One revelation of life without sports is that I miss the games less than I thought I would—there are only so many ways for a team to win or lose. What I actually miss is all the ambient, extracurricular stuff that fills the rest of the calendar: the wheeling and dealing, the rumors and speculation, the storytelling that gives shape to struggle. At some point during the past decade, every professional sports league became a year-round business, never quite vacating a hard-core fan’s periphery. The N.B.A., when it was fully operational, didn’t ever really stop: the season ran from October through mid-June, by which time there was the draft (late June), free agency and summer league (July), and then training camp and preseason (September). The fans have followed along: they want to understand a team’s long-term planning and speculate about its future, looking toward possible tweaks that might not unfold for years.
In another life, Ethan Strauss, a reporter for the Athletic, may have covered the behind-the-scenes machinery of city politics or the business sector. He seems preternaturally interested in institutions and how to demystify them. Rather than reheating N.B.A. talking points, Strauss delves into how professional basketball works organizationally. “: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty” is his book about the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors, one of the most talented basketball teams ever assembled. The Warriors had won three championships in the previous four years, and they likely would have won another that season were it not for untimely injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, two of their best players. But the book isn’t really about the Warriors’ style of play or their place in N.B.A. history. It’s barely about basketball. It’s essentially a workplace drama revolving around thirty or so incredibly wealthy and psychotically competitive people—players, agents, management, ownership—united in professional purpose yet also seeking their own versions of personal fulfillment.
Strauss has been writing about the Warriors since 2010, back when relatively few people wanted to read about them. He came of age alongside the Warriors’ homegrown core of Stephen Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green, which, in 2015, brought the Bay Area its first championship in forty years体育投注平台. But the admiration and good vibes dissolved in the summer of 2016, when the Warriors signed Durant, a former rival and the human equivalent of a cheat code. The team’s success became conflated with Silicon Valley as a whole—one of its owners, Joe Lacob, crowed that the organization was “light-years” ahead of other teams. A franchise that had been a pitiable laughingstock for decades had come to seem smug and entitled.
It’s hard to convey how unlikely all of this seemed to someone who grew up watching the Warriors back when they were scrappy but irrelevant. I could never have imagined that the team would win anything of note; even more improbable was the idea that it could become a destination for a superstar like Durant, who, as Strauss reports, hoped that winning titles with the Warriors would elevate him above LeBron James. But critics and opposing fans felt that Durant had simply joined a ready-made winner. For the entirety of the 2018-19 season, the last of Durant’s contract, the question of whether he would continue to play with the Warriors hung uncomfortably in the air. He could stay and secure a dynasty for years to come, or opt for free agency and try to build something new for himself.
While Strauss clearly loves the sport, he also treats the N.B.A. as a reflection of the “Darwinian contest” prized by American society, and writes about it without romance. Loyalty to a team or a city can seem silly when an élite player’s longest-term economic relationship might be to their shoe company. Given that players can sign a shoe deal before getting drafted, and work for Nike or Adidas well into retirement, Strauss states that “an NBA team is impotent by comparison.” Strauss wrote one of ESPN’s most popular stories of 2016, piecing together the inner workings that convinced Curry, a generational basketball talent, to leave his Nike sponsorship and move to the comically unloved apparel company Under Armour. When Durant joined the Warriors that year, it wasn’t just a question of whether he and Curry could share the ball. It was also a question of whether Nike, via Durant, was quashing the one team that was making Under Armour relevant.
Strauss is interested in workplace culture, decision-making processes, and hierarchies, and he carefully maps the web of intermediaries and liaisons between players, their teams, and their business interests. That basketball players are wealthy doesn’t make them immune to the resentments or paranoias present in any office setting. We’re just accustomed to seeing them as heroes and villains, rather than as workers within an org chart. Strauss offers insights into how power gets played out in personalities—the motivations, insecurities, and over-all vibe of people who are often insulated from judgment. His wonky air equips him to talk shop with the Warriors’ executives and management. He describes Lacob as “accidentally quite entertaining,” despite disagreeing with the owner’s libertarian politics. Elsewhere, Strauss adds texture to the coach Steve Kerr’s nice-guy persona, when Kerr mutters under his breath about an overeager autograph hound.
体育投注平台In February, 2019, Strauss’s doggedness actually got him in trouble, when he reported that many within the Warriors organization saw Durant’s departure as inevitable. Perhaps the only surprising aspect of Strauss’s piece was that someone close to the situation had confirmed it. But Durant tried to make an example out of Strauss and his anonymous sources. After steering clear of reporters for a few days, Durant said, “You got a dude, Ethan Strauss, who come in here and give his whole opinion on stuff and make it seem like it’s coming from me. He walk around here, don’t talk to nobody, just walk in here, survey, and write something like that.” The situation, Durant explained, represented why he loathed talking to the media. It was a no-win situation. “I just don’t trust none of y’all. Every time I say something, it gets twisted up and thrown out in so many different publications, to try to tear me down with my words that I say. So, when I don’t say nothing, it’s a problem. I just want to play ball. I want to go to the gym and go home. That’s all. Is that a problem?” It struck many as odd that one of the most prominent athletes on the planet saw fit to eviscerate a reporter.
体育投注平台The most absorbing chapter of “The Victory Machine” revolves around this incident. Strauss recounts first meeting Durant by chance at a San Francisco hookah bar, shortly after the superstar had signed with the Warriors. It’s an odd and charming scene. It happened to be Fleet Week, and Durant kept welcoming random servicemen into his V.I.P. section. He was “quietly curious” about their backgrounds and day-to-day experiences, humbly listening as they shared their ambitions. But Durant also comes across as pensive and world-weary, joking to his new friends that it was only a matter of time until some media chump—such as Strauss—would proclaim his career over.