The Golden State Warriors Play Like Girls

Written by Jennifer Matt, this post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on July 3, 2017

The Golden State Warriors play like girls and its the best thing to happen to the NBA in the last decade.

I had stopped watching the NBA regular season because over the last decade the game had deteriorated into an individual sport of superstars playing isolation basketball (B-O-R-I-N-G). I use the term “deteriorated” purposefully because as a female fan, this performance — superstar gets ball, dribble, dribble, dribble, drive or shoot a jump shot, rinse and repeat — has no appeal to me.

I don’t care to spend my free time watching nine players stand around while James Harden plays an individual game. Fan alert – it is way more exciting to see Patrick McCaw (that kid on the Warriors bench) dunk after three all-stars pass up contested shots. That’s a team sport. That’s entertaining. That’s fun to watch. That’s playing like a girl and I love it.

Why is it playing like a girl?

I’m a female athlete whose primary focus when I played basketball was the team – almost to a fault. Watch youth girls’ basketball — they often pass too much. Whereas, youth boys’ basketball is often in the other direction – too much individual ball hogging. We both go off the rails in different directions! The game is best with the right mix of teamwork and individual skill. The Warriors exemplify that and they win doing it. When I say the Warriors play like girls – it is the highest compliment. They have put the team above themselves. My favorite quote from the Warriors championship night was when Kevin Durant said, “it’s a team sport.” It was like he understood we had drifted so far away from that ideal and he and the Warriors were here to remind us.

If you like the way the Warriors play the game, it’s time for you to tune into the WNBA. I became a fan of men’s professional basketball during my childhood because that was my only option since there was no women’s professional league. There was a huge poster of George Gervin perched on a throne of ice (the Iceman) in my bedroom. My six brothers and I watched Larry Bird and Magic Johnson battle it out in that historic rivalry. Two great teams with two superstars who played team ball – meaning they made everyone on their team better. That’s the NBA I was raised on.

The Warriors are bringing that game back and I love it. A JaVale McGee dunk scores the same two points as the acrobatic, falling-down shot by Kyrie Irving or two of the thirty free throws James Harden gets per game. The magic is in what happens 1-2-3 passes before that McGee dunk, that’s what I’m here to watch. And I don’t think I’m alone.

If I were 12 years old today, I would have posters of Diana Taurasi from the Phoenix Mercury and Nneka Ogwumike from the Los Angeles Sparks. Primarily because of Title IX young girls can now watch and learn from the WNBA along with Draymond Green.

“In the NBA there’s always a guy who is only around because he can jump. He doesn’t have a clue about the fundamentals. I learn more from the WNBA. They know how to dribble, how to pivot, how to use the shot fake.” – Draymond Green

Professional female athletes inspire girls to stay in sports longer. The Geena Davis Institute says “if you can see it, you can be it.” Boys need to see Steph Curry pass up a shot for a Shaun Livingston dunk. Girls need to see Diana Taurasi beating her defender to the basket. Young boys get to know their athletic heroes portrayed in a huge selection of documentary films. Young girls are waiting for us to create and distribute more films about strong, confident, embodied women athletes who literally expand their perception of what they can do and who they can be.

Why are we sports fans? Because we aspire to be a part of something special. I watch the Warriors because as a fan I get to “be a part of the organization.” The Warriors are an organization you feel like you are a part of because they involve so many people in the winning formula (strength in numbers). When there are just one or two superstars dominating the game, there is no room for you to belong. Hell, there’s no room for the other starters on their team to belong. When Steve Kerr and Mike Brown use 10+ players in an important game and throughout the season, that demonstrates a culture of inclusivity. The fact that I know Patrick McCaw by name and am thrilled when he enters the game says a lot about the Warriors game. Can you name one guy on the Houston Rockets bench? – I didn’t think so.

Can you imagine how it’s going to feel for rookie Jordan Bell next year? He’ll go to check in for a game and potentially walk past KD, Curry, Thompson, and Green – knowing that those guys will be watching HIM play. It must inspire you to raise your game. The Warriors bench production each year has shown it does just that. Each year there’s been a different cast of characters on that Warriors bench yet they produce the same results – exceed expectations and look like they are having a lot of fun, while making real contributions to the winning Warriors.

I can’t remember the sports media ever tracking “team assists” per game. In the last couple years, we have witnessed the “assist” come out of the statistics closet. Prior to this, assists were only mentioned when part of a triple-double (an individual accomplishment). The assist is now taking its rightful place as the key metric to team basketball. In isolation basketball, the assist disappeared. What does 40+ assists a game mean about the brand of basketball you’re playing? What a dumb question, it means you’re playing like a team, a team that sets up your teammates to get better, often uncontested shots. I hope it didn’t surprise anyone when the Warriors won the best assist award at the inaugural NBA awards – they produced twenty percent more assists per game than any other team in the league.

It won’t be easy to emulate. The Warriors’ success is the result of their culture and that didn’t start on draft day or in the Hamptons recruiting Kevin Durant. It started at the top and goes all the way to the bottom. Organizations take on the characteristics of their leaders — look no further than Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet – from my home town) or Uber (Travis Kalanick). Netflix famously published its culture in a slide deck that defines the company as a professional sports team. “We’re a team, not a family. We’re a professional sports team, not a kids recreational team. Coaches’ job at every level of Netflix to hire, develop, and cut smartly so we have stars in every position.”

Netflix and the Warriors have a lot in common when it comes to culture. I don’t know if the Warriors have a slide deck, but I’m pretty sure they are living by this core component of the Netflix culture: “Brilliant Jerks, some companies tolerate them. For us the cost to teamwork is too high.” Did the Warriors recruit well or did the culture of the Warriors turn their recruits into great team players? Probably a combination of the two.

The Golden State Warriors play like girls and I love it.


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