If anyone's been paying attention to me over the last week, you might think I'm off the Warriors bandwagon. From the standpoint of traditional bandwagoneering, which is basically ad hoc fandom, I'm a failure. My rhetoric has cooled down during the Utah series, and I even said on AOL that I kind of wanted the Jazz to advance. I didn't write anything after Friday's game because I was out of Houston for the weekend, but a more ardent Shoals might have found a way. It comes down a simple formulation, one that would make a blancher out of anyone who BELIEVES: in these playoffs, I only like the Warriors when they're winning.
Everything I've said about the Warriors refers to them as an ideal. As detailed in a previous post, under any number of circumstances this Golden State team forfeits its identity. I suppose that these gaps could be part of who they are, but I'm not referring only to the "go hot and you'll eventually go cold" rule, or "risky basketball leads to dazzling turnovers." It's the rote trading of baskets, getting banged around by Carlos Boozer, moving the ball deliberately moments in which they lose all swagger but still somehow compete. Unless they succeed or collapse in pyrotechnic fashion, my interest is deflected.
Maybe I'm a little too callous about such matters. I don't think it's a stretch, though, to say that players are sometimes more themselves than they are at times. This isn't the iconography of the poster or the highlight; rather, I'm saying that dominance is hardly generic in nature. When a star is on, his presence gets definitively asserted, and the action takes on some of the contours of his personality and style. I stop caring about a player when, for whatever reason including injury, he ceases to regularly manifest himself in this manner. Without these demonstrations, what do they stand for in my eyes? And how can I be expected to maintain loyalty when mine is to acts, not man? I'm all for humanizing sports, but make no mistake: without style, we're left only with an unknowably flat bio sheet.
I'm only now beginning to see (thanks to Silverbird) that this works differently for teams. While teams do have styles, they also represent more complex ideals. If anything, the Suns have decreased in appeal exactly because they've become nothing more than the sum of their parts; what Phoenix is the the interactions between components, rather than dependence on a shared essence or energy. The Warriors, on the other hand, mean little without their demonic zeal. I get that it's about winning and losing, but there's a poignancy to "out of character" that only a casual supporter can appreciate.
Oddly, the Spurs are another prime example of this. Fast Spurs, slow Spurs, it's all mush to me. But get them needing a late comeback, or buckets from unexpected sources, or pulling away to ruthlessly extinguish the light in the tunnel. . . then, you see their soul in sharp relief. There's a reason why San Antonio often seems to hang around listlessly, or indecisively trade baskets, until those crucial moments: then, and only then, do they realize their identity and take identity-laden action. That's how I read the Warriors' earth-scorcher on Friday, and why I seriously doubt Phoenix's chances at this point: they don't ever seem to hit on who they really are. They're becoming much like the Mavs, who fell to a Warriors team that was simply more invested in its meaning. It's not enough to just believe, or believe in the team. You have to believe in something.