Golden State Warriors: An Identity Shift 16 Years In The Making


May 16, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30, right) receives a hug from head coach Mark Jackson (left) after leaving the game during the fourth quarter in game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena. The Spurs defeated the Warriors 94-82. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry’s first Sports Illustrated cover was the first time a Golden State Warriors’ player has been on that coveted spot since Latrell Sprewell’s infamous cover in 1997.

Curry’s cover is bright, filled with shades of yellow and white, and reads, “Give Steph Curry an inch and he might take Golden State a mile.”

Sprewell’s cover is dark, a black background and blood red lettering, with a small picture of swingman. It reads, “Latrell Sprewell has been publicly castigated and vilified, who gets a similar urge to manually alter his coach’s windpipe will surely remember Sprewell’s experience before he acts on that impulse. Problem solved. But the Sprewell incident raises other issues that could pose threats to the NBA’s future, issues of power and money and-most dangerous of all-race.”

Between 1997 and 2013, the Warriors have had seven different head coaches and missed the playoffs in all but two of those years. They have gone through three distinct rosters in that time, but the biggest change of all is the paradigm shift represented by Curry and Sprewell.

The 1997 cover references an infamous incident in which Sprewell choked head coach P.J. Carlesimo after he asked the guard for “a little more mustard on that pass” in practice. Carlesimo had built a reputation on his toughness and hardball approach to coaching, and continued to go after Sprewell. The All-Star repeatedly warned the coach not to approach him, and when he did, Sprewell snapped, choked Carlesimo and dragged him by the neck until his teammates, some say reluctantly, came to rescue the coach.

After a brief intermission in which he showered, Sprewell returned and began to throw punches at the coach. This was not the first violent incident for him, as he fought teammates Byron Houston and Jerome Kersey, both of whom far outweighed him. The NBA suspended him for one year and after several more years in the NBA with the New York Knicks and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sprewell retired and has had to deal with a bevy of post-NBA problems.

We could never take the paragraph above and insert Curry for Sprewell or even imagine him doing anything close to what is being described. For that matter, we could never imagine Mark Jackson doing anything to create any sort of violent altercation. Andre Iguodala called Curry “the second coming of Jesus Christ.” The Warriors pray before every game and sometimes during games when they feel need a little help from on high. How many prayer circles was Sprewell a part of?

The Warriors’ identity shift can be seen in many ways. The praying, the winning, the close knit relationships between the players and coaches, and most importantly, the wholesome image the team has now. Jackson has instituted a “no cursing zone” in his locker room, which was evidenced most famously when Reggie Miller appeared after the Game 6 victory against Denver and was rebuffed for his usage of a certain scatological word.

The very personification of a team is the franchise player and looking at Latrell Sprewell and Stephen Curry, we see just how far the Warriors have come.