I’ve never been to a party that was shut down by the flashing blue lights of a police car, but after Friday night’s shocking Boston Celtics victory over the seemingly invincible 68-8 Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland, I think I know the feeling. The stunned Warriors fans, known as Dub Nation, stumbled and mumbled their way out of the no-longer Roaring Oracle around 10:15pm last night, while the four of us muttered to ourselves, “Did that just happen?”
In the arc of lifelong fandom, at the young age of 36, I have been fortunate enough to witness several moments which might appropriately be titled “epic.” Eric and I attended the biggest 4th quarter comeback in NBA playoff history as 22 year-olds. We stood in the balcony of the Garden as the whole building swayed back and forth, vibrating under our stomps and shouts.
That fourth quarter is imprinted in my memory as a symbol of possibility, of redemption and synchronicity, and of pure joy. The same way many NBA lovers refer to these Warriors. Steph Curry becomes a manifestation of hopeful possibility, of mind-blowing shot-making and unrestrained passion and love of the game. We won’t bother to discuss racial overtones, and the projections of purity reserved for the lightest-skinned. The fan in front of me googled, “Steph Curry heritage” in the second quarter, which tells you two things: 1) Steph Curry is very light-skinned; and 2) People are going to a party, where basketball happens to be the theme.
That 2002 fourth quarter is living (or remembered proof) of the power of irrational belief. Those moments are what makes fandom my religion, and the arena my temple. People like to cheer for a winning team. People in the Bay Area love a party. Many in the Bay Area are incredibly wealthy. The exclusivity of the party becomes apparent, compared to the surprising success of the “We Believe” Baron Davis-Stephen Jackson upset Warriors. Instead of “We Believe,” these Warriors fans are a more entitled, more selfie-focused bunch, dancing in their Curry jerseys. This may sound like a harsh judgment, but when you look around and don’t see many brown and black faces in the stands compared with a decade earlier, it’s less harsh and more honest. Regardless of the sociological implications, the game is still a game, and the athletic displays are still mind-blowing. The game itself is a beautiful thing to watch. The roar of the crowd as quiet as a whisper to the keen observer. The silent Jay Gatsby, observing all of his drunken fools at the most luxurious and reckless gatherings on West Egg. That’s what its like to hear 20,000 fans walk quietly out of the Arena, the beer buzzing floating out into the Oakland night. The wealthy retreating to their SUVs and the masses headed toward the BART. The fucking Celtics beat the Warriors. Fuck, yes.
January 27th, 2015. Bulls 113, Warriors 111 (OT). The 36-6 Warriors lost their 7th game of the season that night. Natasha was there with work friends. Ironically, the next game she attended was last night. Symmetry. Bookends. 54 games, 54 wins. In between the two losses: an NBA title; a national love affair; an MVP crowned, and a march toward 73 wins and NBA history.
The details of how it happened are less important than the lingering images. Marcus Smart hounding in the backcourt, causing an offensive foul in the form of a Harrison Barnes elbow to the jaw. Avery Bradley denying Steph Curry any space in the first half, relentlessly sprinting out to the three-point arc on the weak side. Amir Johnson doing his relentless dirty work underneath, forcing mid-air adjustments. Without their backbone, Jae Crowder, the Celtics threatened the Warriors and they’re rabid fans with sheer will and zero fear for the biggest moments. With every third quarter Steph Curry swish (6 from deep), the Celtics bounced back, keeping the fans from erupting. Crowder is perhaps the best representation of what sheer willpower can do to energize a team. Rare players like Draymond Green and Jae Crowder make the NBA what it is. Steph Curry may bring pure joy to the game and enthrall the casual fan with his heroics but the determination and unity of a great defense resonates with those who have played the game competitively themselves. One basketball goes through a hoop, but five guys to move on a string through time and space.
No Jae and these Celtics still found a way. No Iguodala and no Ezeli and these Warriors continue to chase 73. There is an undeniable force that runs through these guys that feels like 1985-86 Celtics, which I was too young to appreciate. An unselfishness that may have been matched by the fluidity of the recent Spurs championship. San Antonio awaits the Warriors in what most NBA lovers are dreaming is a classic Western Conference Finals. The 82-game season is far too long. But game #76 for both teams will leave another permanent reminder of the possibilities, of the beauty of the game, and of the deafening silence of a crowd, recognizing their own mortality. Every party ends. The real party begins in two weeks…