You simply can’t place a value on what it means to win an NBA championship. That much was clear after the Warriors completed their four-game sweep of the Cavaliers on Friday night as coach Steve Kerr and stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant discussed what went into winning Golden State’s third title in four seasons (and second in a row after adding Durant).
And LeBron James made it clear that, after 15 seasons, he still is in what he described as “championship mode” and that his decision on what route to take in free agency will be driven by the desire to surround himself with “cerebral players.”
Kerr paid tribute to what James achieved in dragging a team that was reconstituted at the February trade deadline to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season, but he concluded that the bottom line was “we had more talent than they did, and talent wins in this league.”
The naysayers can complain about Durant’s move from Oklahoma City to Golden State two years ago tipping competitive balance in the league, but the Warriors’ ascendance to the status of a dynasty was far from assured. They finished second to the Rockets in the regular season, then had to overcome a 3-2 deficit in the Western Conference finals and win a Game 7 on the Rockets’ court just to reach the NBA Finals.
In the end, what stood out was the burning desire to win shared by Kerr, Durant and Curry. Although Curry is a two-time NBA MVP, he has yet to win that honor in the Finals despite scoring 37 points in the Warriors’ Game 4 win and averaging 27.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists. Durant won it for the second straight year, averaging 28.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists.
Kerr said the only thing that ever matters to Curry is winning titles. Recalling how the Warriors blew a 3-1 Finals lead to James and the Cavs in 2016, Kerr said, “We lost in Game 7 to Cleveland, and that was devastating. Steph went out and recruited KD. I was there in the Hamptons when we had that discussion. I don’t remember anybody asking who was going to win MVP in the Finals. It was all about let’s win championships together.”
Asked about being named Finals MVP, Durant said, “Does it matter? Does it? We won two championships. We just won back-to-back.”
To which Curry said, “Amen,” in so many words.
“KD’s been amazing these last two years, especially in the Finals, and so deserving of back-to-back Finals MVPs,” Curry said. “I’m going to be the biggest fan in there with what he’s able to do. The biggest thing we appreciate in the locker room is what everybody brings to the table, and we kind of unlock the greatness out of each other.”
That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what the top players understand. Durant waxed poetic about what it means to him to have grown up in tough circumstances in Maryland and to have achieved so much through hard work.
“We all want something that’s bigger than ourselves,” he said. “I think we love to see each other succeed . . . We’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t care about anything but just being better basketball players every day and winning. It makes the environment great.”
As for James, he accomplished his goal of bringing a title to Cleveland in 2016, but having lost three of four to the Warriors, he likely will move on as a free agent to a team he believes is ready to win.
“When you feel like you are really good at your craft, it’s always great to be around other great minds and other great ballplayers,” he said. “I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”
That’s the driving force for the great ones.