It was a shot that shouldn’t have gone in. In that second before that wretched leather ball went through that equally sordid orange hoop I held my breath. My feelings bounced all over the place- disgust, disdain, hope, fear, anger, self-pity and finally, despair.
Those emotions are probably what most fans of lesser teams felt every time they watched Stephen Curry take the ball down the court, to launch a shot from what seemed like a mile from the hoop. Amazingly, it almost always went in and almost always the television cameras would turn its gaze towards the stands- to broadcast hundreds, if not thousands of faces twisted in anguish.
Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business America show on CCTV America. His support and heartbreak over the Golden State Warriors loss is not shared by Cleveland fans.
Now it was being done to me and probably tens of millions of others who considered themselves Golden State Warriors fans. 2016 was supposed to be the year that would have cemented my team’s place as one of the greatest to ever grace the courts of the National Basketball Association.
The Warriors’ ascent to the 2015 NBA championship was breathtaking. When they won it last year, it was so unexpected that everyone started talking about how the Warriors had ‘hacked’ the game of basketball, much like how any nerd would use a cheat code in a videogame. The way they carved up the league with three point shots and laser-like precision passing made the other teams look a step too slow and completely mismatched. When some sports pundits started throwing phrases like ‘the greatest’ and ‘unbeatable’ around, I felt vindicated for staying loyal all those very lean years as a long-suffering fan.
I can’t really remember how I became a Warriors die-hard but maybe it had something to do with me being a mediocre member of my high school varsity basketball team. Since I wasn’t really any good at the sport, I think I felt an affinity for the Warriors.
My favorite Golden State player during that period was Chris Mullin, probably the whitest man to ever play basketball. He wasn’t gifted physically, wasn’t very fast, could barely dunk even with a running start and had an odd looking lefty jump shot. But even with those limitations, he became an all-star for two reasons: he could shoot the lights out on any given night and probably had one of the highest basketball IQs in the league. Mullin couldn’t outrun or jump higher than his peers but he knew how to maximize his limited skills. He inspired me.
Just like him, I was just a tad slower than most of the players in my high school league. And I fancied myself as someone with basketball smarts as well. I thought if Mullin could make himself a star, so could I- at least in high school. But I turned out to be a very average player. The one thing going for me was my height- which is never really an indicator of how good a basketball player will be. But I digress.
I also admired Mullin because he was wrestling with a darkness that almost consumed him. Early in his career he admitted that he was an alcoholic- even playing some games intoxicated. Mullin was suspended that year and checked into rehab. But after that, his NBA career took off.
The late 1990s and early aughts were forgettable years for most Warrior fans. Except for a miraculous 2007 season where they beat a great team in the playoffs, they disappointed me year in, year out. I remained a fan nevertheless.
But thanks to a few seismic shifts within the Warriors organization in 2010, everything would change. First, the team changed owners that year.
For 16 years it was owned by Chris Cohan, and in that span of time the Warriors went to the playoffs once. I somewhat disliked him for years of missteps that made my team the league’s most irrelevant. So when a group of Silicon Valley billionaires bought the team for $450 million, I cheered.
But I thought then a change in ownership wouldn’t mean much. I also believed it would take at least a decade for them to build the team up again. Second, that group of extremely successful tech entrepreneurs started shaking up the management culture.
Of course we all know what happened in the 2014-2015 season when Stephen Curry and company finally turned into the team the whole league envied.
Coming into the 2015-2016 season, the Warriors were the team to beat. To make a very long story short, they blitzed the league and set the record for most wins during the regular season. Early on, the basketball world thought it was just a matter of time before the Warriors ripped through the playoffs en route to their second straight title. Some were even saying that the Warriors had become the greatest team of all time.
My mistake was believing that they actually were the best team to ever play the sport. I had crossed over from a reasonably smitten Warrior fan to a completely rabid one. They could do no wrong. I spewed vitriol and hatred towards pundits who dared doubt the greatness of my team. Everyone was trying to take them down a notch and I couldn’t understand why. I became arrogant because of my team’s success and anyone who thought they didn’t deserve it was my enemy.
I think that was when I stopped having fun watching games. The last month of the regular season was excruciating. They lost close games I thought they should have won and injuries to key players worried me. Every game was stressful, and by the time the playoffs kicked off I truly disliked watching my the Warriors get challenged every single game.
After slugging it out with a few elite teams, my team was bruised and battered- just like my psyche. But they made it to the Finals. It was a rematch of last year’s championship which they won handily. It was going to be a formality. The Cavaliers would lie down and die like their city did in the 1970s and my team would be remembered as the greatest of all time. But it wasn’t meant to be.
After pulling ahead three games to one, the Warriors looked like a lock to win another championship. I didn’t know then that the last three games of the series would be the most painful ones I’d ever sit through at anytime in my life. Within a matter of weeks, my team had gone from the league’s elite to a shaken one with an existential crisis.
Everything they used to do with ease now seemed impossible. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson couldn’t throw the basketball into the Pacific Ocean even if they tried. Draymond Green turned into a petulant child with a penchant for punching and kicking other players in the unmentionables. He eventually got himself suspended. It seemed like everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.
