Bay Area Renaissance?

The Golden State Warriors have been to three straight NBA Finals, and barring a slew of catastrophic events, they will be in their fourth straight finals this coming June. There is no way around it folks, we are in the midst of an NBA dynasty; and if history has shown us anything, it’s that sports dynasties are boring for everyone that exists outside of said dynasty’s fanbase.

The reason today’s basketball media jump on every morsel of locker room and organizational gossip is because there is little on the court drama to write about. The only three seasons from the 1990’s that held any drama were the ones containing a Michael Jordan sized vacuum. Today, if you’re an NBA junkie, one can glean happiness from just watching high level basketball. Up until this season’s trade deadline, it looked like all we could hope for (at best) was that a well coached team has enough firepower to at least make the Warriors work for the title.

For most part, the Warriors are destroying teams, and as of now, the teams that match up best with them are the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, and Boston Celtics. As of today, I believe that none of these teams have enough to beat a healthy Dubs squad in a seven game series. On some level, Golden State realizes this, and even though they are putting W’s in the win column, they haven’t been playing all that well. There haven’t been more than a dozen games where Golden State has played an entire game with the sustained intensity you would expect from a championship team.

This season a typical Warriors game looks like this: the opposing team comes out to a start that might have them up by 8 points at the end of the quarter. They may even dominate the entire second quarter as well, but at halftime one look at the scoreboard indicates the Warriors are only down by 4. Then the third quarter starts and the Warriors go on a 3 minute, 20-5 run. Then in the blink of an eye, the fourth Warriors lead is out of reach and they are emptying their bench to an applause. Occasionally, the opposing team knocks the margin back down to a single digit deficit, but two possessions later, the Warriors have hit 2 deep three pointers and its a double-digit lead again. It’s not even fair.

The Warriors don’t play focused inspired ball for 48 minutes because they don’t have to in order to win. Their roster is so deep and so talented that they can play badly for 40 minutes sandwiched between two incredible four-minute stretches, and still beat most teams by double digits. Much like the 1990’s Jordan led Bulls, these Warriors have no true rival. In the 1980’s the Lakers at least had rivalries with the 76ers, the Celtics, and finally at the end of their run, the Detroit Pistons.

On the surface, the NBA product is doing wonderfully. There are superstar faces on almost every team in the league, and new fans flock to the arenas to see the East Bay juggernaut that is Golden State. However, we are all robbed of something highly significant if the league can’t produce a team to force the Warriors to play at the highest level of basketball imaginable.

You can refer back to the 2011 Dallas Mavericks and 2014 San Antonio Spurs for examples of the competition created from the Lebron James/Chris Bosh/Dwayne Wade super team down in Miami. Those Heat teams were so good that it forced teams to play at a ridiculously high level just to have a chance to win. It is no accident that the two teams that beat the “Heatles”era in the Finals were two of the best passing teams we’ve witnessed in years. It is hard to imagine a world without either of those teams, and if we don’t see an organization step up in the 3-5 years, it will be a shame for all of those who hold NBA basketball so sacred.

Unlike the Celtics, Lakers and Heat teams from the past ten years, the initial core of Golden State’s dynasty arrived through the draft. Draymond Green (2012), Klay Thompson (2011), Steph Curry (2009), and Harrison Barnes (2012). After beating Denver in 2012 playoffs, they signed Andre Iguodala as a free agent. Then after losing the 2015 Finals to Cleveland, the Warriors essentially traded Harrison Barnes for Kevin Durant; letting Barnes go to Dallas for an enormous 94 million dollar contract, winning the title last season and securing themselves as the favorites to come out of the West for years to come.

 

This level of success is still relatively new for most Warriors fans, and yet, it’s no longer a novelty. The ease at which the wins come and the new brand of Warrior fandom, has created a shift  in the way the rest of the league and older NBA heads perceive the organization and people who root for the team. I’d even go as far to say there is a schism between the older blue-collar fan base of old and the “New Jack”, button up white-collar contingent.

The 1990’s was an idyllic time to live in the Bay Area. A blossoming underground hip hop scene produced some golden era classic albums. Both sides of the Bay Bridge had competitive sports teams. In baseball, the A’s and Giants were competing annual for division titles in the American and National Leagues. The 49ers held it down as the second best team in the NFL, until the Raiders ended their self-exile down in Los Angeles.

The Don Nelson-led Warriors were constantly on highlights packages for their up tempo play. Despite the flash of Run TMC  (Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, and Mitch Richmond), and the young talent of Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell, the early 90’s Warriors were more sizzle than steak. After the 1993 season, Warriors fans endured fourteen lean years as they cemented themselves in basketball folklore, as the best fans in basketball. Many players and NBA execs will say that no matter how disappointing of a team the organization fielded, the stands of the “Roar-acle” stayed filled and stayed loud.

Despite having some of the flyest color schemes in the league, running into a Warriors fan was about as random as meeting someone fan rocking some Milwaukee Brewers gear (although full disclosure, I used to own a blue and gold Chris Webber jersey). Nowadays, it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re bound to see someone with a Steph Curry or  Kevin Durant jersey. In fact, I can’t recall ever meeting a Warriors fan until my first visit to Oakland during the summer of 2006.

