The Collective Unconscious of Warriors Fans, 2016–2017
Note: This is the first of many essays, and I promise they will not all be about the Warriors. That said, as the inaugural post, I simply couldn’t resist. I promise to cover many aspects of the NBA over the season, so if you’re sick of Warriors talk feel free to ignore this one, but please stay tuned.
It’s a weird feeling, to have guilt after a crushing loss. And yet, Warriors fans must grapple with the cognitive dissonance of crushing despair mixed with incessant, KD-inspired mirth. It all fits in the discordant context of a 30-year history, as Warriors fans have spent decades watching their team squander away every chance it had at escaping mediocrity, then watched that same team precipitously ascend to championship-and-maybe-dynastic caliber. All this occurred before fans watched that same team squander away a 3–1 series lead — but wait, it will all be okay — that same team responded by landing the most fun non-Warrior in the NBA. The Warriors were a laughing stock, the darlings of the NBA, the despised-darlings-but-still-how-could-you-hate-them… and now? The Warriors are the undisputed menaces of the NBA.
It isn’t difficult to understand why, and that is what makes anticipating the 2016–2017 season such a confounding experience. The devastation of loss is supposed to linger bitterly on the tongue for months, festering every day until the offseason purgatory is so brutal you can barely muster the strength to beg for it to end. But with the Kevin Durant news, it’s almost as though the front office cheated the five stages of grief, skipping from denial straight into bargaining. And when the bargaining worked, Kevin Durant made this whole offseason impossible to process. The summer went from what should have been a disgusting, unpalatable experience, to a strangely-palatable version of acceptance. Seeing Durant in a Warriors jersey makes every Warriors fan smile involuntary, then realize that smile is condescending and stupid, but then go on smiling anyway because it’s just such a bizarre sight. The contemporary Warriors have never landed a top-10 NBA player in free agency. This is a pretty incredible moment.
The KD move is brilliant not only for the innumerable basketball reasons, but also because our memories are incredibly fragile. The 2016 Finals are so far back in the rearview mirror it’s easy to forget that the Warriors hardly even belonged in the Finals to begin with. Adding Durant has blurred our collective vision of the 2016 Playoff Warriors, retrofitting our time-travel goggles with rose-colored lenses. Gone is the stomach-churning dyspeptic of Curry’s nearly-season-ending injury. Gone is the despondent resignation that the Thunder figured out the perfect antidote-slash-counter-punch to the Warriors’ lethal venom. Gone is the trepidation that Draymond will throw one-too-many-nutshots and earn himself a suspension (which, of course, he succeeded in doing). The best cure for misery is an indication that everything is going to be all right. The Warriors hit that misery with a sledgehammer.
Speaking of which, if we’re going to look past all that queasiness of the 2016 Playoffs, can we at least build Klay a damn statue already? Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals was a masterful Michelangelic showcase of three-point shooting, and it deserves to be enshrined in gold-plated glory. Without that performance, the Warriors never even make the Finals, and KD might be OKC’s savior rather than its prodigal son.
The Olympics, of course, compounded this discomforting offseason. Coming out of the NBA Finals, the Olympics were supposed to be hard to swallow. On one hand, having a new team to cheer for is a welcome reprieve from the prolonged torture of the offseason. On the other hand, watching Klay and Draymond play basketball is an overt reminder that torture exists. Plus, there is something irreconcilable about cheering for Kyrie Irving, even if it is surprisingly really, really fun. It bears repeating: Warriors fans were meant to feel awful after last season, and only awful. They were meant to feel the fear of an unavoidable regression to the mean, the trembling thought that “the quicker they rise the quicker they fall.” They were meant to feel the heartbreaking resignation that KD would be joining, say, the Spurs, and that the Warriors’ twilight was not “only just beginning.” Instead, triumphant Warriors fans watched, in disbelief, a preview of the season to come. Durant led the US team in scoring (by a landslide), defensive rebounding, three-pointers (58%, holy crap!), and turnovers. Can you think of a more “Warriors” stat-line?* KD’s Olympics performance was a physical embodiment of Warriors basketball, because of course it was. The only fear left is that Durant will fit too-perfectly, aggrandizing everything that is great about the Warriors while simultaneously exposing an inflated Achilles heel. This is doubtful.
With the Warriors’ newfound hubris in the wake of despair, the stage has been set for the end of a trilogy. The respective decks are stacked for Warriors v. Cavs, Episode III, We Believe takes on Believeland Repeats. And all that combined creates such a peculiar feeling. This is the first time the Warriors are truly supposed to make the Finals. Even coming off of the 2015 Championship, the lingering doubts and projected gauntlet of Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers made the Warriors questionable favorites, at best. How do you root for a team that is supposed to win every game? What is that even like? The losses sting, but victories earn a collective sigh. Warriors fans can’t complain, and yet, the prospect of the 2016–2017 season is just a little disheartening.
This might be the single most fun team to watch in NBA history, and I am blessed to call this team “mine.” I am beyond excited to get past the punditry and finally just watch the teams play basketball. But all these undertones will inevitably carry though the Warriors’ bid for a 2017 Championship. It isn’t hard to be a fan of the Warriors, but in the wake of all this cutting disappointment and impenetrable optimism, it’s hard to know how to react. Excited, disappointed, apprehensive, impervious, condescending, Icarian — Warriors fans are feeling them all.
* The 2015–2016 Warriors led the league in points, three-point shooting, and defensive rebounding, while being in the bottom-10 in turnovers.