One fan recalls highlights from a quarter century of living in NBA oblivion
As the lead crept past 30 during the early fourth quarter of the Warriors’ game 5 dismantling of the Houston Rockets last night my girlfriend felt around her area of the couch for the remote.
She was itching to scroll through the guide to find one of those shows where they knock a bunch of walls out, a wiring emergency requires a special phone call, a marble slab is thrown in the kitchen, an antique fan gets staged near some candles—and it all gets delivered on time and on budget. Maybe she didn’t want to wait for the confetti to drop as the Warriors would ultimately win and advance to the second round—but I give her credit, she’s sat through a lot of basketball this year. Enough so that when she looked up from her iPad in the second quarter during a time out, she said, “Sit down Steph—think about your knee.”
It was a proud moment for me, ebbed only by this follow-up inquisition from her: “How long exactly have you been a Warriors fan?”
There was a subtext in that question, and maybe it was deserved. A lot of folks have somehow migrated north with their N.B.A. fandom as the Warriors have risen from doormat to prominence. Everyone likes a winner and everyone likes a likeable hero. The present-day Warriors have both, and frankly are what the Lakers should be. But since Jerry Buss’s passing in 2013, it seems Golden State has not only inherited the blueprint and the mojo, but many of the surnames long associated with the purple and gold: West, Thompson, Walton, Nash—have relocated to the land of better wi-fi.
At least temporarily.
As one who’s lived in both Oakland and L.A.—and also happens to hella/hecka love both for very different reasons, I can see why there’s an I-5 connection of sorts between the two teams. And Laker fans who are waiting for their savior (*cough* Walton) to unify a young, talented but fractured squad—may not need to wait much longer.
But it’s still bizarre for me to find the Warriors on equal footing, if not currently venerated as the better franchise. Long-suffering Warrior fans have an awareness like a guy who punches up a notch or two dating someone discernibly more accomplished, nicer and better-looking. Your friends, the ones who know you best, will be happy for you and the fact that good fortune may have smiled on you at last—but they know it’s not permanent.
I’ve been a Warrior fan long enough to feel that nervous twitch like they’re going to ghost me at any moment. And by that I mean my fandom stretches over two generations. My father was a fan, sure enough. Though he was never a season ticket holder, he would sit in the garage and listen to a good 70 of the 82 games a season on his radio. To me, there’s no better testament to fandom than that. I like watching basketball—especially live—the game, when played well, is fast, fluid and a little bit nerve wracking. But on the radio? You lose me there. Maybe it was through sheer boredom or maybe he was just pining away waiting for baseball season to start. No matter. My father used his imagination for every Mullin three, every Hardaway no-look, every buttery Mitch Richmond drive in the paint.
It was during the Run TMC era—that the Warriors first caught my eye. Specifically Richmond’s rookie year. When the speedy and physical guard garnered Rookie of the Year honors, you might as well have hung a banner in my room. That Richmond caricature shirt, the one where the cartoon him has a really big head driving for a layup, was worn so frequently my mother gently suggested maybe she buy a second so she could rotate it through the laundry.
Consequently, it was the Richmond trade for Billy Owens on November 2, 1991 that cursed the franchise for the next quarter century. Beyond the chokings, both of the coach and on the court, the missteps drafting and grooming the most notoriously bad players and coaches is stuff of legend and too numerous to list. (That’s not entirely true. If you’d like the list it’s actually here).
Twenty-five years is a long time for a dry spell—it’s actually more a prison sentence for doing something really, really bad—or, if you live in Texas, not doing anything at all. But there were so, so many highlights during that time, most of them personal to me, that when asked the question “How long, exactly, have you been a Warriors fan?” I can’t help but smile.