It was at an A’s game. I met some guys my age on the BART to Oakland and we all scalped tickets together. Sometime during the game our talk turned to basketball and they went on a rant about how much they hated their roster at the time. I asked about Warriors tickets and was shocked to learn that the cheapest ticket to go watch Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. usually ranged from 35-50 bucks. I couldn’t believe it.

Later that fall, after I moved to Oakland, I spent the first five months of the season clowning on my neighbors, laughing in their faces when they had the gall to invite me over to watch Warriors games at their houses. Some of these guys kept telling me how Warriors were going to make the playoffs that season and this was even before they traded for Stephen Jackson and AL Harrington. I remained skeptical. Warriors fans kept believing and it happened.

Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks

The Warriors made the playoffs as a number 8 seed and the entire East Bay was electrified. Everywhere I went I saw people selling bootleg warriors gear on the sides of the roads. Every barroom television was turned to the game and every single patron was tuned in. “We Believe” became the mantra that spring and I even found myself rooting for them against the number 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks.

The Warriors coach, Don Nelson had coincidentally been the architect of the Mavs current roster and he was playing chess while poor Avery Johnson played checkers and they upset the Mavericks (who’d had the NBA’s regular season best record) in six games. MVP, Dirk Nowitzki was so upset that he threw a trash can through the visitor locker room’s wall (Dirk would later put his signature beneath the hole).

Eventually that Warriors team lost to the Jazz in the second round, but not before Baron Davis unleashed one of the most memorable playoff dunks on Andrei Kirilenko–a dunk  that encapsulated the team’s four-month run.  Fans couldn’t know how long this run would last, but they embraced each moment.  Home games at the Oracle was must see television. You could hear the crowd through the feed, as they stood for entire stretches of games in the 4th quarters, chanting “Warriors” over and over again.

The momentum continued into the next season where the Warriors improved their win total to 48, but the Western Conference had also improved as a whole, and they missed making the playoffs by a game (marking the first time a team had won that many games without making the playoffs).

The reputation of the Warriors’ cult following which was once a whisper among NBA circles was now a national story. Tickets were virtually impossible to get if Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant came to town.The magic did not last long, however; as various parts that made the engine run were traded or let go. Stephen Jackson was traded in 2009 to the Charlotte Bobcats (remember them?) and Don Nelson would step down from coaching by the year 2010,.and The team would not win 30 games in a season again until 2012, the beginning of the Splash Brothers era.

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Various critics now point to the stands as an indicator of what is to come for the franchise when it moves across the bridge in a couple of years. The “Roar-acle” has become the “Snore-acle” as the hard-core fan base that filled up the arena night in and out during some of its most losing-est of times has given way to a bunch of wine sipping cheese eating button shirt, 80 dollar jeans wearing techie nerds– a reflection of the demographic shift that has happened in the Bay (especially the East Bay) during the last ten years.

The irony is not lost on me that ten years ago, San Franciscans could give two shits about the Warriors, or basketball in general; preferring to sniff their own farts and talk about the good old days of Joe Montana and the Niners. Now suddenly they are the demographic that is vaunted onto the public as the “Warriors faithful”. Its kind of disgusting.

I went to my first Warriors game in 2013 for game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals also known as the ascent of the Splash Bros. era. Before that season, head coach Mark Jackson claimed that he had the best shooting backcourt in the history of the NBA. People laughed because neither Stephen Curry, nor Klay Thompson hadn’t anything yet in the league. Steph had yet to prove his ankles could hold up to the rigors of an 82 game season in the NBA, and Klay Thompson was still an unproven 2 guard out of Washington State.

By April of 2013, they had everyone’s attention. Throughout that playoff run, text messages and tweets were flying around via satellite every night about the same time. Somewhere in the third quarter of every playoff game, Steph Curry and his tender ankles, would go super nova– putting up double-digit numbers to a souped up arena. Each game held more importance in the first round against Denver, and I nearly got myself and my roommate evicted because of all the yelling I was doing at 11:45 at night central time.  By the second round of the playoffs, they had everyone’s attention.

They stole a win on the road in San Antonio, and were within a Manu Ginoboli, double overtime, game winning 3 pointer away from taking a commanding 2 game lead back to Oakland (the Warriors also blew a 16 point lead with 4 mins left in regulation). My travel plans coincided with a possible game 6 at the Oracle, so I bought myself a ticket immediately after time expired that night.

Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed. The BART train was filled to the brim with Warriors fans, chanting at each stop until the moment we arrived at the stadium. The fans stood the entire game, and I had a splitting headache when it was all over, my ears ringing from the “Ref You Suck!”, and “Warriors!” chants.

The stage was too big for the young squad (as the game 2 results had predicted) and they couldn’t withstand a costly head injury to Harrison Barnes after a scary fall. Jarrett Jack did his best to keep the team close, and Popovich geared the game plan around making someone other than a gimpy Steph Curry beat them. Tim Duncan didn’t even play the final five minutes as Popovich went to his best small lineup.

