The Dailies

The Dailies will be concluding on November 6, 2019. As part of our closing, we're compiling a "Greatest Hits" collection, so send us your favorite items from our six year history.

Word of the Day

Euphemism (n., YOU-feh-mizz-em)

A mild word or phrase that's used because it's softer or less potentially offensive than another saying. It's sort of a preemptive covering of one's bum.

Gif of the Day

TagsBeachWindWrapsEndlessly looping gifsAloneIt's a bold strategy, Cotton; let's see if it pays off for him?

Link of the Day

I. The Beautiful Game

If there is something that has followed The Dailies throughout its run, it is the Golden State Warriors. The other other other NBA team in California roared into relevance during the 2014–15 NBA season, became champions, and changed the sport.

The Warriors didn’t surprise me, not dramatically. One of my best friends and running mates from pickup basketball was a Warriors fan, and we often talked about the team when chatting after games ended. He wasn’t used to a lot of people knowing or caring about the team. I wasn’t used to being able to talk about Stephen Curry. I knew Curry from his mid-major days. His college career overlapped with both the time I was in college and following The Mid-Majority (where he was known as “Flash” and featured in 480x320 fanvids set to Queen songs). Through the Mark Jackson era, Curry was always an oddity to NBA fans: a preternatural shooter, sure, but injury prone and from a school that hadn’t fared well against tough competition. Could you really build a team around that? Was he even really a point guard?

And then everything clicked. Jackson was fired after the team slammed into its ceiling repeatedly; the team replaced him with Steve Kerr, an emotionally intelligent coach with a vision of free-flowing basketball. GM Bob Myers decided not to trade sharpshooting guard Klay Thompson in a package for Kevin Love and extended him instead; Thompson formed the “Splash Brothers” with Curry. Forward David Lee started the season hurt; his backup, Draymond Green, became unveiled as the defensive Swiss Army knife force that the league has desperately searched for since. The Warriors offense, freed from Jackson’s stranglehold, became a wonder with the ball zipping around until someone made a three-pointer. The team went from being a solid 51-win team to a title-winning 67-win team. Curry won the MVP. Myers won Executive of the Year.

The Warriors have gone on to even greater success. They won 73 games the next year—a new NBA record. After they lost in a classic NBA Finals, they added top-25-of-all-time player Kevin Durant to the team and destroyed the NBA for three seasons afterwards. They lost the 2019 Finals only after both Durant and Thompson suffered season-long injuries during the series. The Warriors’ style has changed offenses (an increased emphasis on shooting, creativity, and speed uber alles) and defenses (switchable players and schemes to limit the amount of space three-point shooters can get).

But things are different now. Thompson is out for the year while he recovers from the injury he suffered in the Finals. Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets. The team added a talented young star, D’Angelo Russell, to the mix, but he’s a slightly awkward fit and has clear limitations. To do this while avoiding exorbitant luxury tax bills, the team replaced its veteran bench with fringe talent. They are top-heavy, atrocious defensively, and—for the first time in five years—vulnerable.

Last week, Green and Myers were podcast guests of NBA super reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. The pair talked a lot about the past season and its rockiness, about their relationship, the way the team operated and what each of them hoped for. I enjoyed the interview. Green has been the player my basketball style most resembled (to the confusion of many of my friends) and Myers’ emotional philosophizing mixed with bluntness has always felt like a second language to me. The Warriors as a whole have always felt natural to me, and the interview reinforced why. Their style—a democratic, exuberant, innovative (at the time)—was part of it. So was Curry, the deeply religious servant leader who set the tone for the entire team and league. So was Thompson, who was nicknamed “The Electrician” by Japanese fans for his quiet dedication to winning (a nickname he reportedly loves). So was Green, whose intelligent, complex personality shows forth in his multifaceted, anticipatory game. So was Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston, brilliant role players who found success in limited roles instead of the oversized demands placed on them early in their careers. So was Myers, who seemed like he could do any job he wanted as long as it involved helping people make great things. So too was Durant, who left a good but declining situation to win the thing he always wanted, only to find it unfulfilling and recalibrate his priorities. The Warriors’ invincibility annoyed many. It didn’t faze me as much. I found the team satisfying on a personal level beyond the sport itself.

