Sacrifice is a powerful notion.
It takes a disciplined person to sacrifice. Everyone wants to think they would do it if needed. Everyone can’t.
Sacrifice is not a word often associated with modern professional athletics. Greed and ego are the predominant thoughts most have of today’s NBA players. They are overpaid, pampered babies.
The Golden State Warriors changed all of that.
They won an NBA title on the idea of sacrifice.
It all started with the unpopular ouster of Mark Jackson and the hiring of Steve Kerr. Almost every major decision Kerr made this season, from training camp to June, worked perfectly.
It started with sacrifice.
Andre Iguodala, an All-Star and prized free agent two summers ago, was relegated to the bench this season in favor of bolstering the spirits of Harrison Barnes, a third-year man who lost confidence. Iguodala eventually took it like a man.
Once the Finals came, Iguodala saw sacrifice pay off. He was the primary defender on LeBron James and while the “King” had a regal performance in this series, Iguodala made him work for every 40-point night. Iguodala also had season-highs in scoring in two Finals games.
Down 2-1, Kerr put Iguodala back in the starting lineup in Game 4 after not starting a single game this season. The Warriors won all three contests with Iguodala among the first five.
Now, he’s the Finals MVP.
“This has been a long ride,” Iguodala said. “I was just happy with winning the ring. This is a plus.”
His coach was slightly more effusive in his praise.
“Guarding LeBron James has to be the hardest job in basketball,” Kerr said. “He was by far doing the best job on LeBron. For us, it’s really fitting the award went to Andre. He sacrificed that job to make Harrison better, to make our bench better. That set the tone for our whole season, set the tone for everything we accomplished.”
Iguodala wasn’t the only one. David Lee was another high-priced former All- Star who lost his job in favor of Draymond Green. While Iguodala remained a vital part of Kerr’s rotation, Lee racked up DNP-CDs. Yet, Lee heard his name called in these Finals and produced.
Those are two examples, but sacrifice displays itself in team basketball. The Warriors handed out 28 assists on 37 made field-goals in Tuesday’s Game 6 clincher.
Stephen Curry was the regular-season MVP, an honor well deserved. He didn’t receive a single Finals MVP vote despite averaging 26.0 ppg during the six games.
The Warriors’ extraordinary depth and commitment was never more on display than in Game 6.
Green registered a triple-double in Game 6. His game intensified as the series wore on and, not surprisingly, the Warriors won.
Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa played crucial fourth-quarter minutes. Livingston especially was quietly outstanding in Games 5 and 6.
They were so vital considering the lack of production of two stalwarts during the season. Klay Thompson was an All-Star, a third-team All-NBA guard. He had five points on Tuesday and fouled out. It was not a highlight reel night for Thompson.
Andrew Bogut, a second-team All-Defensive player, was the victim in the Iguodala switch. He didn’t play a second in Game 6.
“It speaks to the character of the players,” said Kerr. “They were united. It’s a great group of guys. They were willing to take the vision.”
Sacrifice was on display all season for the Warriors. They were known as a high-volume, jump-shooting team, which they were. They led the league in scoring, but also in opponents’ field-goal percentage. Team defense is a beautiful form of sacrifice.
“I don’t think people pointed that out enough,” Kerr said of the team’s defense.
Golden State captured its first NBA title in 40 years. They were one of 10 teams ever to win 67 games in the regular season. They won the Western Conference by 11 games and that is an amazing testament to their domination. The west is brutal.
Yet, they never got the credit they deserved. Some of the other teams that had 67-plus wins are considered the greatest of all time. Michael Jordan’s Bulls did it. Larry Bird’s Celtics, the Kobe/Shaq Lakers, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West together achieved it.
But the love wasn’t there for Golden State the way it should have been. It was a jump-shooting team. They don’t win championships, right, Charles Barkley.
“We found a recipe for success and that’s most important for us,” said Curry. “Now that we have this under our belt, I think we can appreciate this. We will appreciate that whole journey more now.”
The journey began with sacrifice. It ended with sacrifice … and a title.
Jim Brighters is the NBA Editor at SportsNetwork.com.