It was hard to find anyone who begrudged Cleveland fans their championship 12 months ago. The fanbase had suffered through decades of losing and crushing defeats; there had been tears and screams and, yes, even flames. The collective futility of the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns had endured year-round, one failed season rolling into the next. And all the sports misery occurred at a time when the city and the entire region of northeast Ohio was struggling just to survive. So only the cruelest of souls were upset by the sight of a million people in the streets of Cleveland celebrating the city’s good fortune.
Good luck finding a person alive who feels the same way about Warriors fans. Golden State are two wins away from winning their second NBA title in three years and entering the conversation about the greatest basketball teams of all time. They’re also two wins away from making Warriors fans perhaps the most despised in all of American sports.
All due respect to the widely loathed supporters of the Patriots, Yankees, Cowboys and Lakers, but the Warriors are building a fanbase that could dwarf them all for unlikability. Golden State fans’ negatives are on a hockey stick growth curve as Oracle Arena increasingly fills with – apologies for the poor attempt at using Silicon Valley lingo – brogrammers who truly believe they offer a value add to the organization. (And for the sake of clarity, it is this new breed of fan that attracts ire, rather than the Warriors supporters who pulled for the team even during the bad old days.)
Part of the problem is simple demographics. Bandwagon jumpers are considered to be the lowest form of fan – even below drunk, belligerent and face-painted – whereas the diehard, thick and thin, fan-since-birth group is the most respected. Because of the massive influx of people into northern California with the tech boom, many of those filling the choice seats at Oracle Arena have ties to the region that are tenuous even compared to those of Kevin Durant. Yet they’re cheering their hearts out for their beloved Warriors every night, while across the street the last place A’s – with the second-worst attendance in all of baseball and portions of the upper deck covered in tarp – don’t seem to have captured the imagination of Silicon Valley big wigs. The new Warriors fan has not suffered anything near the sports heartache of a Cleveland lifer. Their toughest season to endure was one in which the Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games. Sad!
The biggest example of the new strain of Golden State fan is none other than Joe Lacob himself, the team owner. Born in Massachusetts, he grew up a Celtics fan before his family relocated when he was a teenager to Los Angeles … upon which he became a Lakers fan. Who knew that kind of swap in loyalty was even legal? But avoiding charges, Lacob started a venture capital firm in the late 80s, became part owner of the Celtics in 2006 (another flip!) and then majority owner of the Warriors after the 2010 season. Like the worst Silicon Valley stereotype, he credits tech culture for his team’s success, telling the New York Times Magazine last spring: “We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team. We’re light years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things. We’re going to be a handful for the rest of the NBA to deal with for a long time.”
Lacob is undoubtedly correct that his team is positioned to win for a long time, but that has more to do with hitting on Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft – a selection that came before Lacob arrived – and the ensuing benefits Curry’s abilities have afforded (on an under-market contract, mind) than it does with any sort of ingenious tech management style we in the small-brained community can’t comprehend. The Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings also have owners with tech backgrounds, don’t they? But their tech culture hasn’t created much success without the likes of Curry and Durant (who is deeply involved in Silicon Valley himself) on the rosters. Having an owner that irks is a near-necessity for despised teams, however – see Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft – and Lacob goes the extra mile there with his comments on how he and his fiancee had sex alongside the Larry O’Brien Trophy following Golden State’s 2015 title win. Thinking of that is like Uber but for vomiting.
Lacob and his fellow tech gazillionaires have also priced many of Golden State’s long-time fans out of the market (and insulted Rihanna while they’re at it). The average ticket price for a Warriors home game increased nearly 300% from the 2006-07 season ($26.63) to last year’s 73-9 campaign ($79.84). The Warriors also had the fourth-highest average ticket price in the entire NBA. Lifelong Golden State fans, ones who can’t afford to spend $400 on a juicer that doesn’t actually work, undeniably exist and in large numbers; the Warriors have always had good support even in down years, but a lot of those diehards have lost their tickets to multi-millionaires who invented an app you have never heard of. It’s hard to associate Warriors fans now with anything other than the tech bros we see ringing the lower bowl at Oracle Arena every game. And that’s while they’re still at their present venue: they will soon move from their traditional home in Oakland to wealthier (and tech-ier) San Francisco.
Is some of it jealousy? Oh, no doubt. More than some. If the Warriors didn’t win, their fans would be easily ignored. Same with Patriots fans. They wouldn’t be worth the energy for hatred. And few among us would turn down a high-paying Silicon Valley job that afforded piles of cash to spend on seeing the NBA’s greatest team up close. But it’s all too much. Too easy. And it’s being done with a finesse, don’t-get-too-dirty playing style that is just too Silicon Valley. The one area of the country where you can get millions dumped on you for conceiving a quarter of a half-baked idea shouldn’t also get to have the most dominant professional sports team in a generation. It’s not fair.
But the new Warriors fan will surely take being loathed by the rest of sportsdom in exchange for a string of championships. And all we’ll be able to do is watch it happen on whatever devices they sell us next.