Wow. I still feel like it's surreal. The Golden State Warriors, our neighbors in the Coliseum complex, just won an NBA title. The city of Oakland will have their first championship parade since...the last Raiders title? The A's 1989 World Series didn't come with a parade due to earthquake.
It is truly a special moment for not just Oakland but Warriors fans all over. 40 years is a long time to wait for the title.
I myself have been really following the Warriors from when they drafted Chris Webber. I was probably in 7th grade at the time, and just getting into basketball (I was into baseball and football first). I had vague recollections of Run TMC and the useless trade that broke up that squad, but Chris Webber came with all the hype and the talent to back it up. He really got me into the game. Of course Webber got traded after one year in a Golden State uniform, and the big man that egomaniac Don Nelson had pined for for years was shipped out of town for a role player and draft picks. Somehow I kept following the Dubs, listening to every game on the radio while doing homework, even to the point that I bought the NBA audio subscription when I went off to college. When I came back from college, my friend and I bought a 12-game pack and then season tickets the following year in 2004. Finally, after all these years, I got to see the Warriors have a league MVP, play meaningful games and bring home the ultimate trophy.
The weird thing was, though the Warriors were so abysmal, so pathetic, for so long, this all seemed almost easy. Two years ago they got knocked out of the playoffs by the Spurs, and then last year by the Clippers, and in both cases they were the inferior team. That was expected. And then this year they absolutely coasted. Nearly every home game was a blowout victory. They were the top team in the league and it wasn't even close. They had very good but relatively beatable opponents in the postseason, and they beat them. All the players were healthy and literally everything went according to plan. This was the least stressful run to a title I could have imagined.
But of course, us Warriors fans suffered greatly. I have watched so much bad basketball over the years. The worst thing was, when everything seemed to be going right, we ruined it. Like the Webber trade. Webber, Latrell Sprewell, Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, these were great players. The Warriors pissed them away with nothing to show for it.
However, just being one of the worst teams in the league did not help us, because the Warriors' brass managed to screw up every draft pick. Some assorted first round picks off the top of my head: Joe Smith (#1 overall. Over Kevin Garnett). Todd Fuller at #11 (Kobe Bryant was there for the taking, but no we needed a slow pasty big man with a 4.0 GPA). Mike Dunleavy Jr. at #3. Antawn Jamison. Adonal Foyle. Patrick O'Bryant. Just disgusting draft picks.
When we finally had a GM that we could love in Chris Mullin, who at least assembled the Warriors 2007 playoff squad, he was forced to break up that squad the very next year for budgetary reasons, and quickly shown the door by an owner and president who were intent on holding power and saving dough. The biggest free agents we signed in those years were Derek Fisher and Corey Maggette.
So many players who probably should have been on the bench, retired, or simply out of the league got big minutes with the Warriors. Guys like Bimbo Coles, Muggsy Bogues, Erick Dampier, Jason Caffey, Clifford Rozier, Felton Spencer, Vonteego Cummings (at least we had the best named-point guards?), Mookie Blaylock, Devean George, Troy Murphy, Marc Jackson, Chris Mills, and so many other terrible players filled out the GSW roster.
Seriously, prior to this year, I would have put the top three moments in my Warriors fan history as:
- Taking down the top seeded Mavericks in 2007
- The dunk by Baron Davis in the second round in 2007 on Utah (GSW lost that series in 6).
- Latrell Sprewell choking PJ Carlesimo*
*Honestly that is more of an ironic one because it's funny. At the time I had about 25 Sprewell cards and a Sprewell jersey, and I was somewhat devastated that my favorite player would do such a thing, be suspended for a year and then shipped off. Afterwards I appreciated the symbolism of the moment, and plus PJ Carlesimo sucks. I still have the Spree jersey.
The thing is, after the Webber trade, and save for the "We Believe" 2006-08 blip, most of the teams the Warriors had were absolutely horrid. They had no chance. 12 straight losing seasons, a couple of winning years where they were the 8th seed and missed the playoffs, then back to four years of losing. Every time something was going good (wow, we found Gilbert Arenas in the second round!) it was quickly ruined (wow, we let him go for nothing!).
However new ownership had bought the team, shipped out my then-current favorite player Monta Ellis for an injured center in Andrew Bogut. I was unhappy, not necessarily because it was a bad trade, but it was yet another moment where the Warriors gave up on the season, rendering my already bought-and-paid-for tickets completely worthless. We fielded teams with four D-Leaguers in the starting lineup for much of the rest of the season, due to the injured Bogut, Stephen Curry, David Lee, and the absence of Ellis.