I wore nothing to give away my Spurs fandom out of fear and respect (though as it turns out, Warriors fans aren’t quite as savage as Raiders fans), but I couldn’t have asked for a better show for my dollar. The Warriors performed well, but my favorite team won. I turned to grab my belongings, but noticed that no one in the stands had moved a muscle after the buzzer sounded. The court emptied but fans were repeatedly chanting Warriors at the top of their lungs. The moment gave me chills. Were we about to see an encore?

The entire team spilled back onto the court to a chorus of applause. Steph grabbed a microphone and addressed the crowd, expressing his thanks and sadness that the run was not over but only just beginning. I got a little teary eyed. A sax player blared his horn into the quiet evening, while fans slowly made their way to the parking lots and the BART train platform.

The smell of medical marijuana wafted my way, and I realized that I felt kind of bad for the Warriors. It was the kind of feeling I used to get after beating a really good friend in video games. They had given the Spurs a good run for their money and it felt like the Warriors were just a player or two from figuring the rest of the league out. I didn’t know it then, but they were on the upswing and the Spurs had crested a long time ago; the next two seasons for them was just a swan song for the Tim Duncan era.

And yet I was extremely happy for Warriors fans when they finally got a championship in 2015. They’d endured a lot of shit since 1976–a time-span that predated my birth, which in sports years is a really long time–almost 3 generations. They’d beaten Lebron James two out of three times in the NBA Finals, which was almost as good as the Spurs winning themselves; and it even seemed appropriate for Matt Barnes to bookend his time on the “We Believe” era Warriors to get a ring with last season’s roster.

It is hard to feel happy for this year’s Warriors team. Somehow they managed to get even deeper on their bench with the additions of Omri Casspi and Nick Young, and Jordan Bell. They have been demolishing the rest of the league without even trying. It seems like ages since the Warriors were this cute bunch of upstarts led by the amiable Steve Kerr, former Spur and coaching disciple of Lute Olson, Phil Jackson, and Greg Popovich. They aren’t even that likable this year as they lead the league in technical fouls in overall fuckery (fairly or unfairly, Kevin Durant and Draymond bear the brunt of the blame for this).

This new brand of Warriors fans shows up halfway through the first quarter, as the spectators already inside the arena sit down almost immediately upon the jumpball being won. Watching them face off against the Timberwolves back in late January, you could have told me that the Warriors fans had been replaced by Dallas Cowboys fans and I would’ve believed you.

The crowd was more reactive than engaged–only making noise when the public announcer egged them on with sound effects and the Jumbotron. Looking around the arena reminded me of the difference between OK Computer era Radiohead fans, and people who had finally discovered them after their In Rainbows album.  I wanted to say some of these people that “If you can’t handle to  if they couldn’t handle being a fan when the team was at their most Troy Murphy, then they didn’t deserve be here for their best Steph Curry”,  but that sounded silly to say out loud, and looks even sillier as I type it out.

Seeing a couple of Hardaway and Webber jerseys did make me smile though, but besides that, the collective joy at the unexpected success of the team was replaced with a smug, almost complacent vibe in the air. Unlike New York, where passengers are expected to immediately head towards their destination with purpose and clarity, these west coast commuters walk around aimlessly and lackadaisically, often stopping in the middle of the walkways for God knows why. I wish I could blame it on the Kush, but the straight-edged yuppies are the biggest offenders of failing to understand spacial awareness.

I sat and watched Golden State slice and dice the Timberwolves (a 4th seed out west mind you) with expert backdoor cuts and passing to a largely quiet audience. It was like watching an expert bullfighter slaughter a blind and anemic bull. Warriors basketball was officially boring. Minnesota would go on a run to cut the deficit to five points, and then poof, blowout city. It barely registered in my brain that Kevin Durant (once my favorite NBA player of whom I prayed would get a point guard like Curry) had a triple double.

The Warriors are bored.  The joy of winning has been lost to the everyday challenge of playing against their highest basketball selves. It is the difference between the NBA in the 80’s and the NBA in the 90’s. Magic had Bird and Bird had Magic. Jordan had no peers.

The warriors have a showmanship much like the Lakers and the Harlem Globetrotters, but without a true rival, their game suffers. The league’s only hope is the newly  revamped Cavaliers may have finally achieved a balanced roster of young athletes in Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and the veteran George Hill.

It is not outside of the scope of possibilities that this collection of players will make the Warriors work for their title and a place in NBA canon of dynasty franchises. The Houston Rockets won’t be a cake walk either. They have beaten the Warriors twice this season already and they also just signed “Iso” Joe Johnson off of waivers. And no one wants to see Oklahoma City in April. Stephen Adams and Russell Westbrook make you feel them even after a win. The trade deadline may have finally given NBA fans what they needed most: a little bit of suspense. Now we just have to survive the next two months of tedium before the playoffs starts. I’m just going to set my alarm for April. Wake me up if I somehow sleep through it.

 

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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