The funny thing about this is that the sport that most lines up with this is my childhood love, hockey. The NHL is a game of open-ice beauty mixed with close-quarters physicality. The culture loves hard work to the point that it doesn’t even call a lack of shot blocking a “business decision;” it just shuns the player. It is a niche sport done at a major level, which means that any hockey fan you find is a wonderful nutjob who you instantly get along with. It is also a sport that is infinitely better live and up close than on TV or packaged into a highlight. Hockey is like driving a knockoff Porsche: it will probably be better than any other car you drive until the electronics system goes haywire and the internet tells you either it’s ridiculous that you even bought the car or that it’s the greatest car ever but you never know what goes on between the pipes with engines.

I haven’t watched as much hockey recently as I have basketball. Part of this is because Nets basketball has been excellent comfort food over the last few years, as we’ve documented. Part of this is because there are far more basketball fans near me to discuss and hypothesize with. Part of it is because hypothetically tinkering with rosters and scouting (a deep joy of mine) is much more prevalent in basketball than hockey. And part of it is because of what we see with the players and teams.

In college, I did a presentation about the NHL in a marketing class. One of my group’s suggestions was to remove player helmets during the shootout so fans could see the full heads of the players. It’s a small thing, but it’s a humanizing one. With the helmet off, we get to see more of a player, especially the part that gives us a glimpse into their personality. (Goalies are always at a disadvantage when it comes to this, but then again, goalies are crazy. Always.) The only time hockey players take the helmets off is to fight, only showing its humanity when two men are punching each other in the face. Basketball has always had the humanity advantage over nearly any other major sport. Its players are always visible in full, human form. We identify with them because we see them, in all their personality foibles. When I listen to Green and Myers talk about how they’ve both worked to keep the team of humans together and how they know they’ll always be able to have dinner as friends, I understand deeper because I’ve seen that team and its personalities. It’s not just relating to the idea; it’s relating to the humans. Basketball has leaned into this over the last decade, being very unafraid to market its players personalities. What other sport gives us this gif:

Or leans into its best player’s maybe-a-robot answer and laugh to make a TV spot for a Terminator movie:

Basketball, to my eyes, is the sport where the players seem most human (besides maybe tennis, which is a post for another day and website). I wish hockey had this too. I wish other sports did also. But each sport, like each language, has its own personality. The NBA’s personality has grown out of two places: black inner-city culture and the millennials who grew up on Twitter watching MJ and then LeBron. One is marked by big personalities; the other is marked by freedom of expression* and a community outside of established, distrusted institutions. The NBA has fit well into this, which has fueled its rise. It will be interesting to see what sports GenZ fits into.

The Warriors are not going to be good this year. I suspect they’ll miss the playoffs. My Nets will be good. For all their flaws, you can see a team whose superstars chose to be there, both to be closer to their roots. I can respect that. I’ve learned more about my own sense of that in the last year. And it’s reminded me that while the NBA will always be my comfort food, hockey and mid-major basketball will always be the soul food. Going to a hockey game with a couple good friends or a game in a 2,000-seat brick arena is a treat unlike other sports. It’s sitting on the back of the bus, going to a underground hardcore show, or finding a new restaurant that just opened. There is a strong chance that whenever you share it with someone, they won’t understand it or love it as much as you do. I’ve gotten to be more okay with that over time. It’s my joy. I love it, and I enjoy finding out why I enjoy it too. As Robin Sloan said, to love is to return, to come back and look anew at something. The next sporting match I’m going to is a minor league hockey game, with friends. It’ll be fun. Maybe they’ll even take their helmets off.

TagsEssay SeasonBasketballWarriorsThe Mid-MajorityBarcelona?