When new owner Joe Lacob took the floor in the midst of Chris Mullin's retirement ceremony, which happened to be in the course of an absolute blowout loss at the hands of the Minnesota freakin' Timberwolves, which happened to also be a bobblehead night that encouraged fans to get in hours before game time and thus drink heavily...the results were not good. He was roundly, loudly, booed. I was first surprised and then just started laughing hysterically. The fans weren't booing just the Monta trade, even though he was a fan favorite; they were booing 20 years of flubbing away draft picks, trading our best players for peanuts, and generally never being competitive. If it was just Mullin talking, there wouldn't have been any boos. But Lacob was just an unknown rich guy, the latest symbol of Warriors management; and Warriors management wasn't really beloved.
Eventually, though, they actually built a team. Lacob hired Jerry West and Bob Myers. The brass hand-picked Mark Jackson to be the coach. Jackson successfully changed the culture of the franchise, got people to play defense, helped Curry and Klay Thompson expand their game, and made the Warriors a legitimate competitor, if not contender. They had their first all-stars in forever in Lee, and Curry. They won 47 and then 51 games. They got a legitimately great free agent in Andre Iguodala. And then swapping out Jackson for Steve Kerr and his cadre of skilled assistants, along with the upward development of Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and company led to this wire-to-wire dominant season. They never lost more than three games in a row and cruised to a title about as easy as you can do it in the NBA.
For Warriors fans, the suffering was finally lifted. The agony just a memory, fading into championship joy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this run. I'm still bewildered that this happened.
But I was asked the night they won, does it mean more to me than an A's title? I thought about it, and I have to say no. No, despite the utterly worthless teams we suffered through as W's fans, decades of losing punctuated by good teams broken up too soon, it somehow felt easy. I couldn't really put my finger on it until I saw LeBron James' quote after the series.
"I always look at it, would I rather not make the playoffs or lose in the Finals?
I don't know. I don't know.
I've missed the playoffs twice. I've lost in the Finals four times. I'm almost starting to be like I'd rather not make the playoffs than to lose in the Finals. I would hurt a lot easier if I just didn't make the playoffs, not even have a shot at it."
- LeBron James, after losing in the finals for the fourth time.
That's when it hit me. There's the kind of suffering when your team just stinks. When you know it has no chance. When you're just hoping to be a halfway decent team, and not surprised when you're in last place. When you get used to having no good players, no all stars, no MVPs and no postseasons. In baseball, that was the Royals suffering, the Pirates suffering, those types of teams that simply lost for a long time.
The A's fans suffering is much worse. This is the suffering littered with MVPs, Cy Youngs, All-Stars, playoff appearances, underdogs overachieving, glorious unforgettable moments, all inevitably ending in crushing losses, fluke plays that kill a season, coming up short when it matters the most, and having your best, most talented players realize their glory with other teams.
That is why LeBron said it's easier to miss the playoffs. It hurts to come close, time after time, and lose in the most excruciating ways. To watch your best teammate go down with a shattered knee in game 1 of the finals. To bring your long-thirsting hometown to the brink of a title for the second time, and fall short. To invest so much into something that ultimately results in nothing, or worse than nothing.
I absolutely love the Warriors. And believe me, I will be looking fondly upon this season for many, many years. I know I witnessed something special this year, something truly amazing. But somehow I feel as though it just happened, and I just watched it. I didn't quite live it, because, well, it all happened so fast. The easy, routine winning was so foreign, and then bam! We got the title. I was along for the ride. I never had that heartbreaking moment as a Warriors fan because the Warriors weren't ever good enough to truly break my heart.
We sucked. Then we didn't. Then we won. So simple, right?
If the Warriors had somehow blown the NBA Finals and lost in an unimaginably excruciating way, would winning it all next year have tasted even sweeter? I don't care to find out, because I got my title and I'm not giving it back...
But as an A's fan I already know the answer. If and when the A's actually do this, every heartbreaking loss, the Jeter flip, the Miggy interference, the Byrnes not touching home plate, the Coco drop, the Reddick flail on strike 3, the T-Long and Melhuse K's looking, the freaking pitching staff blowing lead after lead against the Royals...it will all be erased. The A's will have overcome the lack of a level playing field, the old football stadium they call home, the ownership that can't stretch their pocketbook to keep anyone long term, and years and years of coming so close and failing so dramatically.
When the parade is going off in Oakland on Friday, it will be pure joy. And it should be. Everyone should unabashedly celebrate. The streets of Oakland on Tuesday night was just the perfect scene. However, I still can't even wrap my head around this victory. It just sort of happened. There were no demons to exorcise, no haunting memories to erase. Just a bunch of bad basketball and bad decisions, so coolly and logically replaced by good decisions and good basketball.
However, if a title ever happens with the Oakland A's, it would be like every bad thing that ever happened to me was completely and utterly abolished. It would be more than just amazing, perfect, brilliance, and more than just the greatest season I ever witnessed. Not all sports suffering, apparently, is equal.
Sports fandom is weird like that.