OAKLAND, Calif – When the Golden State locker room opened to the media Monday night, it wasn’t two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry or 2017 Finals MVP Kevin Durant holding the championship trophy.
It wasn’t perennial all-stars Draymond Green or Klay Thompson, or even first-time champions and 14-year veterans Zaza Pachulia or Matt Barnes.
Instead, the trophy rested in the champagne-soaked hands of Garner High product David West, who finally reached his ultimate goal after 14 NBA seasons and 112 playoff games.
“It feels better than I thought it would,” said West, who signed for the veteran’s minimum the last two years in hopes of winning his first NBA title.
Last season, that meant spurning a $12.6 million offer from the Indiana Pacers in order to sign for $1.5 million with the San Antonio Spurs. This season, it meant joining the Warriors just days after Durant announced he was coming to Oakland.
“That’s what this group is about. We sacrifice from top to bottom,” West said. “KD can shoot 30 shots a night and he didn’t. Steph could shoot 30 shots a night and he didn’t, because they’re about winning. It’s about making the extra pass. Doing the right things to win the game. Period. That’s all it’s about. Talent only takes you so far.”
West didn’t just sacrifice money to come to Golden State. He knew playing time would be sparse – the two-time All Star averaged a career-low 12.6 minutes in the regular season as part of a three-man center rotation. But he brought toughness, focus, midrange shooting and pinpoint passing out of the post when he did play, and all those traits were evident in the NBA Finals clincher.
Golden State trailed Cleveland 37-33 in Game 5 when West came in to start the second quarter. West played the next nine minutes as the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers 28-11 to take a lead they would never relinquish in the 129-120 win.
West had four points and three rebounds during that run, and also got a technical foul for shoving Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving after a held ball. But two Cavs were assessed technicals in the ensuing altercation, making it a net gain for Golden State.
“Myself and JaVale McGee came here to up the toughness of this group, and we felt like we did that,” West said. “They tried to get physical. We’re no-nonsense. We don’t play that. Anybody that tried to cross that line, we crossed the line too. It got us through.”
As West spoke, he was interrupted by teammates addressing him as “Champ. “Champ!” West screamed back. Seeing the interplay, it was clear why West had possession of the championship trophy.
“What he's been through in his career and the sacrifices he's made financially to chase a ring and get it done, I can see it in his eyes just how much this meant to him,” Curry said.
“He's so locked in and he wants it so bad, and he does everything he needs to do to be mentally focused and to have his body right,” sixth man Andre Iguodala said. “And that's when you see how precious these moments are, because you got guys that never even get to the Finals. You're always happy for the guys that sacrifice everything around their life just so they can put everything into this game.”
It’s part of the message that West will bring back to Raleigh in the offseason. West returns home every year to help run the Garner Road Basketball Club with his brother Dwayne, the AAU program’s executive director.
“Money, fame – it means nothing when it comes to winning,” West said. “Young people, take the ego out of it. Think about other people. Think about being a part of a group.”