the Warriors back, not with the complementary parts aging.
Now Lacob’s monster is fully formed and fanged, and Riley and James, now apart, have somehow been stuck with the same conundrum. How to construct a more worthy challenger to a jump-shooting juggernaut that does look light years ahead?
Hey, maybe they should meet.