RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Golden State Warriors won three NBA titles over the last five seasons, and in the other two, they made the finals, but that is not how this year is shaping up. Here's commentator Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA: This year, the Golden State Warriors experienced their fifth loss on November 2, the sixth game of the season. To pick a year when they didn't even win a championship, in 2015-2016, the Warriors didn't lose their fifth game until February 19. It was the 53rd game of the season. Just to lay the predicate a bit more about how the Warriors have laid an egg, before the year started, Las Vegas thought they were about a 10-to-1 shot to win a title. Now their odds are 2,000-to-1. Maybe laying an egg isn't fair. It's more like they had their shells cracked.
Their best player, Steph Curry, is out for at least three months with a broken hand. They're all-star and human Swiss Army knife Draymond Green is out with an injured index finger. In last year's finals, they lost two all-stars, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, to torn ligaments and tendons respectively. And then, with the loss of Durant to free agency, it turned out not to be just the connective tissue within the players' bodies that were fraying. It was the team's aura.
What the Golden State Warriors once represented was an almost unfair, remorseless winning machine complicated by the fact that the aesthetics of their game were, frankly, beautiful. Think about glancing up at a volley of arrows launched from English long bows during the Battle of Agincourt. It must've been quite lovely until you realized you were a French soldier about to get multiple body parts pierced by those same arrows. This approximates the emotions felt by the other 29 NBA teams facing a torrent of Golden State three-pointers.
It's too early to write the Warriors' final obituary. Their injured players still have talent, and their coach, Steve Kerr, is still sharp, but their downturn is shocking. To imagine just five months ago as the Warriors evened the NBA finals at one game apiece, that the team would lose three of their next four games, lose the championship, lose Klay Thompson for the next season, then lose five of their next six regular season games, lose their luster, lose their fearsomeness and just lose. What else is lost? Well, the NBA narrative. To get to or win the finals for the last five years, you had to contend with the specter of the Warriors, the idea of the Warriors and eventually, if you got far enough, the reality of the Warriors. If ever a coach or player publicly committed to the idea of building a champion, he was saying we're out to find a way to beat the Warriors. That's over. They've been beaten.
I think about the children. Little kids love wearing Steph Curry jerseys. The other day, I saw a 5-year-old in a Steph Curry jersey running down a Brooklyn street chasing his older brother who was wearing a home Steph Curry jersey. Those poor kids. Their classmates, who show up to elementary school in the colors of the Phoenix Suns or the Charlotte Hornets, now possess bragging rights over those Warrior boys. Not my sons; I've indoctrinated them to be Knicks fans, which means losing will never come as a surprise. But for all these Warrior kids who thought they were betting on a champion, it turns out they're just wearing the garments of losers - sudden, shocking losers, which may be a good lesson for the youth, after all. Nothing lasts for long in this world, especially when success is premised on the frailty of the human body and the vagaries of NBA free agency.
MARTIN: Commentator Mike Pesca - he hosts the Slate podcast "The Gist."
(SOUNDBITE OF MARCUS D' "MELANCHOLY HOPEFUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.