Ten minutes before a surprise press conference three days before the 2022 NBA Finals, Warriors executive chairman Joe Lacob turned to Golden State head of public relations Raymond Ridder, needing an answer.
How many titles do they have? he asked.
“Seventeen,” Ridder replied. “Lakers and Celtics have 17 each.”
Lacob grew up in Massachusetts listening to Johnny Most talk about the Celtics’ success on his transistor radio. Havlicek, Kuzi and Russell showed the New Bedford native what a dynasty looks like. By the time Lakob was 13, Boston had won 11 titles in 13 years.
Are they both 17? he asked Ridder.
Lakeb’s face went blank.
“That’s a lot,” he said. How many do we have, Raymond?
“Six,” Ridder replied, referring to the number of Warriors titles since the franchise’s inception.
Three of them came under the supervision of Leykob. Twelve years ago, having made a fortune in venture capital, he bought the Warriors, inheriting Steph Curry, then acquiring Clay Thompson, Draymond Green, and later Kevin Durant. Golden State has built a dynasty of its own, winning three titles and winning five NBA Finals in five years. But that’s a small feat compared to the legacy the Celtics have built in Boston.
“It will take many years of ownership,” Lacob said, “to even come close to what the Celtics have achieved in terms of all the fantastic decades of success.”
But that doesn’t mean he won’t try.
Even when the Warriors were at their peak, winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, Lakeob had his outlook on the future, about Spurs’ 20 years of being very consistently good and fighting for the championship. That dream seemed to vanish the following year when Duran went free. The Warriors struggled after that, missing the playoffs twice, but the setback also provided the franchise with the tools to make Lacob’s long-term vision a reality.
Durant’s sign and trade brought back D’Angelo Russell, who was replaced with Andrew Wiggins and draft pick Jonathan Cuminga. Two trips to the lottery brought back James Wiseman and Moses Moody. Jordan Pool was selected 28th overall in 2019.
Other franchises would likely use a stock of young players as trade fodder to fill their core with a proven veteran or disgruntled star ready to win right now. But the Warriors have firmly stated that they would only make such a move for an MVP-level player, and instead invested in their youth. Above all, they believed that Curry could bring them back to stardom no matter what.
They were right. With 34 points in a 103–90 win over the Celtics in Game 6, Curry lifted the Warriors to another league title.
“We found a way to just do it,” Curry said in the stands after the game. “It’s part of the championship pedigree, our experience,” he said. “We have been building this for 10-11 years. It means a lot when you get to this stage.”
That’s four titles in eight years for Lacob. Even the Spurs haven’t won that much in such a short amount of time. But as the Warriors are enjoying their latest title win, no. 7 overall across the franchise – there’s still a lot of work to do once the champagne haze clears.
“Our goal is to always be really good and challenge for the title,” Lacob said. “Otherwise, there is no point in doing it. Zero. So everything we do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365, is about making this organization the greatest in the world, and of course in the NBA and basketball.”
Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, Andre Iguodala often looked to WGN, a local Chicago television station, to watch the Bulls dynasty of the 90s. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman made headlines, but Iguodala’s eyes were on the guys around them. “I was able to see BJ Armstrong and John Paxson, Bill Cartwright and Horace Grant,” he said. “I saw Steve Kerr; every open throw, he did it… It was easy, you play to win, you understand your role. I saw it daily. And I think it helped me appreciate the game of basketball and win the game of basketball.”
Iguodala tried his hand at starring early in his career as a scorer for the 76ers. But he found his true calling as a defensive-minded, all-around player for the Warriors, earning Finals MVP largely for covering LeBron James in the 2015 Finals. Even as he performed a similar function for the Heat on their way to the bubble final in 2020, he found himself returning to Bay.
The Warriors traded Iguodala to the Grizzlies in 2019, following Durant’s departure, to make room for the cap. While his reps and Memphis considered other trade options, Iguodal was often spotted in the East Bay, near the Golden State headquarters in San Francisco. Days after he was sent to the Heat on the eve of the 2020 trade deadline, he was back in Golden State orbit after defeating the Warriors in his first game at the Chase Center, he was talking to familiar faces and photographed. in the backyard of the arena. After about an hour it was time to leave, so he hugged everyone a few more times and sent a message to everyone within earshot, “I’ll be back.”
Meanwhile, he continued to watch from afar. As Curry shone in the 2020-21 season, returning from injury to have one of his best offensive seasons and take Golden State to the play-in tournament without Thompson, Iguodala thought about how he could improve his buddy’s game again.
“Everyone said: “Stef is not in good health. Steph is alone now,” Iguodala said. “Being able to watch him terrorize the league from afar and say, ‘Okay, okay, he’s even getting better.’ And just knowing that if it all comes together again, my little teaspoon of anything in a big pot will make a big difference.”
Last August, after Miami turned down his offer, he signed with Golden State at the veteran’s minimum. In addition to filling in the gaps around Curry, Thompson and Green, he also wanted to help develop the next generation of Warriors role players. He coached Kuminga, Iguodala’s locker room neighbor, on how to deal with the media and gave newcomers advice on how to navigate the Silicon Valley investment space. During games and training, it is even louder. “He’s amazing,” said Gary Payton II, who, under Iguodala, has turned into a Swiss army player in the knife rotation. “I look for him before I look at coaches, just to see what I should do better or whatever, but he’s as big as he is on the bench and on the floor.”
After the Warriors won their latest Finals bid by defeating Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, Iguodala gave another reminder to the young players. “Just to make sure they enjoy the moment,” he said on the eve of his seventh appearance in the final. “Realize that it’s not really a given, and it’s very, very hard to get into.”
Other Warriors veterans have taken on coaching roles as well. When Wiseman needs advice, Thompson invites him on his boat to spend the day in the bay. If Pool wants to steal Curry’s moves, the former MVP is willing to offer a crash course.
Green has struggled to re-evaluate his expectations since Durant left, telling me that it caused him to lose interest in basketball. But now, if younger players are in need of tough love, he’s always there for a harsh message followed by a hand on his shoulder.
“We need to show the young guys what’s what,” Greene told me last fall. “You have to teach them what you know, what you have learned, that’s how you support this cause. That’s how you keep moving this thing forward.”
The Warriors have also adjusted their infrastructure in recent years, devoting more resources to player development. While they’ve flourished on the court since the 2014-15 season, they’ve been floundering in the draft: Jacob Evans, Damian Jones, Patrick McCaw, Jordan Bell. Kerr now has development-focused coaches on the bench, including soon-to-be Hornets head coach Kenny Atkinson, Jama Mahlalela and Dejan Milojevic.
“I like what we were able to do. We were able to do it, call it a two-tier strategy, call it what you want,” said Lacob. “But you have the core guys to get you there. In the meantime, you’re going to develop these young guys, and I think we’ve done it.”
It remains to be seen how long Iguodala will last to see the next generation flourish. Rumors of retirement spread throughout the building. But in addition to developing a new class, the Warriors made an effort to find roles for players in the organization when their playing days were over. In recent years, former players Mike Dunleavy, Zaza Pachulia and most recently Sean Livingston have been hired to the front office. It is unclear if Iguodala will follow suit.
“I let it happen naturally,” he told me the day before Game 6. “I don’t plan ahead.” He still has a home in the East Bay and plans to stay in the area at least until his teenage son, Andre Jr., graduates from high school. But as everyone in its orbit knows, it will never be too far away.
“I just stay in the present moment day in and day out,” he told me. “I have goals that I have set for myself, so I kind of have a vision, but I’m not going to actually try to achieve them. this is so far…