Blame it on the state of the world. Blame it on the folks in Washington, D.C. Blame it on my children or my husband (my personal default fault mode). Whatever the cause, I have long yearned for moral clarity and distinct boundaries between right and wrong. I am tired of gray, of ambiguity, of uncertainty. I need to know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and that the outcome of things will be for the best – and to my liking.
And in my desperation, I turned – for the first time in my life – to a new source of solace. No, not religion. Sports. Yes, in the Spring of 2016 I unexpectedly became a devoted – no, make that a fanatical – Golden State Warriors basketball fan. I now proudly sport a tee shirt – make that an officially NBA-sanctioned-tee-shirt. Yes, I pledged allegiance to Dub Nation.
(And to think, just a short time ago, I had to ask my hairdresser what the “Dub” in Dub Nation was. For the uninitiated, non-Californian, it is slang for the beginning phonetic pronunciation of the letter “W” in Warriors which is “dub-bel-yoo.” Got it? Duh!)
But then something happened.
My devotion to the Warriors began late in the season, somewhere around Win 67. I kept hearing about the astonishing number of games the team was winning. I kept hearing about the mind-blowing 3-pointers Stephen Curry was sinking and about the glory of the Splash Brothers.
But for a long time, all that Warrior whoop-de-do was just background noise to me. After all, I’m the woman who brags about never knowing the date of the Super Bowl or who is playing in it. I’m the girl who asked her boyfriend leave the Rose Bowl because “it’s boring.”
The Times, They are A-changing
Ironically it wasn’t the Warriors’ athletic prowess that first captured my attention … and my heart. It was their conduct off the court.
A friend recounted his 14-year-old daughter’s encounter with Golden State Shooting Guard Klay Thompson. The daughter and her friends were playing basketball in the park. Klay walked by with his dog and stopped to play ball with the girls for a few minutes. Even I was impressed. Another friend commented that that his buddy, one of the team’s owners, said he only hired nice players. That sounded like owner PR hyperbole. Yet, the more I learned about the Warriors, the more it seemed they really were likable. “Gee,” the maternal voice in me moo-ed. “They seem like such nice boys.”
Even the Warriors’ slogan, “Strength in Numbers,” resonated on a maternal level. Talk about team spirit! They have good values and are good role models for kids in the community. “Go, Warriors!” Go, Warriors? Huh? Who said that? Me?
I was hooked. I caught the San Francisco Bay’s feverish hope of achieving a record-breaking winning season. I excitedly watched as Win 71, Win 72, and Win 73 bounced into the history books. “Go, team, go.”
My husband was a little slower to catch Warriors’ mania, barely looking up from the business section of the paper each morning as I regaled him with the latest stats and scores. But then, one day, it happened: stuck at an airport, he watched a game, witnessed several of those not-to-be believed mid-court three-pointers, and was hooked. At long last, Jon was a member of Dub Nation. “High five, honey!”
I began following the debates on three-point shots, “three-pointers” or “threes” for those of us in the know, don’t you know? Are they good for the game? Are new NBA rules needed? Should the arc be moved back? Geo-political debates be damned! I want your position on the threes!
Bye Bye, Broadway. Hello, B-ball
Not long after that, Handsome Hubby called to say he had purchased two tickets to one of the semi-finals games at the Oracle Arena. I whooped so joyously that my son asked if we had just scored tickets to see Hamilton in NYC. When I shouted we had Warriors tickets, he shook his head in disbelief. Where had his Broadway-lovin’ mama gone?
The Splash Brothers were thrilling to watch even from the last row in the arena seats where we sat. The sound was deafening in the packed arena. We ate ballpark hotdogs and cotton candy. We bought tee shirts. We cheered. We booed. My throat hurt. My ears were ringing. We stomped our feet. We won! (I forget over whom. Sorry.) All round, a totally satisfying sports experience.
Then came the playoffs. At this point, my mid-life basketball love affair became problematic. Basketball playoffs and the finals last an eternity. They’re a major time commitment. We declined dinner invitations. We stopped going to movies. Our saved TV shows’ queue swelled beyond capacity and we lost season finales. Books and magazines piled up unread.
Yet, game after game, night after night, my husband and I sat on the couch, cheering and screaming, moaning and booing, eating chips and drinking innumerable bottles of sugary, carbonated beverages. We were having a ball watching the Warriors play ball.
Our Children Judge Us
Our children were at first amused by our sudden, late-life interest in sports, but amusement soon gave way to feelings of displacement. How dare we not grill them about their whereabouts and activities when they walked in the house? How dare we shush them when they had a question or wanted to talk to us about their day? “Oh, the inhumanity,” you could almost hear them cry.
“Alzheimer’s. Infirmity. These were the things I prepared for,” my son cried out. “But aliens? Aliens have abducted my parents. Who are these people?”
“Shush,” came our hurried reply. “Move out of the way. You’re blocking the TV.”
The Emotional Toll
Some people enjoy the ups and downs of a roller coaster. Not me. Fear and nausea are not my favorite sensations. I walked around in a constant state of anxiety. I worried about the players, their injuries, the damage to their self-esteem. This was more than I had bargained for.
In my pain, I turned to the spin-masters of my dreams, the interpreters of my nightmares. I turned to the San Francisco Chronicle’s sports writers. Yes, me, the once serious foreign policy wonk, now pushed aside the New York Times to devour the Chronicle’s sports pages.
The newspaper’s pre-finals language had been filled with metaphors of non-stop victory and success. The language of the playoffs and the heart-breaking finals was first filled with expectation and confidence; then doubt and questions, and then, finally, despair and defeat.
It was like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief associated with death. The hometown sports writers went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but at a pace akin to supersonic speed dating.
“Sometimes a dream is just … a dream. It seems so real, for so long, and then it evaporates in the blink of an eye. That’s the Warriors story – a dream season, a date with destiny and history, that ended in cold reality Sunday in a Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 93-89. Dream, meet nightmare.” Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 2016
Breaking the Cycle?
And so, the season ended. Yeah, I was happy for the City of Cleveland. After 52 years, the city deserved a break. But for me, this was tough. I had signed on for a sure thing, for success. Like I said, I yearned for clarity and simplicity.
I swore I was done. I told my husband I was done. I washed my Warriors tee shirt and pushed to the back of the closet. I pledged not to follow the team in the new season. I couldn’t take the risk of having my heart broken a second time. “Golden State Warriors, I wish you and the entire Dub Nation all the best, but count me out.”
I announced this decision to a sports buddy of mine. He just smiled and gently spoke, “You’ll be back. You’ll see. You’re part of something bigger now. You’re part of a nation, Dub Nation.”
And sure enough, it’s 12 months later. I’ve suited up again. I’ve got that damned mustard-stained tee shirt on. I’m parked in front of the TV, ready for the NBA Finals. You’re going down, Cleveland Cavs. Dub Nation will not be denied.