There is a scene midway through Glengarry Glen Ross where Ricky Roma sits at a booth in a dingy Chinese restaurant, doing his best verbal two-step in an attempt to unload some crappy vacation property on an unsuspecting patsy.
“Great meals fade in reflection,” he tells his victim. “Everything else gains. You know why? ‘Cause it’s only food. This shit we put in us, it keeps us going. But it’s only food.” Like a lot of lines in the film, it sticks with you – unlike great meals. But Roma’s right. The visceral present of a meal – its tastes, smells, sights – slips away over time. Admit it: your most memorable dining experiences likely have more to do with the circumstances surrounding the meal than the meal itself.
What else fades this way? I keep asking myself that in regards to the Golden State Warriors’ historic 73 wins this season, an accomplishment that was overshadowed even as it was happening by Kobe Bryant’s historic 60-points-on-50-shots final game. And well before it was clear that the Warriors would have a shot at the record books, people were already knocking the accomplishment down, saying it would mean nothing without a championship, that pursuing the record was putting a run at another ring in jeopardy, that the league had become such a wussified playground of mewling infants that the record would mean nothing, period.
None of this is new, of course. The 1995-96 Bulls’ record of 72-10 has long been the towering season-long achievement of the modern era of the NBA, but there are other contenders for best team of all time. Pick your favorite iteration of the Showtime Lakers or the dynastic Celtics. What does that one more win mean when comparing teams across eras as different as the handcheck-happy, short 3-point line Nineties and today’s defensive smorgasbord of strongside floods and iced pick and rolls to counter a heavy volume of 3-point shooting?
(By the way, Steph Curry ended the season with 402 made 3-pointers. The first team to make more than 400 3-pointers was the 1993-94 Houston Rockets, 15 years after the shot was introduced to the NBA.)
Even right now, you can probably find people who would argue the Warriors aren’t the best team in the NBA this season, given that the San Antonio Spurs beat their opponents by bigger margins and had a better home record than the Dubs. Charles Barkley recently said that last year’s Warriors didn’t play one team that was healthy, that they won because LeBron James “got tired.” Whether you want to lean on the cold mathematics of net rating or the burning fury of hot takes, there will never be a shortage of angles from which to view these Warriors – or any great team – in such a way that they appear a shade less great, adorned with an asterisk.
This, perhaps, is why we crave the physical conflict between the 1995-96 Bulls at their prime and the 2015-16 Warriors, between the Bird/McHale Celtics and Bill Russell’s great teams, between the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs and their younger selves from 1998-99 or 2002-03. We want clarity that sweeps away the biases of memory, the vagaries of different rules, the complexities of injuries and the relative quality of the league and even time itself. Because isn’t that what the question of whether this Warriors team is the greatest ever actually hinges on? The ways in which time bends and flexes us as we struggle to fit through the keyhole of right now?
Because right now, the way we talk and think about Golden State this season – with all the doubting and the celebrating, all the judgment and prognostication – can’t be all that different from the way we talked and thought about the Bulls in the mid-Nineties. There wasn’t Twitter or bloggers, but the conversation was similarly circular:
“Can you believe how great this team is?”
“No, but how great are they?”
“Better than that other team.”
“Are you sure?”
It’s important to remember that although Ricky Roma is essentially fleecing his client, James Lingk, out of his money, he’s doing it without actually lying to him.
“What is our life?” he asks rhetorically. “Our life is looking forward or it’s looking back. That’s it. That’s our life. Where’s the moment? And what is it we’re so afraid of? Loss. What else?
“Stocks, bonds, objects of art, real estate. What are they? An opportunity. To what? To make money? Perhaps. To lose money? Perhaps. To ‘indulge’ and to ‘learn’ about ourselves? Perhaps,” he continues. “So fucking what? What isn’t? They’re an opportunity. That’s all they are. They’re an event.”
It’s beautiful, what Roma is doing, spinning bullshit into truth and then calling it bullshit. This Golden State Warriors team is not indelible, not carved in stone or unassailable. Right now, standing atop the mountain with the most regular-season wins in league history and looking over the other side at the long slalom through the playoffs, they’re an event, an opportunity. Are they the greatest team ever?
Perhaps. So fucking what?