Celebrini says until you’ve stepped behind the curtain and seen how the wildly disparate parts of the Warriors function, you can’t appreciate how different they are.Rick Celebrini was aware that the Golden State Warriors were unlike anything he’d experienced in his previous life, just as he was aware he’d be under considerable scrutiny as the new cog in a machine that spits out championships the way the Silicon Valley spits out microchips.But it’s a funny thing. Celebrini says until you’ve stepped behind the curtain and seen how the wildly disparate parts of the Warriors function, you can’t appreciate how different they are. In his first meeting with the brass, Warriors general manager Bob Myers showed up in sweats and a T-shirt, fresh from a pickup game, then chatted amiably with the former Canucks/Whitecaps athletic therapist by way of Burnaby about the Warriors’ way.That’s when Celebrini knew he’d found a home.“He was just so relaxed and engaged,” Celebrini says from Toronto on Thursday. “It was like talking to a buddy back home. (Head coach) Steve (Kerr) is the same way. They care about people. The whole environment takes its lead from those two.“It’s interesting. My personality doesn’t necessarily set up for the relaxed nature. I’ve had to adapt, and what I’ve learned is there are so many ways to accomplish the same goal. When it’s time to go, they are dialled in.”And as they pursue their fourth title in five years, the Warriors are all business.The 51-year-old Celebrini is chatting amiably this day in advance of the morning shoot-around before Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a series that has generated a bit of attention in his homeland. But while the Toronto Raptors are almost melting under the focus of the media spotlight — in Toronto, more has been written about Drake in the last couple of days than Steph Curry — the Warriors have written their own compelling story in their journey to the promised land.
Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors have lost key figures in these playoffs, but here they are again, seeking yet another title in the finals.
Frank Gunn /
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Viewed as past their best-before date at the start of the playoffs, the Warriors survived a ruptured quad to DeMarcus Cousins in their first-round win over the Clippers, then a mysterious calf injury to Kevin Durant in the latter stages of their second-round series win over Houston.Unfazed, the defending champions swept a good Portland team in the Western finals without the two all-stars, bringing them to Toronto, where Cousins suited up in Game 1 but Durant is still MIA.Celebrini, as it happens, was brought in largely to prolong the shelf life of the Warriors’ core, a group that includes Curry, 31, Durant, 30, Cousins, 28, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, both 29. How long Durant will be around is another question for another time, but Celebrini made his hoops bones working with Steve Nash, and the Victoria native credits the therapist with extending his career.Kerr was the GM in Phoenix for the latter stages of Nash’s career and came calling this off-season for Celebrini, who was working for both the Canucks and the Whitecaps. The San Antonio Spurs were also sniffing around the former soccer player who, with his wife Robyn, has four school-age kids, including three boys who play hockey.That might not have been the determining factor but it helped him make his final decision.“I’m going to enrol them in the junior Sharks program,” he says proudly, before adding. “I loved my time with both the Canucks and Whitecaps. It took me quite a while to wrap my mind around the move, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get involved with one of the great franchises in history.”And the Warriors haven’t disappointed. Starting at the top with the ownership tandem of Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber and running through Myers and Kerr, the team from the Bay Area is among the most progressive, innovative franchises in the world of sports.It’s expressed in little things like Kerr bringing in author Michael Lewis to talk to the team about the creative process or comedian Brandon Armstrong for his spot-on impersonation of Warriors players.It’s also expressed in bigger things like the resources granted to Celebrini, who carries the fancy title of director of sports medicine and performance. He has five people in his department. This doesn’t include the eight orthopedic surgeons listed on the Warriors’ website.“We had a (preseason) retreat in the Napa Valley with the performance group,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we weren’t going to mess with what was already in place.“You don’t want to be passive. They hired me for a reason and it wasn’t to come in and do nothing. But they’ve made it easy. It’s a collaborative environment and there is trust. There are superstars on this team, but they’re inquisitive and eager to learn.”That includes Curry, who embodies the Warriors’ way.“He’s positive every day,” Celebrini says. “He’s never in a bad mood and he’s so interested in learning. He’s everything you hear about and more.”This NBA Finals, of course, involve any number of critical matchups, but, while it didn’t generate a lot of interest south of the border, one of the more intriguing involves the B.C.-bred therapists on both teams. As a teenage soccer star, Celebrini broke his ankle and came under the care of Alex McKechnie, then just starting to establish a national reputation.Celebrini went on to play with the U20 national team and had a four-year run with the old 86ers, but that connection with McKechnie sparked a passion that led him to the University of B.C., the national ski team, the Whitecaps and Canucks, and now the NBA Finals, where, ta da, McKechnie is the director of sports science and assistant coach for the Raptors.“I owe him a lot,” Celebrini says. “He’s been a mentor, a colleague, a friend and now the competition. But right now, it’s game on. We’ll have time to sit down and have a couple of pints when it’s all over.”No, now it’s time to dial in. He’s learned that and so much more from his new firstname.lastname@example.org/WillesOnSports