Golden State of Mind

Randy Ollie, Sports Editor

Wednesday night was one many fans of the Na­tional Basketball Associa­tion will never forget.

Not only did the Gold­en State Warriors break the 1995–1996 Chicago Bulls’ regular season re­cord of 72 wins by defeat­ing the Memphis Grizzlies 125–104, but prolific point guard Stephen Curry broke his own single-season re­cord of made three-point­ers by tallying his 400th in the third quarter. Simul­taneously, iconic shooting guard Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game as a Los Angeles Laker, marking the sixth time in his storied career that he has scored 60 or more points in a game. Fur­thermore, Bryant’s efforts helped the Lakers defeat the Utah Jazz 101–96, ef­fectively capping a tumul­tuous season with a posi­tive ending.

Considering the War­riors’ NBA dominance this past season and Bryant’s legacy over the past 20 years, I can’t help but won­der why Bryant epitomizes greatness. His natural ability, charisma and tal­ent come to me first. But I know the real reason is much simpler: he won five NBA championships.

That isn’t to say that winning an NBA champi­onship is the only way for a player to solidify their leg­acy in the history books. Plenty of players in the NBA Hall of Fame never hoisted a NBA trophy. Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson all had astounding NBA careers and became household names, yet never won an NBA championship. One of my favorite players of all time, Tracy McGrady, nev­er won anything at all — not even a conference champion­ship. However, he is arguably one of the best swingmen of all time and will undoubtedly be inducted into the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible.

But there’s something special about being a champion that separates players that have won them from those who haven’t. For example, championships sepa­rate Shaquille O’Neal from Pat­rick Ewing, Ray Allen from Reggie Miller and even the Black Mamba from T-Mac. Of course, plenty of not-so-good players have won championships over the years. Brian Scalabrine, D.J. Mbenga, Darko Milicic and a whole host of “scrubs” have been on champion­ship squads. Being a member of a championship team doesn’t make a bad player good, but having a crucial role in securing a title for your team is what separates the great from the elite.

That being said, some people just get lucky. The Bulls’ winning record wasn’t amazing simply be­cause it’s impressive to win over 70 times in an NBA season. Rath­er, it represented the beginning of the Bulls’ second three-peat — the squad went on to defeat the Seat­tle Supersonics in the NBA cham­pionship — as well as the peak of Michael Jordan’s ability. After all, 72 wins sounds a lot sexier when you mention the three consecutive NBA titles that followed.

The Warriors are undoubtedly one of the best teams the league has seen in a while. Stephen Curry looks poised to become the first unanimous NBA Most Valuable Player, Steve Kerr will most likely be voted Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season and Draymond Green will probably take the mantle of NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Furthermore, the Warriors just broke a two-de­cade win record, establishing one that will stand for years to come.

But what does this all mean if they don’t win a title? While the Warriors have done amazing and historic things this season, it will mean very little unless players are hoisting a championship trophy above their heads. Sure, even if, for some unimaginable reason, the Warriors don’t claim this season’s NBA title, it can be chalked up to any number of excuses by an aver­age Warriors fan. However, there is something inherently funky about describing a great, record-breaking, history-making team that didn’t win the only thing that really matters in an NBA season.

Pessimism aside, this year’s championship will either vali­date the Warriors’ standing atop the rest of the league or dampen their remarkable season. If the Warriors play half as good as they have been, then they should be in decent shape when the playoffs begin this weekend. However, his­tory has shown that legends are tarnished much easier than they are forged.