Aldridge: The Warriors, like all champions, refuse to leave the stage

BOSTON — Very, very early in the run of “Saturday Night Live,” there was a sketch featuring the late John Belushi as an oblivious guest at Bill Murray and Jane Curtin’s house who didn’t know or care about the increasingly late hour.

“Well, we’re glad you could stop by,” a yawning Murray says to Belushi, “but it’s getting pretty late, and we better get to bed now.”

Belushi starts pawing through their albums. “Don’t you have any records besides these?” he asks. “I think I’m going to borrow this one.”

Curtin then screams as the off-screen announcer intones: It came without warning. They were just being polite. They didn’t realize they’d be stuck with …

THE THING THAT WOULDN’T LEAVE!

Years later, in 2018, in the first moments after his team’s third NBA championship in a four-year stretch, Golden State GM Bob Myers was asked how he hoped to keep the Warriors’ regular-season journeys as fresh as their hoped-for championship outcomes.

“You’ve got to like each other,” he said then. “You’ve got to really like each other. You have to respect each other. You have to understand some days, you don’t have it, and your teammates have to pick you up. It’s the houseguest that stays too long. You try to find people who are decent people in the worst moments. Sometimes you just need space. And it’s nobody’s fault. You need to yell at each other; you have to tell each other how you’re feeling. There’s acrimony, there’s division, there’s everything.

“But as long as you don’t break. You have to view it almost as like a family — that no matter what happens, we’re blood, and we’re going to see it through. But that’s a challenge because you’re really not blood, but you’re as close as you can get, ’cause you’re with each other all the time. Sometimes you see people more than you do your own family. So you try to find people that are decent people in the worst moments, is all you can do. Because the worst moments come.”

And that was four years ago!

At that moment, Myers had no idea that Kevin Durant would walk, that he’d have to trade Andre Iguodala to help pay for it, or that Klay Thompson would tear an ACL in a futile defense of the Warriors’ title against Toronto in 2019 , or that Thompson would tear his Achilles a year later, that 15-50 would be an actual Warriors regular-season record, or that Draymond Green would lose his ardor as the losses piled up, or that the Dubs would have to absorb D’ Angelo Russell to take a flier on Andrew Wiggins.

And there was that $80 million in salary and luxury taxes for Kelly Oubre. (Not a shot at Oubre, who’s a solid kid and a good player. Sometimes, things just don’t work out, you know?)

But it all happened. Even as so much of the team’s core looked to be on the wrong side of 30 to contend for championships. There were the Suns and Clippers and LeBron and Denver and Utah and Memphis and Luka in the West, all hungry, all seeking to keep the Warriors from getting back to the top.

But here they are, again.

In a year when the NBA basically said “you know, we’re kind of done with COVID-19,” and, more or less, got back to normal, it is fitting that the Warriors are, once again, back on top, refusing to leave.

Hall of Famer Chris Webber has this great saying about championship teams. Often, they aren’t the most talented or the best-coached. They just, usually, are the most stubborn.

“We’re very stubborn,” Green said Thursday after Golden State won its fourth NBA title since 2015, vanquishing Boston 103-90 in Game 6. “And it has been tested. You go through injuries. You get punched in the mouth a couple times. And it takes an incredible amount of resilience and togetherness and trust in each other.”

Stubbornness was central to the mine of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. No matter how much they won, they were never satisfied, never satisfied. And they never, ever turned down a seemingly untoward idea in search of more winning. Detroit, in the middle of defending its championship, starting Dennis Rodman ahead of Mark Aguirre? Safe.

Houston, looking to get a second ring, trading for the aging Clyde Drexler? Must. Chicago ringing Rodman, a known Bulls hater, to the Second City to jump-start a second three-peat? Why not? San Antonio, bringing Stephen Jackson back for a second round after he’d burned just about every bridge in town, for more winning? Absolutely.

And if that means Stephen Curry, rehabbing his sprained foot at the start of the playoffs, comes off the bench so Jordan Poole can start? Done and done.

The Warriors, like the great championship teams that preceded them, are a stubborn bunch.

“I like that word,” Curry said. “The narratives that you hear going into this season, especially coming off the two years prior, when we had the worst record in the league and a lot of injuries, and then scratching and clawing, trying to get into the Play-In Tournament, just to get a playoff berth. We definitely had that mentality, that belief and faith in what we could do. We kept saying it all year—our championship DNA. And the leadership of myself, Draymond, Andre, Loon (Kevon Looney), Klay. All that stuff mattered.

“And you carry that through the three years, not knowing how it’s going to end up. All you can do is control that belief, and behind the scenes, how you show up every single day, you embody that. And then, when it comes time to take advantage of an opportunity, things click.”

The Warriors no longer immolate opponents with prime Splash Brothers shotmaking or strangle offenses with the original Death Lineup. They somehow made their two-track, original core, next-gen team work. James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody didn’t break through into regular rotation minutes down the stretch, but they got a taste. Poole was an erratic, irreplaceable bridge between the old guard and the young guns. Thompson finally got back on the floor after missing more than 700 days rehabbing. Steve Kerr and his staff may have done their best coaching job during this championship run.

It’s not that everything or everyone worked out. Kent Bazemore didn’t. Oubre didn’t. And Golden State didn’t get Patty Mills, who signed with Brooklyn. But they dropped into the right gear in the playoffs, their defense again stifling, as Wiggins became a revelation guarding Boston’s Jayson Tatum.

“I intend to own this team for a long time,” co-owner Joe Lacob said on the TD Garden floor, “and I intend to win as many championships as possible. It’s all about winning. That’s it. That’s all I care about. We’re going to do whatever it takes. The truth is, we’ve got really smart people who work in this organization, and we are, usually, going to figure it out and be real good. I mean, we still had great players coming back (after the 15-50 season). And we believed in the Wiggins deal. I know a lot of people didn’t. But we thought he would fit. We needed to get all our players back. Really, we didn’t have everybody back until the playoffs this year. Eleven minutes of what we were trying to put together the last few years. Steph was injured. All these guys were injured.”

If Curry was reinjured when Al Horford fell on his leg in the waning moments of Game 3, he didn’t show it much afterward. But his countenance dissolved in the last seconds of Game 6 as the tears came down his face. He is the indispensable man — “Steph, ultimately, is why this run has happened,” Kerr said — and one of the greatest winners in league history. And he’s just as competitive and greedy as his predecessors, who dominated the league just as he, once again, is doing.

“Two months ago, I was injured,” Curry said. “We were sliding in defensive rating. We kind of limped our way into the postseason. And we clearly said we have to peak at the right time — not knowing what our rotation was going to be like, not knowing what our chemistry is going to look like, because that’s what the situation called for. And damned if we didn’t do it. It’s crazy to think about. All that talk paid off. Manifest your destiny in a certain way, and that stubbornness of who we are matters more than what anybody is saying about us. That’s why we’re here.”


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(Photo of Steph Curry and Jordan Poole celebrating: Kyle Terada / USA Today)

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