* Tonight on TNT: Thunder vs. Warriors, 10:30 ET
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The brass ring of sports isn’t made of brass, but precious metals and memories. Ask anyone who owns one -- let’s go with the Golden State Warriors, who are on pace to create their own jewelry store -- and they’ll say it’s well worth its weight and the wait.
It is the championship ring, that finger candy sitting at the end of a seasonal journey, ready to be claimed. The ring stands as a symbol of skill, hard work and of course envy. It says to those who aren’t wearing it: You weren’t good enough.
The Warriors, of course, were plenty good enough. Too much, actually, for the rest of the field in three of the last four season. Last June they swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in The Finals to earn more Silver -- as in Adam, the NBA commissioner who’ll honor the defending champs on Opening Night -- and gold, as in, well, you know what’s coming their way.
Actually, you don’t. Not yet, anyway.
See, that’s the thing with the ring: The design and diamond and carat count is always shrouded in mystery until the proper time, when the unveiling is done pregame, right before another season tips off. That way, goes the reasoning, the players can see it for the first time, the shock of which causes their jaws to hit the floor before their sneakers do. It’s called: Preserving the “eyeball-bursting” effect.
All three rings won by the Warriors in the Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green era do have one common denominator: They were crafted and constructed by Jason’s of Beverly Hills, who might be the LeBron James of the jewelry business. Working with yellow and white gold, white diamonds, sapphires and blue enamel, the company specializes in glam and does quite a bit of business with NBA players, including LeBron and a few Warriors, and therefore is a perfect fit.
It’s run by owner and designer Jason Arasheben, who caters to royal families around the world and many celebrities (Nas, Rihanna, Lil Jon). His track record is impressive and his list of well-heeled clients runs deep. His most expensive ring and earring creations are $6 million; he says his biggest spenders “are typically those you won’t find on Page Six,” although there are perks gained by catering to the famous. Before Michael Jackson died, the King of Pop summoned Jason to his home to help create a family crest piece.
“To sit across from a legend and have the opportunity to design with him was a very special experience and one I won't forget,” Arasheben said.
Although his company mainly creates fashionable pieces, he was raised on the Lakers and, therefore, sports championship rings tap into a different creative spirit.
“I enjoy designing jewelry no matter who it is for, but being a huge sports fan, making championship jewelry has a special place in my heart,” Arasheben said. “I really enjoy the storytelling that comes from the design of these kind of rings. Championship rings take a lot more creative thought, because you have to take into account the entire team into the design. The ring needs to tell the story of the season and each player involved.”
The Warriors’ rings are somewhat of a collaboration between team and jeweler. The club tosses around some ideas and then Arasheben does what he do. From concept to creation takes eight weeks.
Our goal is to commemorate the season. You do that by utilizing symbolism and specific imagery that will activate those memories. Each season has its own personality."
The rings are deeply personal and designed to depict the entire seasonal journey, not just the night the champagne splashed. The chore of chronicling this is the duty of Kirk Lacob, the Warriors’ assistant general manager and son of Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob. He takes into account the various checkpoints of the championship run and, with input from players and others, develops a signature blueprint for the rings.
“Our goal is to commemorate the season,” Lacob said. “You do that by utilizing symbolism and specific imagery that will activate those memories. Each season has its own personality. The first season was about coming from where we were before. It was the first championship in 40 years and it was about the long road for everybody. The second championship was more delicate; for some of the newcomers, like Kevin Durant, it was a recognition of a lifelong dream. For others it was about getting something back because we’d lost the year before.”
And this year? Lacob offers several hints:
“The majority of players went back-to-back (championships) so they wanted to remember back-to-back. Also the struggles we went through; we didn’t win 60 games and ultimately we overcame all that to sweep The Finals. They had not done that yet. And finally, we also wanted an ode to the team’s history playing in Oakland. They wanted that to be memorialized.”
The typical sports championship ring decades ago wasn’t that much different than a high school class ring. It made note of the year, used a precious stone as a centerpiece, skimped on the diamonds and that was about it. Pretty dull. The Warriors’ 1975 ring, for example, contained just one diamond and nothing on the face except “NBA World Champions.”
