“This is a basketball crowd that has a lot of fun at games. They come expecting upsets, knowing that their team can play to their high expectations on their home floor. They’ve rewarded their fans with a lot of great games. I don’t think they expect a whole lot more from their team at times, but they do support them very well.”
This isn’t just Phil Jackson’s criticism because I’ve heard it elsewhere and heard it for years. Most local writers would agree, plus they build on that premise: The Warriors have less incentive to win because fans don’t punish this team for losing.
Phil’s quote floated above an evening of stupefyingly great Warriors basketball, as the Dubs improbably crushed the Lakers. A national TV spotlight galvanized an oddly rabid East Bay crowd. “Beat LA” chants dented ear drums as though this was the playoffs, as though this game actually mattered. It didn’t, it doesn’t, GSW games stopped mattering back when winter was happening. But the arena is committed to honoring slivers of Dubs prominence like they’ve been dominant since fall. As an Oakland resident I’m a little bit proud, a little disgusted.
When the chant crescendo was peaking, my Twitter feed was swelling–because grizzled Warriors fans were lamenting the crowd’s bizarre enthusiasm. A vocal, intelligent, faction believes that this kind of crowd support perpetuates basketball mediocrity.
Obviously: It reminds me of the tensions within the Democratic party. Progressives want America’s current president to sign their policies into law (to “win”), but are divided on how to countenance a party leader when he either fails or ignores their wishes (“losing”).
If you’re in favor of passing gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, ending foreign wars, and funding expanded social programs, there’s only one game in town. But, Democratic politicians don’t seem particularly eager to fight on behalf of such positions, in part, because there’s only one game in town. Since the Dem base will always support Obama against Republican opponents, Barack doesn’t have much incentive for catering to that base.
As Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald put it in a recent piece, titled “The impotence of the loyal partisan voter:”
“Ask yourself this: if you were a Democratic Party official, wouldn’t you also ignore — and, when desirable, step on — the people who you know will support you no matter what you do to them?”
Greenwald favors an approach where progressives make their support contingent on Obama’s accomplishments. Glenn is like those basketball observers who think an unthinkingly loyal, loud, Warriors fan enables a losing product.
(Note: I’m fully aware that basketball is trivial and politics is important)
If Oracle attendees are supportive regardless of outcome, it’s possible GSW management would simply ignore winning. It’s possible they’d lazily eschew our wants, assured of an easy revenue stream. It’s good to be the only game in town.
And this is where my analogy falls apart. When the Democrats abide their base, there are consequences, risks. A law loved by progressive voters could offend independents. Also, moneyed lobbyists often rail against favored liberal reforms. Even if a law is popular, our legalized bribery system works against it. For a Democratic politician, “winning” is a fraught proposition.
For Warriors HQ, winning brings almost nothing but upside. We’ve already seen how fan interest ratchets up when Golden State actually makes the playoffs. Moreover, it’s not as though this current team is drawing great TV ratings. Oracle might be rocking, but a recent television survey puts the Dubs barely ahead of the San Jose Sharks–in a region that’s never seen an ice pond. There’s plenty of room for boosted revenue here–which is probably why Lacob bought the team. When ex-owner Cohan lost continuously, I think it spoke more to his incompetence and insanity than to unique fan-imposed incentives. Ask yourself: Would Cohan have started winning if Oracle went empty?
I’m just not sure increased local fan apathy would accomplish anything more than it accomplishes in Charlotte or Minnesota. Owners generally want to win, Donald Sterling excluded. Fans generally shell out more bucks to winning teams, Bay Area included. And while it might be ridiculous to chant “M-V-P!” when Monta’s shooting free throws, it’s dumber than it is impactful.
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