The Warriors at Chase Center in San Francisco
On this night, it didn't get better. Photo by Liliana Michelena

Fully dressed in Stephen Curry threads, a short man sets the tone for other 50 people in the outdoor bleachers of Chase Center. It is December 2023, Draymond Green is still suspended, and Jonathan Kuminga’s third-year jump is yet to infuse some spirit into the Golden State Warriors, the team and its followers. So far, it’s a no-show at home versus the league-best Boston Celtics.

Swinging from crestfallen to boisterous with every bit of Dubs hustle, Sammy Gutiérrez, 34, laments time passing them by, his bones “cracking like Klay’s,” and the team’s struggles taking a toll on the fans. Even he will be hanging up the Curry gear soon, shedding the uniform and dressing like a civilian again, because “I’m not young anymore, and buying all this stuff is a lot of money.”

Acceptance can be a hard ask, but it is key.

“It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” So said Joan Didion in her much-referenced final essay of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” a tale of youthful pull to a place where life felt like a dream, and her disillusionment when that life became a bit of a slog. Not always, but way too often. Not just hard as in difficult, but as in painful.

“Was anyone ever so young?” Didion asked. So did Dub Nation.

So did Klay Thompson, whose 2023-24 level of play and emotional trajectory has been tied up with that of Warriors fans, with highs that resembled any Game 6, and subterranean lows in the face of harsh evidence that basketball mortality is real. It’s hurt him to find that out so publicly, and it’s hurt the faithful.

Like many out there, Hayward’s Eddie Jones, plugged into the Dubs since the We Believe era, sees the end of this run drawing near. “You can only tip your hat, ride it and hope for the best.”

No one in that December crowd wanted to trade the core. Not one even booed the players who delivered them some of the best days in their lives.

Then, the magic happened: the Dubs locked in for the second half, Kuminga stole all rebounds, and Curry sent the Celtics “night-night” with the loftiest of rainbow threes. Fans chanted “WAAAAARRRRRIOOOOORS” from Mission Bay to Embarcadero, as if they had just witnessed an overtime victory that sent them to the NBA Finals.

The celebration was for much less but, in a way, for much more. Not for what once was, but for what still is. The Warriors blew out the ashes and made fire again.

Did we figure it out?

It has happened plenty of times since the 2021-22 NBA Championship: the Warriors never quite flip the switch for more than a few games in a row. They lack the size. They lack some pieces. Even with everyone healthy, they always seem to be a few adjustments away from their best version. And yet, as the media wrote their obituaries of the once-unbeatable dynasty felled by its own ambition with the two timelines, they have managed to remain combative. For a play-in team, that is.

“I feel good about our level of competitiveness,” Steve Kerr said in early February, as Draymond’s return, Klay’s adjustment to his new reality and Wiggins recovering his pulse started to unlock some of the Dubs’ best play since their last ring. Then came the tightening up and the new lineup of Curry, Podziemski, Wiggins, Kuminga and Green, which has unlocked their pace, bolstered athleticism at the forward positions and allowed Green more space to create which, in turn, relieves Curry of some of his heavy workload.

As for Klay, he cares so much, it is heartbreaking for fans to deal with his lack of a poker face. But he is finding his footing again, adjusting to his new role and, like he told The Ringer, plotting his own follow-up to Reggie Miller and Ray Allen’s effectiveness well into their late 30s.

 “I deserve to have fun, and I deserve to play with swagger,” he said.

But even if that means running hot-and-cold every other game — and, in certain crunch times, very, very ugly — you can tell the people respect his on-the-go corrections, because noise in the arena has changed. The rumor that made even the bartenders in the arena confess that something felt very off has subsided in recent weeks.

A group of people are sitting on steps watching a projection of snowflakes.
Same sh*t, different day: Dubs fans watch Denver dismantle the Warriors in December. The Warriors have lost seven consecutive games to the Nuggets dating back the past two seasons. Photo by Liliana Michelena

Midnight hits, pumpkin again

“Steph is fatigued,” is the most recent of tacit admissions that this season’s running mates were never enough. Not in this state. Too green. Off-key. Hobbled. Not even playing.

On Sunday, Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets were the wall that spelled regression to the mean. The small Warriors could only hold the defending champions off for about 15 minutes of playing time, and closed the game with yet another display of fourth-quarter woes.

Outside the arena, fans held on to hope until Steve Kerr waved the white flag, in a display of either loyalty or toxicity. Their squad remained unchanged through the trade deadline, so this is who they are. With the core committed to figuring it out together rather than winning apart, Dub Nation is also embracing a new way to live: squeezing every last bit of this ride.

“We’ll be fine as long as CP3 stays in the bench,” added an unnamed bartender at one of Thrive City’s drinking holes.

Resentment: Just as hard to quit as the Warriors.

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1 Comment

  1. What the Dubs this year lack in basketball prowess, they more than make up in melodrama. There are storylines within storylines, with a cast of characters, whose idiosyncratic and larger than life personalities combine to give losing a sitcom charm. What’s up with Wiggs? Will New Klay find Old Klay but is Old Klay now too old? Is GP2 more valuable than CP3? Will Draymond take a couple games off to contend for the heavyweight title? And did I mention, what’s up with Wiggs? You might expect the team to break out in song when Steph hits a 3 from half court to win a game. Win? OMG!! Don’t worry guys. If you miss the playoffs, you can take the show to Broadway.

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