Such simplicity has gone the way of Chuck Taylor white high tops. Today, rings are true works of art, craftsmanship at its splashiest. They give the player name, number, year, team logo, an image of the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy. And that’s just for starters. Then it gets funky. The Lakers’ 2009 ring had silhouettes of the player’s face engraved on the side, for example. It’s now in vogue to include a slogan or motto that was embraced by the team and community -- “Strength In Numbers,” for example, a phrase favored by Kerr, found its way on the first ring of this Warriors’ title streak.
That’s a lot of letters and numerals and imagery for finger jewelry, but the Warriors and Arasheben make it work.
“If there’s an inside joke, we’ll throw that in there, too. You want everybody from that season to feel their ring is special,” said Lacob.
“These rings are a tangible way to bring up memories so they are never lost.”
As a result of the increased details, rings have mushroomed in size, to the point where they’re diamond-crusted walnuts. They make it difficult, if not impossible, to ball a fist while wearing it.
“We’re approaching a point where we can’t get any bigger, and designers now have to focus more on the innovation and design of the rings than ever before,” said Arasheben.
The 2015 ring was done in classic white diamonds (240, to match the then-total number of wins by the Lacob ownership group), with the player’s number and the Bay Bridge done in gold trim. Four stones can only be seen in black light; they match the number of titles the franchise, which dates back to Philadelphia, had won at that point. On one side of the ring is a group of hands hoisting the trophy. Inside the ring is a shout-out to Oracle Arena by mimicking the beams that crisscross the arena’s ceiling.
The 2017 ring has the Larry O’Brien Trophy on its face, and XVI-I branded on the side, representing the team’s 16-1 run through the playoffs. That ring was 11 carats and contained more diamonds than any made by any other major American professional team, claims Arasheben. While playing it coy about what awaits the Warriors on Tuesday, he says: "This year we took it a step further and included a design element that has never been done before in championship jewelry.”
So stay tuned.
There’s also value in the ring’s box, which are crafted with the same care as its cargo.
“We put a lot of time and effort into the presentation of the rings,” said Arasheben. “It is important to display jewelry in the right light. We contracted the best box makers to construct a box with LED lights that really highlighted the diamonds and a revolving platform that shows off the ring from every angle.”
In recent years, some championship teams started spreading the wealth and handing out rings to every team employee. The Miami Heat went a step further during the Big Three era by giving rings to arena workers. Obviously these rings, while not the kind you’d find in a box of Cracker Jack, aren’t of the same quality as what the players get.
The Warriors have multiple tiers of rings: Those given to the players, the coaching staff, team administration, sales office, etc., all differing in diamond count and weight and design.
“Every full-time employee gets one,” said Lacob. “We do something for part-timers. We do something for major partners. We have a lot of different options, with earrings and pendants. We want something for everyone who was involved. We want everyone who was a part of that journey to feel like it. Obviously that’s a lot but it’s something we feel strongly about.”
Of course, there’s the obvious question: Given all that goes into a championship ring these days, what’s the cost? Well, trying to get that information from the Warriors is tougher than trying to deny them a championship.
“I have a good sense,” Lacob said.
The person who would know about the bottom line prefers to put it in perspective.
“These rings would be considered priceless,” Arasheben said, “because they are more than just a jewelry piece. They are a piece of sports history.”
On Tuesday, history will put a bow on last season by putting the ring on their finger. Adam Silver will say a few words to an adoring Oracle Arena crowd and then as each player and member of the coaching and front office staff steps forward, one by one, the ring presentation will begin.
“Quite honestly, it’s the weirdest night of the year,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. “We celebrate something that happened four months ago, and then you appreciate the moment, see the banner unfurled, feel the energy from the crowd. Then you got to put the ring back, go warm up for two and a half minutes and play a game where the other team is just salivating, just waiting to get a hold of you. You can’t relax after you get the ring because it’s old news by that point.”
In the perfect Warriors’ world, Curry and Durant and Kerr keep stretching this championship run and force the owners to keep writing fat checks to Jason’s. That would make everyone happy and make Lacob’s job much more challenging.
“We see these rings as an evolution, and if that happens, if we keep winning, I’m going to get short on ideas,” he said.
“I hope we have this problem.”
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