Last night the Golden State Warriors continued their reign in the Pacific Division by handling the Toronto Raptors in a thrilling 126-105 win at home in Oakland. After powering through the first half, the Warriors controlled the game in the second and sealed it with a third quarter run that pinnacled with a breakaway dunk by Stephen Curry with four minutes to go. The team’s well-rounded performance was punctuated by a stunning triple double by Draymond Green and had most fans leaving the stadium wondering why they had been nervous about the matchup in the first place? This victory takes Golden State’s record to 26-5 and gives the Bay area even more to celebrate as 2015 gets under way.
As a winter exodus of basketball fans decides to devote themselves to college hoops through March Madness and the general population of sports fans anxiously awaits the inaugural CFP Championship later this month, the question lingering on the minds of the remaining NBA aficionados is: Are the Warriors the real deal?
Sure, the first portion of the season saw them flaunt chart topping, back-to-back hits from home and on the road. This riveting spectacle was ripe with commentators, blogs and friendly to not-so-friendly elevator discussions full of speculations on a presumed complex algorithm that led to their hot streak. The varying recipe usually couples new head coach Steve Kerr with the beloved Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson), a deep, dynamic bench, as well as a sampling of other secret ingredients. Surprisingly, the missing element in these discussions is the inclusion of one of the oldest elements in our sports lexicon: fan culture.
One thing very few outsiders seem to understand is Warriors’ fan ship. Albeit young, the organization boasts more loyalty and longevity in their fans than almost any other NBA franchise in the U.S. An unlikely spectrum of allies— the good guys, the bad boys and the Bay area darlings— all share in a frenetic adoration of Golden State.
A few scattered conversations with passersby in a bar, in the stands or on the mezzanine at Oracle Arena would tell you that a majority were born and bred six blocks away and have never followed another team outside of the Oakland Oaks, an ABA team that was around temporarily in the late 60s. An even further step away from a sports- centric environment, say, over to the San Francisco Wholesale Flower Market at 6AM to buy plants on the cheap and you’d find yourself hiding behind a rack of succulents while eavesdropping on three generations of season ticket holders arguing over Curry’s shot selection this week. These Warriors fans seem to transcend traditional stomping ground expectations as they can be found in the strangest places.
So why is this unusual or interesting considering that teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox boast more history and more professional fan ship than any other organizations in sports? Possibly because that kind of established history easily begets new fans and decades of winning championships effortlessly leads to the cultivation of an adoring empire. Simply put, it’s easy to love a team your grandfather loved or a team that has won 27 World Series. It’s not as easy to love something that’s still growing its brand, status and significance…but it’s definitely an enthralling affair.
A good comparison would be look at the Mavs fans of a decade ago. The fans of the Post-Perot, pre-NBA Championship era of the early 2000s right as Cuban’s energy and influence became infectious and the city of Dallas felt the imminence of lengthy playoff runs and a Championship to come. Today’s Warriors fans seem to be quite similar. They’re reminiscent of earlier generations, or throwback fans, who cared when they had no real reason to, except for a love of the game and a love of their city. Some might call it fan ship without ego, which is possibly its purest form.
From the rest of the country’s perspective, 2014 was a breakout year for the Bay with the Giants winning the World Series and the Warriors “being good now.” From the Bay’s perspective, this is all business as usual. No one here is surprised. They’re on the cusp of validated greatness and they know it.
The razzle-dazzle and pyrotechnics of professional basketball aside, Golden State has beaucoups of talent, dynamism and positive energy on the floor. And sure, it’s no secret that you can have whatever team personality or fan culture you want as long as you’re winning but it’s nice to see a fresh, classy variation instead of the contemporary norm on the court and in the stands. Especially considering the team is on a vision quest and they need every asset they can deploy to get to the other side.
It might be impossible to factually compare and rank pro teams of any sport in order to determine which has the least number of bandwagon fans but if there is a list in existence anywhere, Warriors fans are sure to be high on it. They are a substantial contributing factor with regards to this newfound momentum. Now the only question remaining is: Will their championship be this year or next? It certainly doesn’t feel like an if, it feels like a when – and soon is implied.
- A.M. Boidock is a contributor to TheCoLA