The story about how I became a Warriors fan isn't a new one, so skip down if you've read it before. But it's relevant. I came home from college and discovered my best friends spent the previous four years following hockey and basketball. It was 1999, and there weren't smartphones to thumb through when you wanted to ignore your friends, so I wanted to stop being left out. I knew I had the time/desire to dive into only one of those sports, so I flipped a coin.
Just as important as being a part of the conversation was that both teams were mediocre-to-bad for as long as I had been paying attention, and I wanted to get in before one of them started winning. I didn't want to be a bandwagon fan. The word is an epithet in just about any context. Bandwagon fan. No one wants to be one of those.
The coin came up Warriors. For years, I was pretty sure that it didn't come up heads or tails, but that the coin landed on its side and rolled into a litter box, but that might be an embellished memory. The Warriors finished 19-63 that season, with a 32-year-old Mookie Blaylock, Jason Caffey, Donyell Marshall, Vonteego Cummings, and Adonal Foyle leading the team in minutes. That's OK, I thought. It will just make the winning feel that much better when it happens.
(Aside: It did.)
During this year's Western Conference Finals, a former coworker texted me. He was a hockey fanatic, an absolute freak for the sport, but didn't follow anything else, as far as I knew. Here's what the text read:
You watching the warriors game?
After a little back-and-forth, he came back with this:
I started watching basketball last year and have been really into it.
Bandwagoning. The sucker was bandwagoning.
When the NBA Finals came around, I was watching one of the games on DVR, zipping through the game in the same way I had for a lot of the previous 90 games that year. I have a finely honed technique that involves fast-forwarding all free throws and anticipating the commercial breaks, and I'm a damned ninja with it. After about two minutes of this, my wife asked me to stop the DVR chicanery and watch the game like a normal person because she wanted to watch it, too.
Bandwagoning. My own family was bandwagoning.
I watched a mostly lousy team for 15 years, and now that I'm feasting on the pickled delicacy I've been working on for more than a decade, these other people want to share? This is the part where the real fans, the long-suffering people with Adam Keefe memories and other indignities, are supposed to roll their eyes. The fans of other teams can be even more acidic after a championship, too. "Look at those bandwagon fans," these righteous and pure folks grumble. "Look at them, they don't even know anything about the sport, the team, the pain, the history."
So to the bandwagoners, I say this: Hell, yes. Gimme a high-five. Let's watch this game together. I like that you like what I like, so let's bond over it. Aren't sports fun? Let's enjoy sports together. Sports sports sports sports.
As if the way other people root is going to take away from whatever fan-points I've earned over the years. As if the championship is going to feel diluted because there's someone next to me, cheering just as hard, who has never even heard of Corey Maggette's ludicrous contract.
Worrying about the way other people root and cheer would be very, very insecure of me. Also, pointless. I don't care if someone likes the Warriors because of the uniforms, because Riley Curry is adorable, or if a talking owl told them to. They're in. They've made the right choice. Every new Warriors fan gets me one step closer to a dream world where I can walk down the street and the newspaper boy, fishmonger, milkman, Ol' Pete at the flower shop, and neighborhood kids all say "Mornin', Grant! How about them Warriors?", like something out of an old-timey movie, possibly before I break into song. There's absolutely no reason why I would root against that delightful scene.
Instead of that, I'm supposed to, what, keep the team to myself? Hold the team in my hands, staring at it until I'm withered and weird, mumbling "My precious, mine, stay away" to myself? That just doesn't make sense. There is exactly one downside to the bandwagon fans: The supply of tickets is finite, and the demand for them goes up. Bandwagoners make everything more expensive.
That's it, though. And do you know what happens to some of the bandwagoners? They become hardcore fans. It can happen in a year or two, give or take. One second you're well-actuallying a bandwagon fan about why Andre Iguodala is a good player even if he shoots free throws like a trained dolphin, where hitting the rim is an accomplishment what with the flippers and all, and the next minute that bandwagon fan is using PER in an argument about why someone should be benched. Watching a team for hundreds of hours and reading thousands and thousands of words isn't something that takes decades, but it's still a conscious decision that can turn a sports fan into a sports fanatic.
The breakdown of bandwagon fans:
Weirdos who need to attach themselves to indirect success because of self-esteem: 10%
People who are just noticing how danged fun it is to watch a team this good: 90%
There's no reason to find problems with that. There's no sense in hating the people who just discovered that Stephen Curry is half-Avenger, half-Pavarotti, not unless you want to be an, Oh, I only liked them when they were playing small clubs weenie. Celebrate their discovery with them. It turns out that watching Curry is really, really, really fun. You can't put a red velvet rope around that and tell people to wait on the other side because they haven't experienced the pain of a losing season. Not when this kind of fun is happening on the other side right now.
Here's the cruel twist for bandwagon fans: The pain is coming for them. Whatever the "real" fans went through in the past, it's coming for these new fans in the future. The Warriors aren't going to win the next 20 championships. The Giants aren't going to win in every even-year season. Even the Spurs, Cardinals, and Patriots will sag, eventually. There will be shots clanking off the front of the rim as the buzzer sounds. There will be devastating injuries. There will be lost seasons.
The bandwagon fan will harden. And you know what will happen the season after that? The odds are great there will be pain again, a blown call, a coach's blunder, or a turnover at the absolute worst time. That bandwagoner's team won't win again. And they'll harden a little more. Nothing will ever be as good as that one magical season, and now they're invested even more, so they're rooting even more fiercely. The odds are against a championship run for every team, no matter how good, before the season starts.
The new fan will take all of that disappointment, shove it deep down inside, and keep it there until it's ready to come out in a celebration. It might take five years. It might take 100. They have no control over any of it, but now they're hooked. And they'll know what it's like to root for a team that makes them feel rotten, as if they've made a horrible choice with how they spend their free time.
In the meantime, they'll be right there to talk sports sports sports with you. Some of the bandwagon fans will jump off the second things go sour, sure. This is an ode to the people who stick around. Welcome, bandwagoners. You bought your sports-related mirth with a credit card. You will accumulate a helluva lot of interest over the years. You will regret nothing.