We’re born into true sports fandom.
I’m from Kansas City – I cheer for the Chiefs and, begrudgingly, the Royals. My family tree is dominated on either side by University of Kansas students – I’m a Jayhawk. And that’s it. There’s been nobody else. I believe in sports monogamy.
I didn’t choose it that way, but that doesn’t mean I can imagine anything else. The heartbreaks, thrills, and varying degrees of consistent failure provided by those three programs have helped mold me into the person I am today more than I feel comfortable admitting.
But I’ve missed something. The NBA has always been my passion – that’s surprising looking back. The Kings moved to Sacramento from Kansas City in 1985, a few years before I was born. I still hear recycled stories of my grandfather sitting close enough to the floor in a mostly empty, mostly silent Kemper Arena to chat with Nate Archibald and goad officials into calls.
The tales endure but the Kings imprint on my lineage doesn’t. With no rooting interest from older kin and no franchise within several states, I was raised a NBA nomad. And I assumed that would always be the case.
My early memories of Jordan, Olajuwon and Barkley spread my rooting interest thin, from Chicago to Houston to Phoenix. Garnett and the Timberwolves were next, followed by McGrady and the Magic. And then I was older and came something else, something only now do I realize is sad: no ‘favorite’ team(s) at all.
I clung to quiet preference for KG and developed some for other players, harboring similar prejudice against their positional contemporaries. But my bias for teams in general was mostly and suddenly gone, replaced by an overall appreciation for the way I thought the game should be played. And it’s been that way ever since.
When I moved to the Bay Area I knew I wanted to cover the Warriors. On my list of potential post-undergraduate cities were only those with NBA teams in the near vicinity; you can’t truly narrow your focus as an analyst unless you’re nudged that direction by people, places or both.
So it’s not surprising I’m here, writing for Warriors World. But it certainly is that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to not actively root for my new home’s team in typical fan irrationalities.
I didn’t know that feeling could be adopted. Or maybe I did but just assumed I was immune. I’ve been nearly indifferent to the trajectory of a single NBA team for so long I wasn’t sure I was capable of anything more.
That was foolish, of course. And realizing it now I recall a quote that’s become the mantra of Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs:
When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.
I was the stonecutter this season, following the Warriors through 82 games and nearly six months of the regular season. Each game, every article and all that studying were blows from my proverbial hammer. But I was working away because I enjoyed it and am trying to forge a career; I saw those cracks. What I missed because I didn’t think it possible was the slow fall of the stone wall that’s kept me from actually rooting for them.
But I saw it on Tuesday.
I raised my hands as Steph and Klay let fly from deep. I audibly encouraged the Aussie’s activity. I pumped my fist when Festus spun and dunked. I jumped at HB’s from-nowhere reverse slam. I marveled mouth agape at Draymond’s game-long poise.
I understand your derision. It’s easy for me to cheer the Warriors this season; I missed the last two-plus decades of less than mediocrity and simply came along at the right time.
That’s undoubtedly true, but what’s also is that this team is capable of breeding fandom. Not just because they’re winning. You see players develop, you watch their reactions from the bench, you hear of their respect and care for one another – it’s hard to keep them from the fabric of your lingering state of sports consciousness.
I’m not a real fan yet, but that I’ve realized I’m becoming one is notable by itself. And with every coming possession of every game of every season, I now know it’s just a matter of time until my Warriors stone fully splits in two. Not so deep down anymore, I’m hoping their success means it finally does tonight.
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter.