The Golden State Warriors stand astride the entire NBA, a merciless, point-hoarding, championship-generating machine with Finals reservations seemingly booked in every June from here until the heat death of the universe. But how the hell did this happen? And, short of cloning LeBron James, what can any team do to stop their relentless march?
It seems impossible to remember now, given the gargantuan shadow that Golden State casts over the entire NBA, but there was a time not so long ago — six years, to be exact — that the Warriors weren’t even an NBA joke. To be a punchline, you’ve got to deserve some kind of notice, and back then, the Warriors were as irrelevant as last year’s preseason.
So how’d that team of afterthoughts and also-rans transform into one of the great organizations in sports history? It’s a story of front-office brilliance, on-court mastery, and luck undergirded with technology and patience, and it’s the focus of“Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History,” a brilliant new book on the Warriors dynasty by Erik Malinowski.
“We really are watching not just a team that is elite, but a team that is historically great,” Malinowski tells Yahoo Sports. “In a few years, maybe we won’t appreciate how good they were. So I thought it would be interesting to drill down into the history, the decisions, the machinations that brought this about.”
You know the basics here: the Warriors have won two of the last three NBA championships, and come within a blocked shot and a 3-pointer of a third. They totaled a league-record 73 wins a season back, started a two-time MVP, and filled a trophy case with other accolades. But what “Betaball” does is show how these Avengers came together, how a series of decisions both small and large led inexorably and inevitably to the juggernaut that has shifted the NBA’s entire gravitational pull:
• Silicon Valley exec Joe Lacob and Hollywood mogul Peter Guber snaring the franchise away from the loathed, underachieving former owner Chris Cohan;
• Opting to part company with franchise stalwart Monta Ellis in favor of an undersized, oft-injured point guard in Stephen Curry;
• Targeting a sleek complementary outside shooter (Klay Thompson) in the 2011 draft, then using a second-round pick the next year to grab a decorated college player believed by many to have limited pro potential, a Michigan State product named Draymond Green;
• Opting for an analytically-minded coach (Steve Kerr) over a player-favorite, heart-and-soul predecessor (Mark Jackson);
• Using technology tracking everything from players’ shot angles to sleep habits to optimize performance and determine who would be a good fit for Golden State, and who wouldn’t;
• Combining good timing, deftly-negotiated contracts, and a favorable salary cap to ice the greatest free-agent signing in recent history in Kevin Durant.
The book focuses on the run-up to the landmark 2015 championship and the agonizing loss of 2016, rolling forward into the 2017 domination in the final pages.
“The Warriors had become, in many ways, a model for all other professional sports franchises,” Malinowski writes. “Using a spirit preached by Lacob and championed by Peter Guber, the Warriors were successful, profitable, beloved, and sustainable. They’d gotten there by making smart decisions and never being afraid to innovate.”
Malinowski uses a combination of behind-the-scenes access (as a beat writer for Bleacher Report, he was covered in champagne during the Warriors’ championships, and soaked in the disappointment after the 3-1 collapse) and interviews with key figures to create the definitive portrait of a revolutionary sports franchise. If you’re an NBA fan, you’ll enjoy this book (Cavs fans possibly excepted). If you’re trying to run a pro sports team — or, hell, any organization — it ought to be required reading.
With all this winning, then, what hope is there for the other 29 teams? The clues are in “Betaball,” for the teams willing to pay attention.
“Things evolve and change so quickly in today’s NBA,” Malinowski says. “There’s going to be other teams that exploit other market inefficiencies, and they’re going to compete against the Warriors. I have no doubt about that. None of this is preordained, it’s not a fait accompli, but [the Warriors have] a heck of a head start. You’ve got to like their chances this year and the next, but beyond that is anyone’s guess.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.