From film pranks to long-shot circuses, Warriors are winning with hijinks 

click to enlarge BEN MARGOT/AP
  • Ben Margot/AP

There are weapons up and down the Warriors' roster, but here's one you might not have heard of until now: Nick U'Ren, a special assistant to coach Steve Kerr, who also serves as a de facto DJ during practice. U'Ren takes requests, but mostly he chooses the musical playlists on his own, a vast array of songs that keep the mood upbeat and not overly serious when the Warriors are laboring through, say, the three-man weave.

Sometimes, the playlists are even themed: When the Warriors played in Houston during the Western Conference finals, U'Ren chose songs from Houston-based artists. None of this may seem like much, but it's these little touches that keep things moving, keep things light, and have helped create one of the loosest and most outwardly likable teams in NBA history. And the fact the Warriors might be on the verge of also becoming one of most successful teams in NBA history is not exactly a coincidence.

"Naw, I've never been on a team like this," said forward Marreese Speights.

It's hard not to notice that there is a rare and genuine sense of warmth around this team. Several times this postseason, center Andrew Bogut — who was not a fan of Mark Jackson, but connected with Kerr — has admitted as much.

"I think Steve helped," Bogut said. "He's embraced it. He knew we were a loose group, and he left it as it was the last couple of years. And he's a humble, humorous guy as well."

The stories of the Warriors firing up full-court shots accompanied by music, balls ricocheting off in all directions during practice, will become the stuff of legend if Golden State finishes off Cleveland in the NBA Finals to win the franchise's first championship in four decades. ("I like the drop-kick," Kerr admitted earlier this postseason.) And last week, after assistant coach Alvin Gentry flew to New Orleans to finalize negotiations to become coach of the Pelicans, U'Ren helped splice together footage of Anthony Davis and other Pelicans, with captions like, "This team has a lot of potential."

That little ploy broke the room up, but this seems to happen all the time. Everyone is subject to ribbing, from the stars to the bench players to the coaching staff. Even up until tipoff of Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday night, Bogut said, the entire team was joking around, breaking each other up, trying to lighten the moment.

"Outside the court we like to be around each other," said Bogut's backup at center, Festus Ezeli. "And it shows on the court."

A lot of this stems from Kerr, who did years of studying before he became a head coach and had compiled a binder of ideas before he was even offered the Warriors' job. In the offseason, he went to Seattle to watch the Seahawks practice, in part because he wanted to replicate coach Pete Carroll's ability to build a team that was both loose and disciplined at the same time.

"You know, it's a fine line, because when you're loose, a lot of times it's tough to be disciplined," assistant coach Luke Walton said. "That's kind of what we've been focusing on all year, and the guys have gotten a lot better at it and we continue to work on it."

It helps, of course, when your star player is the one setting the pace for the long-distance shooting contests; it helps when Stephen Curry is the one, at the end of every pregame warmup, shooting a long-distance jumper from the tunnel leading to the team's locker room. He sunk it before Game 1, by the way, taking a pass from a security guy.

"All I can think of is if Lute Olson (Kerr's coach at the University of Arizona) could see our team warm up he'd think, 'What are you doing? There's no discipline here,'" Kerr said. "But it's kind of our way to loosen up and get into practice."

And these Warriors are nothing if not loose, even facing down the biggest stage of their careers. "Well, if it's not the loosest team I've played on," forward David Lee said, "it's the loosest good team I've played on."

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Michael Weinreb

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