SI Vault
Frank Deford
February 16, 1976
One night several years ago, in a time when Rick Barry still roamed (the land, a prince kissed by cupidity and turned into a red, white and blue franchise, Franklin Mieuli threw back another Pimm's Cup and mused on that great day a-comin'. Mieuli, who favors neo-Sherlock Holmes raiment, is an enchanting bearded eccentric who owns the Golden State Warriors basketball team—owns it, one might say, in the way Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor own one another; that is, legally, but whimsically, and for many of the wrong reasons. "These are the kind of days I start thinking about Utopia," Mieuli allowed at that time.
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February 16, 1976

Everybody Gets Into The Act

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And so, even as the Warriors rush Rick Barry toward beatification, they move themselves to a class alone. They have won one championship and currently have the best record in the league (perhaps soon they'll be far enough ahead not to mind if Barry take a couple games off to work the radio broadcasts, which he did last year when he was injured), but they are still too young to be anywhere near the height of their powers. They still tend to relax when they get ahead, letting lesser teams catch them off guard. "These guys are exceptional people," Ray says of his teammates, "and they play the way they are as people. They understand that the only concept in basketball is winning. But they're young, they're still searching. You see them sometimes, it appears they're trying to show off. But they're not trying to be fancy, they're just kids trying to emphasize what they have, trying to make an impression."

Of course, a team that depends so much on anything as ethereal as attitude is vulnerable in ways that more conventional teams are not. The Los Angeles Lakers, for example, are contenders every day that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gets out of bed. But the Warrior balloon floats only because the gases are mixed just so. Golden State wins now because everybody is fresh, ambitious, willing. Everybody except Barry is unknown. But they are known together, and Barry aside, all make about the same kind of money. Will it work when Wilkes and Smith and Williams arrive at greatness? Will there be just as much to go around then? Will they still play 10 men a night? "Yeah, will success spoil Rock Hunter?" Barry says. "I get it. But listen, you can't have too many great players on a team. If you're a great player, you play team ball or you're not a great player. It's that simple. And if anybody changes his attitude, Al gets rid of him. It's that simple, too."

If Attles can continue to get his Warriors to drink his elixir, something wonderful and needed will have been brought to sports. So long have we prized all the sterile things in our games—efficiency and order—with victory and defeat reduced, one way or another, to chatter about turnovers. Teams, more or less, do not exist anymore. In the pros there are organizations; in college there are programs. This is a great organization. We've got to build up the program.

"When I was at Seattle," Dick Vertlieb says, "I had the Vince Lombardi slogan up on the wall: WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING, IT'S THE ONLY THING. I was so proud of that. Now I'm ashamed to tell you about it. I'm embarrassed. Winning is not the answer. Character, personality, effort—that is what I'm interested in. We will have won if each player can answer 'yes' to this question: Did I work hard enough to make coming out worth the people's while? And if I, if the front office, can answer 'yes' to that. We get so mixed up in this business, all of us. Most general managers think that you have giveaways—T shirts, posters or whatever—in order to get the people to come out. No, no! You have the giveaways so that they will enjoy the evening. That's the point. You have to be competitive, but you don't have to win, and we'll all do better in sports when we understand that."

So, more than any pro team, the Warriors have been fashioned primarily out of love, out of the positive. "Of course," Vertlieb says, "you can go too far with this equality bit. All this speed and character. I don't ever want them to forget to go to Barry when it gets down to the wire."

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