Warriors III — Bittersweet Giddiness
When I was young, I had this fantasy that I would get famous and become a regular courtside at Warrior games. The Warriors weren’t “cool” back then. Whenever the Lakers came to Oakland, Kobe stans would fill half of the arena. Most casual NBA fans didn’t even know what city the Warriors played in, given the nebulous-sounding NCAA Division III callback moniker “Golden State.”
I used to imagine bringing caché to the Warriors, originating a new aura of coolness around the franchise, which had been neither cool nor successful on the court since before Latrell Sprewell attacked and threatened to kill P.J. Carlesimo. That was right around the time my mother had moved us back to the Bay Area from suburban Atlanta; I was eight years old.
And so the Choke was my introduction to the team I would come to love. I became conditioned by one bumbling move after another to understand the Warriors as perennial have-nots. After each season I would get my hopes up only ever-so-slightly as the draft and free agency approached. The Warriors were always deft at dashing those meager hopes. I’d be a senior in high school before I could celebrate a winning Warriors’ season and playoff berth. And that period proved mighty fleeting. Within a year of the We Believe run, Golden State had fallen back into obscurity.
The Warriors certainly weren’t cool, but they were mine. Other than true fans of basketball in the Bay Area, nobody wanted to own them. That felt special, as if we were a part of some exclusive group, and knew something that everyone else didn’t. Oakland didn’t have a Drake or a Jay Z or a Jack, so in my flights of fancy I put myself in those shoes, combining my ambitions with my hopes for my team.
And then in 2009 the Warriors drafted the most anomalous player to hit the NBA since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992.
I like to think I believed in Steph before it was cool. As cliché as it sounds now that this has become the dominant narrative of his popularity, coming into the league it felt like Curry was Super-Me: a regular guy who could do the extraordinary. He was drafted as I entered my junior year of college, and at 5'6" my pickup game revolved around my quick first step, my court vision, ambidexterity, and my ability to shoot from long range in catch-and-shoot situations as well as off the dribble or spotting up. Before he was the Steph who could do everything, he was the Steph who could do what I could do — but way better.
I used to imagine sitting courtside before games and chopping it up with him when he was a rookie, still rocking the throwback “Thunder” circus outfits we called uniforms back then. As had become my custom after We Believe, I watched as many games as I could on TV or in person (I remember grabbing lower level tickets for $17 in 2012). I learned Steph’s mannerisms and began to anticipate his good or bad moments based on body language.
He was so green, but even back then Steph was undoubtedly cool. The way he moved, the mechanics of his shooting motion; his game belonged in the MoMA.
Curry clearly had so much potential to redefine what a small point guard could be on the floor that I was dumbfounded to find my conclusions weren’t shared by more fans. Some Warriors faithful favored Monta Ellis over Steph, and even more were supremely concerned with Steph’s early-career string of ankle ailments.
But hey, I wanted to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, so what do I know?
As we are now fully aware, Steph was the future then. That future culminated in a championship—quite literally one of the happiest moments of my life—and a subsequent individual season for the ages. Watching nearly every game of the 2015–16 season, it felt like Curry had emerged from a post-title chrysalis and reached his final point of evolution. He made 5 three-pointers a game. He pulled up with reckless abandon from 29 feet and we were surprised when he missed. Teams sent doubles at him and his gravity released downhill assaults. No player large or small had ever been able to consistently pull that many defenders into his orbit that far from the basket.
Before you could yell “BANG!” Curry was a worldwide phenomenon. Excellent drafting in subsequent years led to the development of two additional bona fide All-NBA players in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Warriors had arrived.
I began to adjust to a new normal. My team was finally fodder for national broadcasts, and an ever-present talking point on ESPN. Locally, blue and yellow memorabilia began to pop up everywhere around the Bay once the Dubs’ run of playoff success kicked off in 2013.
Initially it felt really good. It felt like karma was real.
But the monster kept growing. In 2016 it got big enough to swallow Kevin Durant whole, and morph into a bludgeoning power unprecedented in the modern era.
There are 450 players in the NBA. Two of the top 5 players, and 4 of the top 15, now play on the same team. The ‘60s Celtics would blush.
Locally and globally the Warriors are like nothing the hoops-loving world has ever seen. Their dominance is a foregone conclusion. Their popularity is a new high-water mark for the NBA in the era of the internet. Their players are rock stars.
As a fan it has been incredible, if not anticlimactic. When the Warriors won in 2015, it felt like my championship. It felt like ours.
But this year… this year was the bandwagon’s title. The vindication of Kevin Durant, and with it all of the Warriors recently acquired stans, is complete. The “Dubs” are so hot right now. Much like the team’s Bay Area environs have been coopted by transplants both emotional and physical, the bandwagon has coopted a great deal of what it means to be a fan of this incredible team.
As a kid, I felt the spirit of Oakland coursing through the franchise: always overlooked; ever the underdog. From there developed a sense of pride. For nearly 20 years as a I came of age, the Warriors were poorly run and laughably entertaining. But they had heart.
Every season as we missed the playoffs, I found my “second team” to root for — the Bibby/Webber Kings, the 7-seconds-or-less Suns, Kobe’s “leader” years from ‘08–10, LeBron’s redemption after his “not 6, not 7” humiliation — leaving my Warriors behind to be entertained by teams that drafted intelligently, cultivated their young talent, avoided disastrous trades, and played at least median-level defense.
I found my second city too. Living in New York as a young adult I became a transplant myself, and began to understand what it meant to be a sports fan in a foreign land. I was living in Brooklyn when Barclays Center opened, and tried in vain to pick up the Nets as my long-term second team, but it felt so unnatural. Even when the Nets were good it felt weird to root for them.
But they were never Warriors good. Can I blame the flock for turning toward the light? Of course not.
Can I harbor resentment regarding my team’s success because it brought with it a new level of inclusivity? Well that just doesn’t make any sense at all.
Can I yell “fuck you!” to the teams ownership and the newly monied of the silicon metropolis for driving up ticket prices to an absurd degree?
I mean, yeah.
The Warriors have entered a gilded era. Their current run of success is so sustainable and so absolute that the team may—like the Bulls, Lakers and Celtics—never again face acute obscurity.
That means the bandwagon is here to stay. But this incarnation of GSW is also arguably the greatest club basketball team ever assembled. My courtside dream seems trite now, given all that the team has accomplished, and all that I have grown as a fan and a human being since the franchise’s ascent began.
Aside from Threezus finally winning Finals MVP in 2018, all I can hope for is that the new hotness doesn’t destroy the old and busted soul of the Warriors. I loved that soul. I grew up on it. With the team’s imminent move to a shiny new facility in San Francisco proper, my hope my be in vain.
It’s a bittersweet feeling.
But yeah totally, bring on the new season! Sportsy sports sports!