Fun Wins! Warriors Break Record, Land Sock in Jaw to Bulls

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives in for layup against Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes (22) during second quarter at Oracle Arena on April 13. Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Two things happened at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on Wednesday night. One of these things was surprising. The other was not. The unsurprising thing was the Golden State Warriors’ 125-104 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, which gave them a regular season record of 73-9, surpassing by one victory that of the Michael Jordan–led 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The Warriors are a superpower, while the Grizzlies are Moldova. Memphis put up a fight, but the fight was not very good. Sometimes, you get the thing you wish for and deserve. So it was in Oakland on Wednesday for the Ws.

But then there is the other thing, the surprise. This happened after the game, after the celebration, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr was concluding his postgame conference. He was walking out of the room when a reporter asked him to “show his socks,” or something to that effect. Kerr obliged, pausing and lifting his trouser leg to reveal a calf decorated with the form of Scottie Pippen. That is, his former teammate on the same Chicago Bulls whose record had just been voided by the team Kerr is coaching. And, yes, the same Pippen who rather ungraciously mused earlier this month that his Bulls would sweep the Warriors in four games if only given the chance, which, barring the advent of time travel, they will not have.

So what was the likeness of Pippen doing here in the midst of DubNation? This was tantamount to an Uncle Sam placard hoisted in a Red Square rally, circa 1937. It had to be a joke. Must have been, right? Or was it a message of some kind, a warning from Kerr to both players and fans that records exist only to be broken, and just as the Bulls had been surpassed by the Warriors, so would the Warriors be surpassed by an even better team. You may not think much of the New York Knicks today, but as soon as Cleanthony Early and Lou Amundson master the triangle offense, no NBA record will safe.

Then again, who sends a message through his socks?

04_14_pippen_socks Steve Kerr shows off his Scottie Pippen socks. Alexander Nazaryan/Newsweek

Nobody could make sense of Kerr’s sartorial statement, though the entire press corps set furiously to composing tweets about the Pippen socks, only to discover that the Oracle Arena, named after one of the legitimately great Silicon Valley innovators, has internet service befitting, well, Moldova. Few tweets left that room, and the world was denied knowledge of Kerr’s sock for a crucial 10 to 15 minutes.

As for the Warriors, they left their own statements on the hardwood, playing with the same madcap energy that has marked this entire season. Much has been made of the team as a Silicon Valley product, of 3-pointers and market inefficiencies, of Stephen Curry as a systems disruptor, a Sergey Brin with a jump shot. It is convenient to think that the Warriors have done to basketball what their neighbors the Oakland Athletics did to baseball, transforming the game with Big Data—you know, money-3-ball. Except there is something about basketball that resists the rationalism of numbers. Baseball willingly submits to Apollonian analysis, but basketball will be the game of Dionysus. Nietzsche said that. It’s in one of his books. Google it.

The last regular-season game against the Grizzlies was a microcosm of the season, which the Warriors began with a 24-0 streak. At that point, dominance was a foregone conclusion; it was only a question of how much energy the Warriors were willing to expend on showmanship and shameless fun the rest of the way. The Bulls were frequently dramatic, but they were never fun. The San Antonio Spurs, probably the best team of the last decade, treats fun like a pestilent strain of the flu. The Los Angeles Lakers, the dynasty that preceded them, were too burdened by notions of greatness to play the game with joy.

Not these Warriors, not in hardscrabble Oakland. You don’t have to know a swing offense from a zone defense to know that these guys love what they do, and they want to do it better than anyone else. Yes, the Warriors are as corporate as every other professional sports team. But they are a corporate entity that is consciously more than a corporate entity, asking you to check your cynicism, to cheer in earnest as Curry breaks his own record for 3-pointers in a season (an astonishing 402) or Draymond Green battles for a rebound like a JV scrapper confident that he deserves to be on the varsity squad.

Green was the Warriors’ heart, the starter who pushed most fervently for the team to break the Bulls’ record, even if doing so meant less rest in preparation for the playoffs. After the game, Green entered the press conference holding the game ball, happy, proud and unapologetic. “We’ll be fine,” he said about the playoffs, which will begin on Saturday (not on Sunday, as the Warriors had hoped). This was obvious truth as understatement.

Curry was the last player to speak to the press. He has become famous for having his daughter Riley at press conferences, but she was not with him on Wednesday night. He encountered predictable questions about whether winning 73 had taken so much of a toll that the team is coming into the playoffs exhausted.

Curry rejected this conveniently pessimistic storyline.

“Who knows how far we can take this thing?” he asked. The question was rhetorical. Everyone knows exactly how far they can take this thing. They took it there last year, when they won the championship. There are formidable opponents in the Western Conference, but the Warriors have made hash of each and are favored to do it once again, happily so. As for the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, their closest competitor in basketball history? Last night, they were relegated to the sock drawer.