Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Warriors, The City, and Me
By Blogger

A couple weeks ago, I bought a t-shirt. On Super Bowl Sunday, I wore it out and about for the first time. It took me that long because it was a struggle to put it on and then walk out the door. See, it's a Golden State Warriors shirt.

For some people, all "their" teams in the major sports came easy to them. Growing up, I had the San Francisco Giants, and... yeah. I watched the Niners win two Super Bowls (1989, 1994), but I didn't truly care. The Warriors made two number one overall picks and went through the excitement of a guy choking his coach, but I didn't care. Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on whether you think it's my duty to follow these teams out of geographic obligation), I've come around to caring about these teams at a time when they're mired in cultures of mediocrity.

I reflected on the Niners a while back, and as football season wound down, I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on my feelings about the Warriors, the middle child of the Bay Area sports scene. Baseball has deeper historical roots, with the Pacific Coast League on to today's MLB teams, while the football teams attract people from near and far because they don't have any nearby competition, so where do the Warriors fit in to the scheme of things? Clearly, their fans have always been out there, because talk radio buzzes with Warrior talk during the season, and the Arena is never empty, but I'm guessing a good chunk of them have been ashamed of their fandom for a few years now, and the Kings and Lakers cut into their territory once you get outside the Bay Area, into the Californian hinterlands.

So, what made me a Warrior fan? First, Troy Murphy. The big dude from Notre Dame is the symbol of modern Warrior fandom. He was selected in the 2001 draft, nine picks after Jason Richardson, and sixteen picks ahead of Gilbert Arenas in what might the most successful draft any team has produced in the last twenty years. However, the Warriors squandered even that by letting Arenas walk for no good reason, a simplification, to be sure, but illustrative of what kept me away from the team. To begin with, I have a gut reaction to NBA basketball: I can't stand laziness on the court, and I can't help ferretting it out whenever I watch. My favorite player growing up, Dennis Rodman, may have been a nutcase, but he was often the most tenacious player in the game. So, I'm much more comfortable watching college ball, where, usually, the coach has more de facto authority to bench a guy who isn't hustling, and as a result players show hustle and enthusiasm more often. Beyond my NBA prejudice, who would ever choose to embrace the Warriors? I mean, if the Clippers are the Washington Senators of the NBA, then the Warriors would be the Montreal Expos, and look at how that turned out.

I suppose I should feel lucky that the Giants were the only team that chose me instead of the other way around. Dammit, my allegiances were up for grabs. Why didn't I just choose a team out of a hat, get the Spurs, and be happy? But I also feel a bit deprived to have grown up not following basketball much. I enjoyed watching Troy Murphy play in college. He didn't seem to try beyond himself, if that makes any sense. He was a tall jump shooter, and that was that. Even though he's around Tim Duncan's size and gets a lot of rebounds, he has nowhere near Duncan's athleticism and skill down low, so he didn't try to prove he could be that type of big man. I liked that. When the Warriors drafted him, I (metaphorically) sat up and rubbed my eyes. Really? They got Troy Murphy? I started paying a little bit of attention. Rooming with a Nuggets fan during my last year of college drew me in further to the NBA. Finally, the Baron Davis acquisition pushed me past the point of no return.

I don't think people on the outside can really appreciate what Davis has meant to the Warriors. He went to a Giants-Dodgers game in San Francisco last year and, when he was shown on the big screen, received a thunderous standing ovation. The Warriors fans that had been reluctant to openly shower their love upon a weakling franchise suddenly had a star coming to their team instead of leaving, and, like that, the emotion gushed out in unexpected ways. I started watching games on TV. I don't flip the radio station anymore when games are on. I read newspaper accounts. I look for the Warriors score first when checking scores online. But I'm still wary. I'm afraid of the disappointment and disgust that's so obviously looming. I consider it a blessing that I love baseball more than I love my favorite team, which is why the sting of losing the 2002 World Series was bad, but didn't shake me nearly as much as the end of the 2003 ALCS. The problem is I simply don't love basketball the same way I love baseball and don't know if I can. And if I come to love the Warriors, what will happen when they make the playoffs and get embarrassed as they most certainly will? I can't imagine it's just a matter of putting the t-shirt back on and hoping that Adam Morrison falls in the draft. There has to be more than that.


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