I fucking love this game.
Of the things that have passed last night, you can see two opposite poles of basketball in its two brightest games:
- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors broke the Bulls’ record of most wins in the regular season at 73 wins by beating the Grizzlies in Oracle.
- Kobe Bryant capped off a 20-year career by winning one last time in the most Kobe Bryant fashion ever, by going 22-50 from the field and 10-12 from the line to drop 60 in his final game in Staples, for the Lakers, for his career.
Basketball is not the ultimate team game. It’s not like football, where every player is dependent on his teammate to stop an opposing force from winning. In football, the quarterback will get mauled if his offensive line does not protect him. The middle linebacker will get eaten alive by the offensive line if his defensive line does not engage them. It’s impossible to play football without the team. But in basketball, there’s a tiny sliver of room for one player, one transcendent player, to raise above his teammates and carry his team to victory on his own.
Growing up, that player was Michael Jordan. Then it became Kobe Bryant.
However, let’s not give the wrong impression. In a season of 82 games between 30 teams, with a playoff structure of 4 rounds with five to seven games a piece, a team needs to have chemistry in order to win. Disparate talent, no matter how transcendent, will not win championships. Even Michael and Kobe needed Pippen and Shaq (and later, Pau Gasol) respectively. The Golden State Warriors can be considered to be the best regular season team of all time, not because Curry is the best shooter the game has ever seen, but because that team was built to maximize the strengths of each member. 73 wins is impossible for one player to achieve, it’s truly a team effort.
Stephen Curry might be the best shooter this game has ever seen, but the Golden State Warriors were built to be the best team in basketball. It’s not just Curry, it’s Draymond Green’s ability to guard every position on the floor, it’s Klay Thompson’s killer scoring, it’s Andre Iguodala’s ability to be a playmaker on the 2nd unit, it’s Bogut, it’s Barnes, Barbosa, Livingston, even our red-headed stepchild in Mo Speights played a key role in this historic season.
There’s only one player who can put the ball in the hole, so it stands that one extremely talented player can win games on his own. To see that player score despite the efforts of five men dedicated to stopping him, it’s the closest we can get to watching a Greek myth or a comic book hero in action. It’s a pinnacle of athleticism and talent that only a select few in history have ever achieved. It is the athlete in his finest form.
But when you see five players work together to put that ball in that hole, it’s almost synesthetic in how poetic and harmonic it is. You’re watching a beautiful symphony play itself out, with players cutting, screening, switching, and hitting that open jumper as a reward for completely bamboozling the best efforts of the defense. That’s basketball in its finest form.
And for one night to contain both ends of the pole – one player willing his team to win, and one team dominating the other as a collective – it truly exposes the unique beauty of basketball. One is not better than the other. Both sides won last night. Basketball won last night. To live through and see both extremes of its beauty – the invincible hero and the unstoppable team – reminds me why I fucking love this game.