It seems like only yesterday when the Golden State Warriors were the faultless darlings of the NBA. The team was a breath of fresh air, just as the league was preparing for the post-Kobe/Duncan era. The All-Star trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green led an insane offensive assault. The wide-open playing style, accuracy, and trick shooting of the best backcourt in the game created an almost circus-like atmosphere. Fans gathered early for the shootaround, as Steph made wild half-court shots look like free throws.
The love fest even extended to the Curry family. Steph's daughter, Riley, quickly became a media sensation with her adorable yet distracting postgame antics. At the same time, Steph’s wife attracted her own attention as the phrase "Get you an Ayesha" was plastered across memes.
The opinionated, conservative chef became the crown jewel to the new royal family of the hardwood. The Currys were perfection. They, and the Warriors as a whole, embodied enviable ideals. It was a great season, but it also meant certain disaster was not too far away—just ask LeBron James.
No one knows how fast the fanfare can flip on you better than All-NBA icon LBJ. What Curry and the Warriors were experiencing, James been already been there, done that, got sick of it, and replaced it. It would only be appropriate that the Chosen One would usher in the downward spiral of the Warriors, but that wouldn't occur until James, too, had to bow down to the history-making, championship-bound sharpshooters from Golden State.
The 2014-2015 NBA season was a wire-to-wire success. The playoffs may have forced Golden State to work up a light sweat, but it wasn't until LeBron and his Cavs confronted them that the possibility of an unhappy ending became present. The new NBA poster boy, Steph Curry, vs. the former king, LBJ, was the epitome of the Warriors’ hero status. Could the fun-loving West Coast shooters take down LeBron's quest for redemption in The Land? James turned in a legendary effort to push the series to six games, but with Cleveland crippled by injuries to its other All-Stars, he came up short.
The mission was accomplished: The NBA championship returned to Golden State for the first time since 1975. The team and fans celebrated. Riley Curry's every move became fuel for GIFs all across the internet, and all was good in the world...almost. Unbeknownst to the Warriors, LeBron had planted the seed that would grow into dissent and animosity toward the new champions. He had shown that the champions were not perfect and not fully built for physical, aggressive play. The specter of injury put an asterisk on the win in the eyes of many.
No matter how well a team conducts itself, the Warriors had piled up too much positivity, and sports always balances that out. Golden State was a scandal-free organization. An unselfish collective led by a God-fearing, physically unimposing leader was great for the NBA—for one season. Now that they were on top the vibe was changing; more people wanted to see them dethroned. The Warriors themselves fueled a new debate when they opened their title defense with 24 straight wins. This immediately set off talk about challenging Michael Jordan's ‘95-’96 Chicago Bulls for the best regular season record and mythical title of "Best Team of All Time."
As the team again stampeded the league, growing numbers of people dismissed their feats as the result of a watered-down, softer league. Sports analysts and Hall of Fame players stood on the side of history, firm in their beliefs that the present-day Warriors could never matchup with previous championship teams.
The Warriors were now being watched with the hope they would lose, just as much—if not more so— than the hope they would win. The march to 73 wins was littered with detractors. The same playing style that so many loved only a year prior was now being viewed as reckless, lucky, and a bad influence on younger players. By the time the record-setting mark was reached many players expressed feeling more a sense of relief than happiness.
Plus, their title defense would be much more difficult that postseason. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook put the champs on their heels as the Thunder went up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Yet they couldn't seal the deal; the Warriors charged back to take the series and set up a rematch with a fully healthy LeBron James and the Cavaliers. In just a season, the Warriors went from the pinnacle of basketball purity to being seen as a showboating, stuck-up sideshow unjustly taking a space in the record books. The heroes had become heels, and how poetic that James, in the middle of his own heel-to-hero resurrection post Miami, was poised to end the Warriors’ run.
The Warriors were what his former Heat team was—a team that gained the ultimate success operating outside the accepted and expected narrative. This was the same tide that opposed LeBron when he, D Wade, and Chris Bosh linked up in Miami. Only now, the playing style was under scrutiny rather than the team assembly. As fate would have it, LeBron would return to more old-school physical play to stage the greatest comeback in NBA playoffs history. Destroying the Warriors’ goal of the "Best Season in History," the Cavs rallied from down 3–1 to claim Cleveland's first title since 1964.
The Warriors’ fall from grace was complete, and the people wasted little time letting it be known how they felt.
Golden State didn't take long to lick its wounds and prepare for the next season. Taking a page from the LeBron James book of superteam building, the already-loaded Warriors signed rival Kevin Durant, the NBA's best scorer. They had now turned it up several notches in terms of being the bad guys. To many onlookers this screamed, "Screw competitive nature! Pile on until you can't be stopped!" We won’t even go into the personal media hell directed at KD now. Or Draymond’s growing reputation for dirty trash talk and dirtier play. The league’s picture-perfect cast of ambassadors is now public enemy No. 1.
Not that long ago, the same fans cheered and marveled at the crisp ball movement of the Warriors and the clean-cut ways of its star player. But the climate has changed, and the oh-so-fickle basketball fan base now finds itself annoyed by this team. Only time will tell whether they find a way to win back that magic they had in the not-so-distant past.