Journalists are regularly referred to as authors of the first draft of history. This may be even more true in sports, where, by design, everything that happens seems like the most amazing thing that’s ever happened — until it happens again tomorrow. Our first drafts are typically pretty terrible. Almost every big sports story of the day ends up looking ridiculous years, even months later. Do you realize we once spent more than a year of our lives debating how much air is inside a football? The entire ecosystem of sports commentary is fueled by the illusion that everything in sports — the players, the games, the media — was better when we were all younger, and with that comes, inevitably, a softening toward everything and everyone we hated at the time. Thirty years from now, your grandchildren will ask you what it was like to watch Tom Brady play, and you won’t tell them the truth, which is that you drew pictures of a penis on his head and posted them on the internet. You will lie and say he was amazing. Every athlete you hate right now will retire and be replaced by an active athlete you hate a lot more. We are petty and trivial about the present but romantic and nostalgic about the past. We hate something until we convince ourselves that we loved it. It’s the sports circle of life.
Thus I would argue that the current era in American pro-sports history will be viewed almost exclusively through two teams: the New England Patriots and the Golden State Warriors. (The Cubs’ 2016 World Series probably pops up once or twice too.) When all is said and done, we don’t remember controversies or transcendent individual performances or even the people we hate or why we hated them. We remember champions. We remember dynasties. You don’t need a 30 for 30 to remind you about the Patriots years later. Everybody knows the Patriots; they’re all anybody knows. We conceptualize our sports history through our dynasties. The ’80s were the San Francisco 49ers, the Boston Celtics, and the Los Angeles Lakers; the ’90s were the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Yankees; the ’00s were the Lakers and the Patriots. We lose track of the details over the years until nothing is left but the winners. This happens even though fans tend to find these dynasties repetitive, even dull, while they’re in place. Dynasties serve a purpose because you want them to be defeated; you need them to exist so they will eventually fail.
So as the Warriors go for their third consecutive title (and their fourth of this era) in the NBA Finals this week against the Toronto Raptors, it is worth pausing and, perhaps, appreciating. The Patriots are the preeminent dynasty of our time, but they will always have a slight black cloud over their heads, partly because of their scandals but mostly because of their association with the current president. (It is truly remarkable how inextricable from Trump the Patriots have become. Their newest draft pick played video games with Barron!) But the Warriors’ rise is connected not only to a rise in popularity and watchability for the league they play in — a rise at least partially attributable to the Warriors themselves — but also to the specific political age they play in. The Warriors are one of the greatest basketball teams of all time, perhaps the greatest, but the moment they play in, the moment they stepped up and met, may make them immortal.
The Warriors have every ingredient for this time in history. They have:
• The transcendent, four-quadrant, deeply beloved superstar that is Stephen Curry: a player who went mostly unrecruited in college, who was drafted behind Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn, and whose unprecedented shooting ability has changed the entire way his sport was played, from the NBA right down to the schoolyard. No player since Jordan has had more kids imitating him on the playground.
• The hot-take villain that is Kevin Durant. He isn’t a villain at all — he’s a cerebral, thoughtful player with a hard-knock background who once had a national ad campaign based around how nice he is and whose mom is so beloved they made a Lifetime movie about her — but Durant is the platonic ideal of a hot-take generator, a brilliant superstar who is both unfairly maligned by the unreasonable and is self-righteous and incredibly thin-skinned about it. Durant plays a similar role, say, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the old Lakers teams: the moody, less revered star who will be both perpetually underappreciated and forever irritated by that. Without Durant, the Warriors are simply fun Spurs; with him, we get to argue about them — whether he’s leaving, whether they’re better without him — 24 hours a day, seven days a week until we all die.
• The charismatic and verbose (and woke!) head coach. Steve Kerr has been so outspoken on matters of politics and human behavior that he spent the Monday of the week of the NBA Finals praising the opposing team’s fans for their tolerance and good cheer. And he is even more of an outspoken critic of Trump than Curry or LeBron. When Kerr eventually retires from coaching, he’ll surely go back to broadcasting (at which he excelled), and he’ll be a fixture on our television screens for decades to come, reminding us of this team and all they were.
• Dominance, but variable dominance. The fun of the Warriors is that they’ve had three different incarnations. The first was the initial blast of giddiness, with Curry and the Splash Brothers’ emergence and a style of basketball the league was finally ready to embrace. That ended with the infamous blowing of a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to LeBron and the Cavs, which led to Durant joining the team for the second incarnation. We have seen the third incarnation this postseason, with Durant injured and the reemergence of that old glorious Curry-centric team. If Durant leaves in the off-season, we’ll get this one back again. The Warriors have been great, but, even better, they have been statically great.
• Stars everywhere. There are currently five future Hall of Famers on the Warriors roster. It is honestly embarrassing that I haven’t typed the words Klay Thompson or Draymond Green yet.
• Location. The Warriors are, of course, the definitive team of Silicon Valley and all that comes with it, inevitably leaving their less glamorous home in Oakland for a shimmering billion-dollar arena in San Francisco. They have become such a symbol of the area’s gentrification and income-inequality problems that even the site’s groundbreaking became a commentary on the class struggle.
• Seriously, Trump. Even if you don’t think the defining images of this era in sports won’t be Colin Kaepernick and other players kneeling — and considering the dichotomy between how the civil-rights era in sports was covered at the time and how it’s covered now, you probably should — the fact that the simple, basic act of championship teams visiting the White House after they win has been either debased (with the Red Sox having only their white players visit and their minority players refuse) or eradicated is the biggest flashing red light that, unlike at other times, sports isn’t even able to pretend it’s separate from politics in the Trump era. The Warriors have been at the forefront of that, from Kerr’s outspokenness to Curry’s openly declaring he had no desire to go to the White House (which led Trump to “disinvite” the team over Twitter) to even Durant saying, “I don’t respect who’s in office right now.” LeBron has been the flash-point player, famously calling Trump a “bum,” but it’s worth remembering that that (still unanswered) insult happened because LeBron was defending Curry and the Warriors for not coming. When the next NBA team visits the White House after Trump is gone — it won’t happen until then — they’ll reference these Warriors.
Will Leitch’s Games column runs weekly. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.