From beloved NBA darlings to league villains, the upset of the Warriors has set the stage for their inevitable redemption tour.
As soon as Kawhi Leonard drained his last free throw, giving the Toronto Raptors their first NBA title, I jumped on Twitter to read reactions of the improbable championship. It was like drinking from a firehose—hot take after hot take.
Despite my excitement for Canada and Raptors fans, I kept coming back to the Golden State Warriors. Their collapse—and it was exactly that, as no one (regardless of injuries) has ever lost three home games in the finals—was jarring. But I don’t think the Golden State dynasty is over, actually far from it. The writing on the wall is clear: this historic loss has only set the stage for the Warriors’ redemption tour.
We love ourselves a good ol’ redemption story in our stars—the instant stardom, public downfall, and return to grace.
Take LeBron James, for instance, who moved from darling to villain when he joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, only to regain his hero status after returning to Cleveland and winning the Cavaliers their first NBA championship.
Or Tiger Woods, who took golf by storm before becoming the laughing stock of the world as he publicly dealt with the aftermath of infidelity and addiction. A few weeks ago his story came full circle after his improbable win at the Masters.
Our love for underdogs goes well beyond sports. Robert Downey Jr. was a teen heartthrob before becoming a tabloid sensation following his public drug addiction. Marvel took a risk hiring a sober Downey to launch their studio as Iron Man, only to have him become the centerpiece of arguably the most successful movie franchise of all-time.
The Warriors are on the same path. Having completed steps one and two, they are ready for their final act. In 2015, the world fell in love with the Warriors and their star, Steph Curry. They were young, great, and fun to watch. We all loved them…until they kept winning. And winning. Finally, after appearing in five straight NBA Finals, they essentially became the New England Patriots of the NBA. We knew they were great, and so we grew to despise them.
The Finals this year were destined to be a blow out, as everyone expected the Warriors to easily dispose of the Raptors. Then something crazy happened—they were humbled by injuries. We saw their humanity and we felt bad for them. I mean, we even started cheering for the biggest villain currently in the NBA—Kevin Durant.
Then they lost.
All of a sudden, their humanity was exposed. They had clear weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They were no longer invincible, they were…normal.
And that was the final hurdle to get the Warriors back into the good graces of fans. Now, we’ll spend this offseason feeling bad for Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because of their injuries. We’ll forget how bad the Warriors’ bench was and we’ll convince ourselves this team lost because of injuries, not their shockingly poor defense. We’ll fall back in love with Steph Curry’s boy-next-door smile. And if the inevitable happens and Kevin Durant leaves the Warriors in free agency, we’ll love them even more.
We love redemption stories because we desire to have our own. We’re flawed individuals (spoiler alert), and we connect with others who seem as flawed as we are. And if they are able to overcome insurmountable adversity to find success again, we feel like it’s possible for us to do the same.
I keep coming back to King David in the Bible. In many ways, that ancient king was a lot like Tiger (aside from his putting skills, I can neither confirm nor deny skill in that department). We all know the story of David killing Goliath. That event, for David, was Tiger’s 1997 Masters win. He burst onto the scene in epic fashion and instantly became The Dude (not that one).
He became king and the entire world seemed at his fingertips. Then, following his own bout with infidelity, his fall from grace begins. David is publicly shamed and deals with the aftermath of his decision for years. He does, however, slowly regain trust in God and proves himself a changed man. A redemption story that has us remembering him for his wins and not his losses; a redemption story that would produce a family tree that would eventually contain the Messiah.
As someone who moved from love to hate for the Warriors over the past four years, I couldn’t help but laugh as I found myself actually rooting for them to overcome the unrelenting adversity of this year’s finals. Me, rooting for the Warriors? Unbelievable.
It also caused me to reflect on how much I allow my love for sports to cloud my judgement. Steph Curry and I have something in common. (He is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time and I was cut from the 7th grade team, so that’s not it.) We both are trying to live a life that glorifies the God we serve. When Curry burst onto the scene, that was one of the main reasons I loved him. His outspoken devotion for God hasn’t changed since then… but apparently my priorities had, unfortunately.
Watching Curry embrace his loss on Thursday night reinforced that for me. He did it with grace, kindness, and humble generosity—in a way that humbled me. And I have a feeling that, for many reasons, I won’t be the only one feeling that way in the coming days and weeks.
Just as David was remembered in history more for how he responded to his fall from grace, I have a sneaking suspicion that history will remember the Golden State Warriors in a much different way than we expected when this year’s NBA finals kicked off.
The Warriors aren’t finished. I’m making my prediction now—2020 is going to be the year of the #WarriorsRedemptionTour. By then, we’ll all need another reminder that grace can overcome any loss…even three at home.