But still, I believed. I thought the Warriors would redeem themselves in the last 48 minutes of the season. It wasn’t meant to be.
It would start with what’s become known as ‘the block’. Warriors forward Andre Iguodala was going full tilt down the court on a fast break. He outran everyone, including Lebron James. But in that second when Iguodala jumped into the air for a layup, time seemed to stop. Within that second, James recovered and launched himself- with his head nearly at the rim- and slapped the ball against the backboard.
I couldn’t believe it. Even in the replays, Lebron looked like he was moving while everyone seemed to be frozen. It was almost Matrix-like. The block still stings my psyche everytime I see it on replays and cruel memes sent to me by my so-called friends.
But miraculously the game was tied going into the last minute and a half.
I think that’s when Steph Curry decided he was going to save the Warriors season. You could see the determination in his face. Doing his usual stutter step and behind the back dribble to get himself free of his defender behind the 3-point arch, he prepared to launch his shot. But unlike other countless times where he shook the man guarding him, his defender was right in his face.
He launched the shot from 23 feet anyway. It didn’t even graze the rim, instead bouncing off the backboard. Ugly, ugly, ugly. I saw Curry do several face-palms for making such a bone-headed decision. But I said to myself it’s OK, no one on the court could buy a shot.
Then came Kyrie Irving up the court. I was terrified of the guy. He wasn’t much a threat last year because he was hurt- eventually sitting after the first few games of the championships because he had a busted knee. That bitter defeat lit a fire under him and he was a man on a mission this year… and it showed.
He was schooling Steph in a major way. He was moving faster and jumping higher than his counterpart. Curry, two-time MVP, couldn’t keep up. You could tell Kyrie was starting to smell blood.
I don’t know if I imagined this, but I swear I saw an impish grin slowly make its way across his face when he got the ball with just a minute left. Kyrie went straight for Curry who was waiting right at the three point line. Irving was jab-stepping, dribbling behind the back, and daring Steph to go for the ball.
And in an instant, he was in the air, beyond the three-point arch. I knew then that it was over for the Warriors. That ball didn’t even touch the rim. Nausea took hold of me as the ball ripped the net, putting the Cavs up for good. I wanted to throw up but I couldn’t.
All the historical significance of that record breaking regular season win tally vanished in a second. All that adversity, the doubt, all the vanquished haters, all the moral victories… all for naught. I reached for my remote and turned the TV off. I knew most of the Dubs and their fans would be in shock, if not in tears.
I don’t even remember what I told my friend but judging from the look on his face when he finally looked at me, all the blood had been drained from my head the instant that shot went in.
Everything after that was a blur. I can’t even remember when my friend left but I didn’t sleep much that night. I think most of my thoughts centered around how much (expletive) my so-called friends were going to lay on to me. Because I believed that my team was one of destiny, I felt that everything in my life was finally falling into place.
When the Warriors season ended I realized just how much power and meaning I ascribe to things and events I can’t control. It’s kind of silly that my team losing would make me wax philosophical but it did that night. It made me think of the nature of loss and what sporting competitions stand for.
What I came up with weren’t breathtaking pieces of insight. Contests, particularly athletic ones, give us a sense of power, of being in the right and in the know especially if your team has a tradition of winning championships. It’s as if their successes are yours as well, even if your life is a train wreck in progress.
Because at the end of any sporting event, you still have to go home and face your family, cook dinner, go to sleep early and head to work in the morning to earn your living. It’s not like your team winning a championship will raise your station in life, but still, it makes you think that you can share in that greatness.
Professional sports teams are ridiculous because they really don’t carry much significance beyond what some academics say are proxies for the innate human need to wage war. The mindset of ‘to the winner go all the spoils’ is what drives most conflicts or wars of domination. Back in the day, you just had to club your fellow neanderthals to death if you wanted to take his wife, food or home. Or at least that’s how I imagine how it went with my ancestors. That’s why we eventually came up with sport to keep us from killing each other. Year in, year out I think the athletics have more than sated our desires to crush, maim and destroy other countries and peoples.
But that gives the world’s most dominant athletes outsized influence on society. Why does a 7 foot gazillionaire behemoth who can move like a cheetah and put the ball through the hoop better than anyone else in the world have more influence than an out-of-shape middle aged man making $40,000 a year making sure your local neighborhood supermarket parking lot is safe?
Newsflash to self and everyone else in the whole wide universe: life isn’t fair and will never be. And contrary to my belief that karma exists in the world of athletics, professional sports are also never, ever fair.
P.S. Just to rub more salt in my gaping wound of Warriors fandom, one of my friends who’s never forgiven me for making fun of his team sent me a shirt just to remind me that the record my team set doesn’t mean diddly squat in the grand scheme of the brutal world of professional sports. It’s a Golden State Warriors shirt- with the iconic silhouette of the Bay Bridge on the front. It’s a very pretty shirt until you look at the back… here’s a pic of it: