How would you define “championship DNA” if you had to?
Can you tell if a team has it before they’ve won? Did Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green always have it? Or did they have to win a title to prove it?
There isn’t a clear answer. But the Warriors, now heading to their sixth Finals in eight years, haven’t lost it.
What is clear is that there is a distinction between teams that reach the pinnacle of the sport in passing and those that stay there. To remain atop that mountain is a feat which is uniquely arduous. It is not without significant cost.
The Warriors lived those perils. Their dynastic, five-in-five Finals run crashed out in calamitous fashion. All those years of playing 20-plus extra games sent them into an unplanned hibernation.
No one wins the war of attrition. There are none among us invulnerable to the sands of time.
But Golden State fended off that finality, in affront to the eulogizing which followed that 2019 season.
Their only route to preservation lay in wait, to remain dormant as they acquired new, younger, unproven and sometimes disrespected assets.
And for two years, they watched a league ever so fixated on the present, render their achievements as bygone, no longer of the current era.
Don’t think they did not notice that. They did not build a dynasty from scratch with a mentality of could-bes and maybe-ifs. There is a borderline irrational confidence that runs deep through that Warriors core trio.
So when it all came crashing down in those 2019 Finals, Green issued a warning. It rings prophetic now, but was generally shrugged off then.
“We’re not done yet,” Green said. “I hear a lot of that noise, ‘It’s the end of the run,’ and all that jazz. I don’t see it happening though. We’ll be back.”
It’s that confidence, best exemplified verbally by Green, that composes the spine of this unceasing beast; the one so successful it got rewarded with a new, if not still too-pristine arena that will never feel quite the same as their old haunt.
But it’s those Curry shimmies — which Thompson replicated for himself on Thursday — Green flexes and Thompson waves to the crowd that reflect the cold-blooded DNA that still defines this team.
Kobe Bryant, the man so ruthless he earned the moniker of Mamba, saw it early.
“I get a kick out of watching Golden State play because they seem very unassuming,” Bryant said. “Klay and Steph seem very calm and nice guys. Those guys are stone-cold killers, man. They don’t care about what you think of them. They don’t care if they make a game-winning shot or miss it. They’re out there to do their job. They have a very strong sense of killer instinct.”
This is not the same as those other years, when the Finals appearance was a certainty.
There’s a heightened level of appreciation at this juncture. Klay Thompson recalled that at this point last year, he was “just starting to jog again,” calf-raising 1,000 times a day.
Curry echoed that sentiment.
“We never lost the faith,” Curry said. “But you understood how hard it was going to be to climb this mountain again.”
But there’s no satisfaction in just getting back. The tenor was of unfinished business; business which will resume at home on June 2.
It’s a persistent seriousness of knowing what is still yet to do. But that seriousness has never been mutually exclusive to their confidence.
These are still the same cold-blooded killers — enlivened by a young core — who will smile and turn around before a three has swished, shimmy at your crowd, and flex in your face while they reap what they’ve long sowed.
This group is humble, but they won’t entertain any talk that they’re not still the alphas of this league.
“Nobody has proven they can beat us yet when we’re whole,” said Green. “That’s still the case.”
Still. Still, this Warriors team prevails. There is much more work ahead against a very likely Boston opponent that gave them trouble in the regular season, and can clearly compete in the postseason with a bevy of talented wings.
But in three week’s time, this group expects to hear a Bruce Buffer-style, “And… STILLLL!” ring out to cement the most intriguing chapter of the dynasty to be written yet.