It started with Durant
The Golden State Warriors’ offseason has been hectic, to say the least. The dynasty appears to be crumbling, punctuated by the key departure of Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets and the devastating knee injury Klay Thompson suffered in the Finals. The shifting balance of power spread more equally among teams — like Kawhi Leonard/Paul George to the Clippers, Anthony Davis/LeBron to the Lakers, the Celtics’ big three, and Russell Westbrook reuniting with James Harden — will make Golden State’s quest for six-straight Finals that much harder.
To ease the pain of what turned out to be a heartbreaking, injury-filled Finals loss to Toronto, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob decided to spontaneously retire some numbers, starting with Kevin Durant. Shocking the NBA community Lacob said:
Three years ago, we were thrilled with the arrival of Kevin Durant, a transformative NBA player and one of the best to ever play the game. He provided our fans and franchise with numerous highlights during his stay here—two NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, three trips to the Finals, unparalleled efficiency—and carried himself with class and dignity both on and off the court.
Lacob finished pouring his heart out by emphatically exclaiming, “As long as I am Co-Chairman of this team, no player will ever wear No. 35 for the Warriors again.” Interesting. Three seasons. Two championships. And one number retired? Seems like a massive stretch, leap, and jump to retire Durant’s number.
And it turned into Iguodala
And Lacob wasn’t done yet. With the hot hand, Lacob decided to hang another jersey in the rafters, the No. 9 jersey belonging to three-time NBA champion and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. Yes, the same Andre Iguodala that got his shot stuffed by LeBron James on a soft layup in the final minutes of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Lacob, apparently star-struck by hard work and championships, had this to say about Iguodala’s tenure with Golden State:
Andre sacrificed for the betterment of our team and, in one of the best stories of this journey, earned NBA Finals MVP honors in 2015. He has been absolutely vital to our success during five consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and three championships. We thank Andre for his contributions and look forward to seeing his number in the rafters at Chase Center.
So this got us thinking, what other numbers should the insatiable Lacob retire? What other numbers deserve to hang in the rafters, never to be worn again? The threshold for jersey retirement in Golden State seems incredibly low, opening up a world of possibilities for other players to receive the once-distinguished honor.
Now, time for the jerseys that should join K.D. and Iguodala’s in the rafters…
Let’s start with Kelly Olynyk, the maybe-at-best-above-average big man currently on the Miami Heat. In 2015, Cleveland had resurfaced to relevancy thanks to LeBron’s return and the massive trade for Kevin Love. Cleveland’s newly formed Big Three came out guns blazing and earned the second seed in the East. In Game 4 of their opening-round matchup against Boston, Cleveland, already with a 3-0 game lead, was looking to cruise into the second round, unscathed and unharmed. Then Kelly Olynyk happened. In the first quarter of Game 4, Boston’s Olynyk got tangled up with Kevin Love battling for a loose ball.
Cameras appeared to catch Olynyk yanking down on Love’s arm, causing it to dislocate. Love ran to the locker room and was ruled out for the remainder of the series and later the playoffs when it was revealed he would need surgery to repair a tear. Olynyk was suspended one game but the damage was done. Cleveland’s Big Three was reduced to two, forcing them to limp into the 2015 Finals. Cleveland further had their Finals hopes diminished when Kyrie Irving exited the Finals with an injured knee. The depleted Cavs team eventually bowed out to Golden State in six games, in no small part due to Olynyk’s antics earlier in the playoffs.
The next number that Golden State needs to retire is Kyrie Irving’s. For the second straight year, Golden State met up with Cleveland in the Finals. Yet this Finals, Love and Irving were at full strength. Despite Golden State taking a 3-1 lead over Cleveland, the matchup was still more balanced. Then momentum began to shift as Cleveland forced a Game 6 and later a Game 7. Game 7 was a back-and-forth nailbiter that came down to the final few minutes. After Andre Iguodala’s soft layup was blocked by LeBron James, Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving dribbled up court and drilled the biggest shot of the season and his life.
With 53 seconds remaining and the game deadlocked at 89, Irving hit a contested three over Steph Curry. Now you may be thinking, how on earth could the Warriors hang Public Enemey No.1’s jersey? He hit the clutch shot that crushed the hearts of the Golden State faithful! Well, without Irving’s massive three-pointer, Golden State presumably doesn’t lose the Finals. And what does that mean? They never need to re-tool and sign Kevin Durant. And that means they don’t get to retire Durant’s number in the first place. It’s the circle of jersey retirement life, all sparked by Irving’s shot.
The next honor belongs to Zaza Pachulia, one of the NBA’s greatest henchmen. The 2017 NBA Finals slated, again, the Warriors against the Cavaliers. This time, however, the Cavs faced an upgraded Golden State team featuring arguably the league’s best player, Kevin Durant. Naturally, the Finals wasn’t even close, with Golden State winning 4 games to 1. However, things would have looked a lot different had Zaza Pachulia not executed the dirtiest close out foot slide known to man.
Early in the third quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals, San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard attempted a jump shot. As he came down to land, Zaza slid his foot under the airborne Leonard, causing him to land awkwardly. Leonard immediately balled up on the ground, writhing in pain. With Leonard unable to return to the game, Golden State pulled off the massive comeback. News later revealed Leonard would miss the remainder of the series, which turned out to be a 4-game sweep by Golden State.
And the magical ride to yet another trip to the NBA Finals is hardly over, and that means there’s another jersey that needs to be retired. Ladies and gentleman, your newest member of the Golden State rafter club, point guard Chris Paul, formerly of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets appeared to have been the Warriors’ kryptonite, poised to end their run at another Finals appearance (and inevitable victory over the downtrodden Cavaliers). But late in Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, the Kryptonite seemingly dissolved when Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury. The Rockets hung on to secure the victory and a 3-2 series lead, but the mood in Houston turned sour.
Paul was ruled out for Game 6, and accordingly, Houston lost. In the must-win Game 7, Paul was a no-show. The star point guard and his hamstring weren’t fit for battle. Head coach Mike D’Antoni said about Paul, “There’s no way. . . He couldn’t explode. He couldn’t push off of it.”
What do you think happened in Game 7 with a chance to dethrone the king? The Rockets came up lame and lost by nine points. Golden State then advanced to the Finals and swept Cleveland in the worst Finals in recent memory.
There you have it. Golden State’s path to the Finals has been anything but hard. They beat up on an injured Cleveland team missing stars Kevin Love (thanks Olynynk) and Kyrie Irving. Then they blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals (thanks LeBron for the block and Kyrie for the shot). That defeat forced them to recruit the league’s best player, Kevin Durant. And despite having the most stacked team in the NBA, Golden State still needed the help of the injury bug, which took away star players like Kawhi Leonard (bless your heart Zaza) and Chris Paul (thanks, hamstring).