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[WSJ] The Golden State Warriors Take the Birthday Cake

Discussion in 'NBA Dish' started by Os Trigonum, Mar 10, 2017.

  1. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Houston Knicks fan
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    Kind of a fun article. I know it's paywalled so I'll include the text here, you'll miss the photos though if you have trouble accessing it.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-golden-state-warriors-take-the-birthday-cake-1489157456

    The Golden State Warriors Take the Birthday Cake
    The NBA’s best team celebrates birthdays like any other office. Except their cakes are highly customized and ridiculously elaborate creations that players can’t forget.

    By
    Ben Cohen
    March 10, 2017 9:50 a.m. ET
    San Francisco

    Alison Okabayashi loads a box into the backseat of her Prius station wagon every so often and drives carefully across the Bay Bridge into Oakland. She allows herself more than an hour to reach her destination: Oracle Arena. The security guards there wave her through as soon as they realize who she is.

    “Oh, it’s the cake lady,” they say. “Go ahead.”

    Okabayashi is a culinary-school trained pastry chef who owns a bakery with pastel walls here called Pretty Please. She is also the Golden State Warriors’ cake lady.

    Golden State’s locker room celebrates birthdays like any other office. Except the employees in this workplace are millionaire athletes. And every one of them gets a highly customized cake.

    These cakes are the result of an elaborate process—many hours of researching, planning, baking, cooling, decorating and sitting in traffic—that makes them impossible for even NBA mega-stars like Stephen Curry to forget.

    Curry’s have also been especially memorable. Okabayashi’s first cake for him included a three-dimensional rendering of a trophy that required intensive study of cake-related architecture before stepping foot in her kitchen. She still managed to one-up herself last year by concocting an edible foam finger for Curry that others have since requested for themselves. He understands why.

    “The best cakes I’ve ever received,” he said.

    He stopped himself suddenly. Curry needed more time to consider his cake rankings.

    “I take that back,” he said. “My wife made one for our wedding that was amazing.”

    The thought of baked goods reminded Curry that it was almost March 14—his birthday is Pi Day—and that meant another one of Okabayashi’s creations. “I’m actually kinda hype about that,” he said.

    The pressure to impress has increased ever since the Warriors have come to expect greatness from her cakes.

    One of her early hits was a Michigan State mascot in Draymond Green’s uniform. There was also the lifelike reconstruction of Anderson Vareajo’s curly hair. And there was even a figurine of Rocco, Klay Thompson’s bulldog, made from sugar gum-paste. “Which is an edible, play-doh-type material,” she said. “It obviously doesn’t taste like play-doh.”

    Kevin Durant hadn’t yet played a game with the Warriors when he received his first cake: a replica of his new jersey adorned with Olympic gold medals and crab legs. The NBA season began in October; his birthday was in September. Which means Durant ate his uniform before he wore it.

    Some players are harder to satisfy. In the course of her research, Okabayashi came across an ominous tweet from Andre Iguodala, in which he threatened to block anybody who dared to wish him a happy birthday. That was a problem for someone tasked with making him a birthday cake. “This is NOT a birthday cake,” she eventually wrote in fondant icing. “Happy un-birthday.”

    The Warriors’ cakes are a small taste of the team’s culture at a time when team culture is becoming increasingly valued across the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs’ camaraderie remains the envy of the league, and it’s not a coincidence that the Warriors and Spurs have the NBA’s best records. Their game on Saturday night is the first of two showdowns this month that will likely determine the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

    NBA teams have come to realize that happy players win more games. And in the history of sports, few teams have been as outwardly happy as the Warriors. Golden State may be NBA villains now, but at their best, the Warriors still play with a contagious joy on the court, which translates off the court. This atmosphere was part of what attracted Durant in the first place.

    “Treat people well. Make them feel special. That’s the reason the organization is successful,” Curry said.

    A birthday cake that costs hundreds of dollars is the most unusual part of that strategy. Shaun Livingston has played for nine NBA teams—more than all but one player in the league—and he says he never saw players get such exquisite desserts until he came to the Warriors. But he still doesn’t know how they taste. “I haven’t tried them,” Livingston said. “I’m trying to stay away from sugar.”

    Okabayashi’s business with the Warriors began with a “Frozen”-themed cake. As it happened, the birthday girl was the toddler daughter of Nanea McGuigan, the team’s director of basketball administration. “Kids were fighting over the decorations before we even lit the candles,” she said.

    That gave her an idea. The Warriors had been ordering players birthday cakes for years. “But once I met Alison,” she said, “I felt she would take it to another level.”

    The Warriors are equal-opportunity employers when it comes to cake. Last year, when Curry was the NBA’s unanimous most valuable player, Okabayashi wanted to make something extravagant for him. She was told that no one was bigger than the team in basketball. And no one gets a bigger cake.

    Okabayashi applied the same attention to detail to Curry’s as a benchwarmer’s. James Michael McAdoo saved his cake—which featured his dogs riding surfboards—and took it home in a box after the game. There was a mysterious piece missing by then. “I definitely took a sample before the game,” said McAdoo, who didn’t play that night.

    The cakes remain strictly a secret until their intended recipients see them. Okabayashi doesn’t want to spoil what is supposed to be a special day for the players—which may sound a little saccharine.

    The Warriors are some of the world’s most famous athletes. They make enough money to afford Bay Area real estate. They can do things on a basketball court that are beyond comprehension.

    “But,” she said, “they still want red-velvet cake.”

    Write to Ben Cohen at ben.cohen@wsj.com
     

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