They are, in no particular order:
- November, 1997 all-you-can-eat-off: The Bulls were in town and second-year forward, 1996’s 11th overall pick (you know him as the man taken over Kobe) Todd Fuller was already a known threat to be out of the league within the year. My buddy Paul’s sister was engaged to a guy who’s dad, Neil Funk, did the Bulls play-by-play. Neil treated Paul and me to seats three rows up at the arena plus access to a sky box where we tried to eat as many hot dogs and pound as many beers as we could between quarters (it was all just laying out on a table and none of the guys in suits, no tie were touching it). I’m not sure how much they appreciated Joey Chestnut and Kobayashi coming in and owning the spread, which is why our credentials were checked numerous times—but we didn’t care. Fuller, for the record, scored 14 and Jordan was held to single digits.
- 2000 All-Star Weekend: Jam Session. Me, Paul and another buddy, Chris, scored some tickets to the Rookie Game. Our plan was to stay and sneak in for the dunk contest but I think the same ushers that were watching us a few years earlier during the Bulls game saw what we were up to. Then-unknown pop star Pink played at the half of the rookie game and got boo’d and Paul wore a Ray Lewis jersey (this was like a week after Lewis stabbed a dude to death with a broken champagne bottle during a Super Bowl after party). Everyone was pointing to Paul’s jersey and saying, “One love.” Solidarity man.
- Simply the Best: This time it was just me and Chris who decided to meet up after work for a December, 2006 game against the Hornets. We bought nosebleeds with the intent to sneak down later but those who’ve sat under the turned up brim of the Oracle sombrero know there’s something hypnotic about being way up top—so we just kind of sat up there and shot the shit. Suddenly, during the third quarter Adonal Foyle grabs an offensive board and the lights go down like during intros. We thought maybe something bad was happening, but it turned out it was something magical. The PA guy in his best Michael Buffer said, “Con-grat-u-laaaations to Adonal Foyle, for becoming the Warriors’ all-time leading rebounder.” The game was stopped and some girl slacks and a lanyard came out and presented Foyle with like a $19 check and a trophy that looked like someone popped the BMX bike off the top and glued a basketball on. A bunch of the players shuffled around trying to stay loose and we could see Foyle blushing from the rafters. Oh, then they played Tina Turner, “Simply the Best” over the PA as a montage of Foyle rebounding highlights showed on the scoreboard.
Chris and I still tell this story when things are getting a little stagnant in group conversation and I know at least one guy who asks us to share this tale whenever we’re drinking beers. It usually ends with him clapping and laughing and saying, “Simply the Best—that’s the best.”
But my favorite Warrior memory:
- 2002: Season-opening tailgater: Me, Chris and two other buddies (Dave and Brady) wanted to get together to commemorate the season’s tip-off. We decided to have a tailgater and barbecue for the home opener. Dutifully we showed up at the coliseum two hours before tip off and the parking lot looked like an elementary school on the Fourth of July. NOBODY was there. No smartphones meant someone had to go around and double-check the marquee. Yes, there was a game tonight. We unpacked and David started on the barbecue as daylight was scarce. It was delicious. About an hour in, a security guard came by in his little cart and asked us what we were doing. “Tailgating!” And would he like a hot dog? He garbled something into his mic and just before moving along. He said he’d seen a lot of things, but he’d never seen anyone tailgating for a Warriors game. Once inside, rookie Mike Dunleavy didn’t do much. Jason Richardson dunked. Earl Boykins turned over a couple off his foot while Gilbert Arenas gave him stinkface and Antawn Jamison looked like he’d have rather been tailgating too.
The Warriors lost, or maybe they won that night, but it didn’t matter. What mattered is we were there.
…Last night just after my girlfriend asked me “How long exactly have you been a Warriors fan?” Dave sent a group text to me, Chris and Brady. It was a Warrior tweet about an actual tailgate (with bounce house/some fan experience thing) happening prior to the Houston game:
— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) April 27, 2016
He recalled our original tailgater, there alone among the bums with the empty shopping carts, the off-duty BART cop snaking up a brew, the security guard’s reaction—and once in awhile getting hit in the face with swirling garbage.
I turned to her and said, “Long enough.”