Warrior Fans’ Journey of Discovery

There are so many numbers and statistics that express just how remarkable this season was, a championship run that ranks as both one of the most dominant seasons ever and one of the most unexpected titles in NBA history. But to me, the key to understanding what this means isn’t captured by any of that. Instead, it’s a memory I have probably a couple hundred copies of, all slight variations of the same story. It’s third-grade me, plus or minus a few years, sitting up next to the radio (because Dad didn’t want me watching the TV), listening to Warriors broadcaster Tim Roye discussing the team’s current 20-point deficit in the middle of the third quarter of a weeknight game against the Lakers, or maybe the Spurs or the Timberwolves or some other terrifying bastion of above-averageness, a squad whose consistent respectability makes it clear that we are not in their class as competitors. “If the Warriors can cut the deficit to 10 by the start of the fourth quarter, they might be able to get back into this game!”, he informs the loyal listener. They rarely do cut the deficit to 10 by that point, and even more rarely manage to turn the blowout back into a competitive game. Nonetheless, in my childish naivete, I keep listening until the final horn, night after night, hoping for the occasional miracle when the team hangs around a superior opponent long enough to steal a win at the end. Through it all, I dream modest dreams of a .500 team, of that ever-distant promised land where wins are just as common as losses. It’s not until what looks like the 13th year of our drought that, thanks to a midseason trade, good health, and some breakout performances, we finally catch a hot streak and reach that 41-win mark. That success quickly turns legendary, with a historic upset of the 1-seed, but even that is fleeting; the next year features 48 wins and yet no playoff berth, the first of another five straight seasons done after 82 games, with no more relevance to the championship chase.

That’s what it’s meant to be a Warrior fan in the past 20 years. It’s living through consistent failure, pouring your heart into the hope that ‘this year will be different’, even when your brain says there’s no reason to think so. It’s dreaming of unexceptional yet rarely attained goals: a competitive, .500 team; a #8 seed; a team that can give its devoted home crowd something to cheer for, in their home games if nothing else.

Saying Warrior fans suffered through this for their team would send the wrong message. It’s more that we never knew there was another option, that there was any other way these things could go. Sure, rationally I knew that the average team wins half their games, and makes the playoffs in over half their seasons, and on average each team has a 1/30th chance of winning the title every year, but concepts developed through experience are known so much more deeply, and experientially I had never learned any of those things. Losing was just part of the basketball experience; Bay Area natives who fell in love with the sport did so because they admired its free flow, frequent scoring, and stylistic beauty enough to overcome the regular losing that was just as integral a part of the game as those other characteristics.

As a result, the journey of this year has not been one of gratification so much as it’s been a journey of discovery. The team has been everything I have ever asked for, yes, but even more, it’s been all the things I didn’t know I ever could ask for. This isn’t a city that has spent a decades-long drought pleading for a championship; it’s a city that has never asked for such things, that knows it is getting far greedier than it has any right to be when it hopes for a single playoff series victory. How was I supposed to know to ask for a championship, when the team has never even been in the conversation before? How was I supposed to know to ask for a championship, when every other champion had already had many near-misses before they finally broke through, when they all already had proven MVP winners and surefire Hall-of-Famers, when every other past champion fit a narrow mold that the Warriors had exactly zero parts of? How was I supposed to know to ask for a team with one of the ten best point differentials of all time, when even a fluky barely-made-it championship was unfathomable, when every other team in that top ten had multiple legends who will live forever in first-name-only territory; Michael and Scottie; Oscar and Kareem; Jerry, Wilt, and Elgin? How was I supposed to know to ask for a Stephen Curry, whose conscienceless compulsions to pull up for incomprehensible threes marks him as the spiritual successor to so many remorseless gunners who came before him, to Arenas, Baron, and Stephen Jackson, but who somehow harnesses that deviancy and turns it into his greatest strength? How was I supposed to know to ask for a Draymond Green, an overpowering force of pure willpower whose constant verbal aggression also marks him as the spiritual successor to so many previous Warriors, to Arenas and Jackson again, and before them to Sprewell and so many more, and yet who, like Curry, manages to transform his predecessors’ faults into a powerful identity that has stolen the heart of every Warrior fan. How was I supposed to know to ask for an Andre Iguodala, when almost no free agent had ever wanted to come here, much less taking a pay cut to join a called-out team? How was I supposed to know to ask for a 37-point quarter, for God’s sake?

That’s what makes this title different from most others. It’s not the continuation of a dynasty, and it’s not the final gratification of a long-sought-after dream. Rather, it’s the revelation of a whole new type of basketball joy to a fanbase that has never even known such a thing is possible. Suddenly, the beauty of watching a superior team play a near-perfected form of basketball artistry and the joy of watching the hometown team win are not incompatible concepts. Suddenly, individual and team accomplishments can go hand in hand, the serendipity of unexpected success can be enjoyed simultaneously with the dominance usually reserved for multi-year dynasties, and fast-paced, exciting basketball need not mean sacrificing the success that traditionally can only be reached by suffering through drudgery and trench warfare. This isn’t just reaching the mountaintop; it’s looking down from that mountaintop and discovering a previously unknown land, in which none of the harshest constraints of your homeland apply.

This may be the first year of a long-lasting Warriors dynasty. That’s a sentence that seemed truly incomprehensible before this year, but this is the season that redefined the bounds of the possible for Warrior fans. I know I’m never going to forget it.