How Kobe gave the Warriors a different Mamba Mentality

Nick Friedell | ESPN

As the Golden State Warriors embark on a quest for a third consecutive NBA title, they do so with a new perspective provided by an unlikely source.

“When we had the preseason game in Vegas, I saw Kobe,” Draymond Green told ESPN earlier this season. “I’m like, ‘How is retirement?’ He said, ‘Draymond, it is f—ing incredible.’ He said, ‘It’s the best thing.””

Green was stunned. He assumed that Kobe Bryant, a five-time champion and 18-time All-Star who left the game having missed the postseason with the Los Angeles Lakers in his final three seasons, would have been longing for a return to the game and another chance to capture championship glory.

Instead, Bryant was at peace.

“He left feeling like, ‘I gave y’all every f—ing thing I had and that’s it,'” Green continued “So no, [Kobe is] not sitting in retirement like, ‘Man, I wish I can go be out there.’ No, he’s on to the next thing because [he] gave that one thing everything [he] had. And I think it will be very similar with this team. Whenever that point comes, we’re going to know that we gave it everything we got and you move on. But you feel good about moving on. You’re not sick about moving on.”

The Warriors aren’t thinking about moving on yet. They are 12 wins away from becoming the first team since the 1960s Boston Celtics to reach the NBA Finals in five consecutive seasons. Four additional wins would make them the first team since the 2000-02 Lakers — led by Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal — to three-peat.

Still, they know the reality that looms over that quest. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson can become free agents in July. Green can follow them into free agency a year later. Whether the Warriors feel good about moving on or not, they recognize the fact that the time to move on might be coming sooner rather than later.

And after all the emotional high and lows of this season — one both players and coaches admit has worn on the team like never before — the core of the group that has won three of the past four NBA championships comes into this run with a refocused sense of purpose.

“You just don’t want to leave any stones unturned,” coach Steve Kerr said. “There is a peace that comes with knowing you’ve done everything possible to win. So that’s part of the message: Don’t leave anything to chance. And if doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You move on and you’ve got your dignity and you’ve got your self-respect. Then you can look back and say, ‘Wow, what a run,’ but while the run’s going on, you’ve got to keep the run going.”

When Green and Durant got into their heated argument during a November loss to the LA Clippers, people all over the league wondered whether the Warriors were breaking apart.

That question bubbled up again in February, when Durant called out a writer from The Athletic over an article that speculated about his potential future with the New York Knicks. But the Warriors understood from the beginning that Durant could leave after the season, even if they won a third straight title. So as speculation intensified, Warriors players and coaches kept playing through the chatter, putting together a 14-5 record since the calendar turned to March.

Just as Bryant told Green he was living in the moment in retirement, Thompson echoed that sentiment in regard to the Warriors’ postseason run.

“I think about the power of now. All we have right now is this moment,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen Friday, Saturday or come June. We had an amazing run that will be etched in the history of basketball.”

However, the Warriors know that “amazing run” isn’t complete, and it won’t be complete without a third consecutive title. Bryant’s Lakers reached three straight Finals from 2008 to 2010, winning the title the last two years of that run but unable to finish off a three-peat, losing to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in the second round in 2011. The Miami Heat team that featured LeBron JamesDwyane Wade and Chris Bosh followed that Lakers squad by reaching four straight Finals, winning in 2012 and 2013. But the Heat lost to the Spurs in their quest for a three-peat, and James left Miami as a free agent, a fate that looms large over the Warriors’ postseason.

Since the end of the Celtics’ dynasty in the 1960s, only Michael Jordan‘s Bulls (twice) and the Shaq/Kobe Lakers have been able to finish the job and truly end up, as Thompson put it, “etched in the history of basketball.” Still, with history within their grasp, the Warriors aren’t about to let uncertain futures stop them now.

“Nobody’s going to let trivial stuff get in the way,” Stephen Curry said. “Winning feels too good. And I think we appreciate that.”

Kerr has said since the beginning of training camp that he doesn’t feel as if this is the last run for this group’s core players the way it was in the Chicago Bulls‘ final championship season of 1997-98. But as the Warriors gear up for another ride, the locker room isn’t concerning itself with worrying about the potential end.

“You know why?” Green said. “I think because we know no matter what, at some point it’s going to end. Whether it ends while we’re all together, whether it ends when everyone separates, it’s going to end at some point. That’s the nature of the game we play. The fact of the matter is whenever it ends, I think we maximized. Like, we’re going to have a feeling of we maximized what we could do.”

The Warriors know that at this point, every time they step on the floor, they are playing for history, but it’s a feeling with which they’re familiar. They’ve had postseason runs fraught with adversity — they’ve had to come from behind to win four different series in their four-year run — and they’ve had runs like 2017, when they came one win shy of becoming the first team in NBA history to go 16-0 in the playoffs.

At this point, they feel as if they’ve seen it all, which is why they feel confident.

“This is what we do,” Kerr said. “We’ve won three of the last four. We’ve been to four straight Finals. You don’t just do that because you decide to do it. You do it because you have great talent and great character and great competitive desire. We’ve got all that stuff. We don’t have anybody who wants this to end.”