With Avengers coming out a couple weeks ago, superheroes have been on my mind. Specifically, what would a sports superhero* be like?
*Before calling this absurd, remember that Marvel is dedicating an entire movie to Ant-Man. Okay, now you can call it absurd.
I couldn’t decide on a superhero name (The White-Man-That-Can-Jump, The GOAT, FanMan, Steph Curry?!), but I could decide on one of its powers: the ability, at any moment, to remind onlookers of something from their daily lives that’s seemingly wholly unrelated to sports. I know, even Ant-Man has cooler powers than that, but that’s besides the point.
This is part of why we love sports: in weird ways, ways we can’t anticipate, they remind us of our daily lives. This happened to me as I watched Game 7 of Clippers vs Rockets. I was (and still am) convinced the Clippers would be a much tougher matchup for the Warriors, but I wanted to play the Clippers so badly that I was rooting for them to advance. In other words, I was so confident in the Warriors, in what will be their most important series in four decades, that I was hoping they’d draw the tougher opponent. This felt like a crazy, even dangerous, amount of confidence to have. Then the completely unrelated life analogy hit me. If life has the six degrees of separation theory*, sports fandom should surely have a six degrees of separation theory of its own. Call it, the six degrees of sports fandom separation.
*The six degrees of separation theory is the idea that anyone on earth can be connected to any other person through a maximum of five acquaintances. For all you movie buffs, there’s also the six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
So, how would this six degrees of sports fandom separation work? I figured sports fandom could be divided into six degrees based on how confident fans feel about their team. These degrees are about more than the difference between a winning and losing record -in fact you’ll find a playoff team ranked in my lowest degree; this is a scale of having no hope to having extreme confidence, and everything in between. Escalating from lowest confidence to highest, these are the six degrees…
Degree #1 – Team No Hope: The fans are ready to dump everybody: the owner, every player, and maybe even the mascot. Modern basketball example: the Brooklyn “Can you say luxury tax?” Nets.
Degree #2 – Team At-Least-We’ve-Got-One-Good-Thing-Going-For-Us: While in the midst of the dark ages, these fans fiercely hold onto the one positive in their franchise. Modern basketball examples: the LA Lakers (“at least we know stars want to come to LA”), Sacramento Kings (“we’ve still got Demarcus Cousins”), and the Philadelphia 76ers (“draft picks are the new black!”).
Degree #3 – Team Future: The hope is palpable, and the players are beginning to develop; most nights are tough, but the glimpses are there. Modern basketball examples: the Boston Celtics (in Brad Stevens, Boston trusts), Utah Jazz (three words: The Stifle Tower), and the Milwaukee Bucks (who play an over-caffeinated version of the Warriors’ switch everything defense).
Degree #4 – Team We’re-Only-A-Couple-Moves-Away: You’ve been to the playoffs, but you know you’re missing something. That “something” is agonizing, and you spend much of your time wishing it were there. Modern basketball examples: the LA Clippers (“if only our bench wasn’t limited to the NBA’s finest from 2009 and Austin Rivers”), and Memphis Grizzlies (“all I’m asking for is a little outside shooting”).
Degree #5 – Team Contender: The pieces are there. The Vegas betting line isn’t higher than 25/1. It won’t be a failure if you don’t win the title, but people are talking about your “title window”. Teams of this nature have the won the title in the past -like the 2004 Detroit Pistons. Modern basketball examples: the Chicago Bulls, OKC Thunder (before the injures from hell began), Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs.
Degree #6 – Team This-Is-Our-Year: This is rarified air. This is the land of peak Kobe & Shaq, last year’s Spurs, and Jordan’s Bulls. These teams not only win, they dominate. This is the pinnacle of fan confidence. Modern basketball example: dare I say it, the Golden State Warriors.
Warriors fans have experienced an explosive rise. A mere 3 seasons ago, the Warriors inhabited the 3rd degree in my silly fan confidence index. 2013’s playoff run proved their rise to the 4th degree, and first quarter of this regular season more than demonstrated that the Warriors had entered the 5th degree.
In reality, the Warriors have been a member of the exclusive 6th degree club for a couple months now. Yet, the first time it dawned on me was Sunday afternoon -when I actively hoped they would draw the opponent I believed to be more dangerous, the Clippers. That’s a level of fan confidence unmatched by any other level. That’s the 6th degree of fan confidence, and this is the truth about these Warriors.
We should expect a championship out of this team. Welcome to the 6th degree Warriors fans.