“I’ve paid my dues, time after time…”
The last time the Golden State Warriors won a National Basketball Association championship, that song wasn’t even written yet.
“Celebrate good times, come on!”
That one either.
There are 30 teams in the NBA. Every year, 29 of them go home without winning it all. So even if you’re some kind of karma-supervising socialist, any team that has gone more than 30 years without a title is overdue.
Four decades of waiting. Of bad logos and worse uniforms. Of all the hopes inspired by Run-TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin) only to be dashed by Chris Webber’s chokey play and Latrell Sprewell’s chokey choke of head coach P.J. Carlesimo. More false starts than Marty McFly’s DeLorean, more dashed hopes than Sansa Stark’s wedding albums. Of watching the Lakers pick up titles like bottlecaps on a beach. But a real fan doesn’t root for other teams, a real fan refuses to give up, a real fan says to haters: “Yeah, but someday, they’re going to be good, and then…” And then it feels like something you earned. Then sports itself earns that metaphor that’s not as funny as the other ones in this paragraph, that always-implicit-to-sports metaphor of life. And right now, the dues-paying and adrenaline bursts are very real. And the moment of ultimate glory is about to be real. Put that champagne on ice, people.
Let other articles tell you how they did it. Let other writers explain the mechanics of victory. Let other scribes explain what Steve Kerr did as a rookie head coach. Right here, this here is just basking in the glory.
The Warriors look sturdier than their chosen logo, the spire of the new Bay Bridge. (Did I mention some metaphors are better than others?) The Dubs won 67 regular-season games; 13 out of the only previous 16 teams to win 65-plus went on to win the championship. Fans are loving it so much, they’re lingering outside the stadium just to laugh and party. If a pre-game fiesta is a tailgate, Bay Areans are tail-tailgating. When the Dubs won the Western Conference Finals two weeks ago, fireworks shot up outside the indoor Oakland Coliseum – not the outdoor one – for the first time in its 45-year history.
The last time the Warriors won the championship, there wasn’t the expected parade of fireworks, mash-up videos, or, uh, parades. It wasn’t the NBA as we now know it; for one thing, the ABA existed. That’s the American Basketball Association, kids. That free-wheeling, Afro-flowing, slam-dunk-contest-pioneering league was absorbed into the more corporate-friendly league, but that still wasn’t quite enough to make the NBA what it is today. As I write this, the Dubs are one win away, and knocking on the door of winning the keys to the house that Dr. J, Magic, Bird, and MJ built.
When you follow the game, when you read so many of the articles and reddit sections and hashtag threads, it’s easy to forget what it looks like to an outsider. Sometimes I remember that Michael Jordan is still the only non-scandalized athlete whose name is familiar to every single person in America. (Of course, MJ did eventually have his gambling and adultery scandals, but people don’t know him from that.) All the other athlete names that my wife and her friends have learned – Mike Tyson, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds – have something to do with iniquity. Jordan made the league The League, a place where achievement equals gold-plated quality. However, I have to add that I believe my wife now knows Stephen Curry.
To give you a sense of what’s changed, the last time the Warriors won it all, Nixon had just come back from China. Today, Dennis Rodman has just come back from North Korea. (That wasn’t a metaphor.) What do I mean? Well, as Todd Boyd and Kenneth Shropshire put it in the introduction to their book “Basketball Jones,”
For the working class, lower class, and otherwise disenfranchised, global political events are often barely noticed. Yet sports, which has always cut across the normally divisive boundaries of race and class, is there for all to see…Basketball is perfectly suited to define American culture because of the ease with which it is represented through the media…Unlike baseball and especially football, in basketball the players’ faces are easy to see and thus easy to use in advertisements. Because of this intimacy, there is a clearer identification between fans and individual players, or at least with players as we perceive them to be. The game is also fast paced and easily reducible to the television news format, highlighting dunks and three-point shots. Basketball blends with television like rock with MTV.
Nowadays, hoops blends with YouTube and Vine better than cat videos. It’s the ultimate reality show, the metaphor that never stops being usable, and if we’re including the NCAA, basketball is the pre-eminent engine humming under countless dramas of rivalries and bonding experiences. John Naismith’s little 19th-century experiment in keeping prep-school students active indoors during those frigid Massachusetts winters has come to mean a whole lot more than he could have imagined. (To be fair, Naismith did live to attend his sport’s first appearance at the Olympics.)
It’s true that the Cleveland Cavaliers are also overdue, but then, so is all of Cleveland. Right now, there’s a reliable Bill Simmons-spread meme that “God hates Cleveland.” We don’t want to take away their meme, do we? And we don’t want to reward a city who had to take back LeBron James the way you take back your cheating spouse who dumped you five years ago (uh, in a television special called “The Decision”) for a Florida hottie?
But there’s a bigger reason than that, which is that a victory for the Cavaliers would simply say that hulking stars do well, that you just put four guys with the best player and then you get the title. Rooting for the Cavaliers at this point is like rooting for Channing Tatum’s next movie to be the #1 movie of the year. On the other hand, the Warriors are the sort of team that shares, that can excel at small-ball (without a LeBron-style big man), that Charles Barkley disclaimed as unable to win. This is what Michael Novak meant when he wrote,
Basketball players must be improvisers…Basketball is jazz: improvisatory, free, individualistic, corporate, sweaty, fast, exulting, torrid, explosive, exquisitely designed for letting first the trumpet, then the sax, then the drummer, then the trombonist soar away in virtuoso excellence.
If any team personifies that Novakian jazz ideal, it’s your 2014-2015 Golden State Warriors. Every time you see one of them get inside the key and dish out a pass instead of selfishly going for the dunk, it feels like that moment at a jazz concert when an incredible musician passes the solo to his teammate. Sure, amazing alone, but look how transcendent together!
No reason for me to bother to tell you who’s the trumpet, who’s the sax, et cetera. You’ve got an internet’s worth of articles to explain that. There have been so many articles, about Harrison Barnes being too smart for his own good, about Andre Iguodala being the best to adjust to an Oakland non-starting bench since Tony LaRussa put Dennis Eckersley there, about David Lee being something like the second-best that, about Draymond Green being a trash-talking troublemaker who won’t back down, about Andrew Bogut finding his Australian groove, about Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa becoming the best B-team on any team, and especially, and again and again and again, the so-called “Splash Brothers” (who almost became the concussion brothers), Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
Speaking of LaRussa, the last time Oakland won a title, 26 years ago, that team also had two very visible Brothers, the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. The simplistic way of looking at Oakland is to say that in 26 years it’s gone from Bash to Splash. I’d rather emphasize the “Brothers” in each of those rhetorical constructs. Let Oakland be associated with cooperation, with group effort, with a one-time mayor who is currently unifying and governing this entire Golden State, with a current mayor who never misses a home Warriors game. Let Oakland be Dubbed a City of Brotherly Love, including with its sometimes rival, San Francisco. That other City of Brotherly Love never did quite win an NBA title in the Jordan-and-after-era, the Philadelphia Sixers falling short in the Finals behind Allen Iverson. Maybe one player shouldn’t be (calling himself) The Answer. (And maybe a team shouldn’t throw away its 2014-15 season on rebuilding, if it doesn’t want to alienate all its season-ticket holders.) Maybe the real answer is to have the kind of team where any one of twelve guys can step up as well as any of the others.
Last Wednesday, during an odd June rain following a Warriors loss that put them down against the Cavs two games to one, I tweeted “This is what it sounds like when Dubs cry.” Well, this isn’t that. This is hopes achieved and dreams set loose, like a bird from a cage. This is what it sounds like when Dubs fly.