NEW YORK — Wednesday night, the event played Oklahoma City; in a week, it will stop by in Los Angeles; through early December, it will energize Orlando, then Miami, then New Orleans, then Charlotte, then Detroit. It certainly doesn’t feel like some understated grind from some 82-game schedule.
Amid all the Golden State Warriors have added to this national culture — and it could take decades of studious cooing to parse it all — here’s one jewel: They’ve intensified the meaning of an NBA regular-season game, taken a one-out-of-82 occasion and made it, in many cases, a one-of-one. When they’re coming to your town, the forecast calls for buzz.
Other bright-light clubs have done this — the O’Neal-Bryant Lakers come to mind — but maybe not in the same way. Inasmuch as it’s still startling to walk by New York store windows and see the dominance of the branding of a long-obscure franchise from 2,560 air miles away, it was something else on Sunday in Brooklyn to feel the energy boost from the Warrior vitamin.
These regular-season NBA games, of course, mean something, but usually not all that much more than something. It’s wisely understood as poppycock that anybody could play 82 games full-on in this extraordinary athletic pursuit. A loss does not scream for civic examination as in the NFL or college football. It’s a league in which the best team can trail by 24 points and win in Philadelphia one night (last Saturday), then lead by 28 and nearly lose in Brooklyn the next (last Sunday), and everybody understands.
Everybody might nod knowingly when Draymond Green says, “It’s kind of unrealistic (to be focused for 48 minutes), but you try.” Or when Stephen Curry says, “Last night we just didn’t have any energy or any kind of rhythm in the first half, and Philly capitalized on that,” whereupon Golden State’s comeback in Philadelphia “carried over to the first half tonight,” which had mattered because, “On a back-to-back, you want to give yourself as much life early in the game, so you’re not having to claw back and expend all that energy trying to get back in the game.”
These factors, understood by most fans, can make any 1-of-82 occasion seem very much a 1-of-82 occasion, but then here come the Warriors. The people line up outside in a compelling amount of Warriors gear, and there’s enough squealing giddiness to make it all feel uncommonly alive. They can make the Warriors seem almost halfway a home team at times, and you can feel the adoration in the air. When the announcer introduces Curry, the little boom of joy might sound like he’s almost right at home.
In the long view, this all remains stunning. It’s always worth remembering that before this behemoth grew organically, and then inorganically with adding Kevin Durant, it was a franchise that missed the playoffs for 17 of 18 seasons. If you followed the NBA only sporadically, you could have known long patches of life in which Golden State never crossed your mind or entered your sightline, such that you could forget it still belonged to the NBA.
Now, it’s such an established being that it even offers viewing experiments within itself. With Durant out in Brooklyn, it became a chance to watch Golden State as remembered from pre-Durant (and to appreciate how a great team and one of the greatest players did meld without inner horror). Curry scored 39 points with 11 rebounds and seven assists. It gave a chance for coach Steve Kerr to remind of realities such as, “Obviously he was brilliant in terms of scoring and shot-making. I thought in the second half he got a little wild ... He’s such a dominant force out there that the challenge for him is to always find that balance.”