It was a special night for the Santa Cruz Warriors last Friday.
They had a ring ceremony prior to the season opener and the players were surrounded with reminders that they were a championship team, despite having just four players remaining from the previous season.
The trophy and banner were displayed, but also James McAdoo and Shaun Livingston from the Golden State Warriors came out to support them.
NBA D-League President Malcom Turner along with Santa Cruz Warriors President Jim Weyermann and Golden State Warriors Assistant General Manager Kirk Lacob passed out the rings and coach Casey Hill got to say a few words as well.
"We were able to capture the championship together as a family. And we're only going to keep getting stronger," Hill said.
This statement of family is not a trivial or cliché one for the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Fittingly, with Kiwi Gardner playing abroad, his grandfather Luvell Gardner was in attendance to accept the ring on his behalf. However, the family atmosphere is not limited to the team and staff — it extends to the fans.
Heather Thompson came to watch the game with her children on Friday night, her eyes peeled and her cheers loud the entire time.
"Born and raised in Santa Cruz, I just love coming to these games because it's so exciting to be doing something locally as a community," Thompson said.
And everyone I spoke with was a die hard SeaDubs fan and a Santa Cruz local. Tim Grieves comes to games a couple times a month and he really believes in every players ability to make it to the NBA.
"I really believe each and every player can make it to the Golden State Roster," Grieves said.
With a tight knit community of fans, comes a love for not only a team but each individual player, and Grieves is just one example of a fan like this.
Grieves came to watch the game with his friend Calvin Chaney, who enjoys coming to games as often as possible for the energy in the arena.
"There's a lot of great energy here. It's never quiet. And it's a guaranteed win," Chaney said.
With the pressure of championship-level expectations and a sold out arena for their rival team you would think the Santa Cruz Warriors would be a little stressed out.
However, there was not one worried face in all of Kaiser Permanente Arena on Friday evening
While maybe some of that was adrenaline leftover from the championship, what really created this laid back, worry-free vibe was the fans. In some ways, the SeaDubs have gradually grown into a subculture of its own and when you attend a game, that sense of community makes up for the cramped, poorly air conditioned space.
And I think the community helped Santa Cruz win with authority against their rivals, the Bakersfield Jam, 104-87 on Friday.
Daniel Orton leads Santa Cruz to victory
Starting line up for SCW:
Starting line up for Jam:
Derek Cooke Jr.
The Warriors pretty much dominated each quarter —the Bakersfield Jam were almost always 10 points behind. The Warriors had 14 steals from the Jam all in all.
Recently-acquired Daniel Orton quickly proved what an important asset he would be to the game when he dunked within the first five minutes.
Orton, who wasn't added to the team roster until Thursday, scored 22 points on 9-of-12 from the field.
End Q1: Santa Cruz Warriors lead Bakersfield 33-21. Orton with 11 points and Williams with 8 for Santa Cruz.— Sea Dubs Central (@SeaDubsCentral) November 14, 2015
SCW lead at half time 62-42— Amanda Edwards (@amayedwards) November 14, 2015
Just under 3mins left in the final frame! Huddling up with the 17-point advantage! pic.twitter.com/NPBcE99ecF— Santa Cruz Warriors (@DLeagueWarriors) November 14, 2015
Final: SCW beats Bakersfield 104-87. Daniel Orton 22 pts, Elliot Williams 23 pts, Darington Hobson 19 pts. SCW 4-0 in season openers.— Sea Dubs Central (@SeaDubsCentral) November 14, 2015
After the game was over, I sat back and watched as each fan got up from their seat and made their way out of the arena. Many of them stopped along the way, said hello and gave hugs to other fans they knew and probably see often at these games.
Just yet another reminder that locals come to the arena not only to support the SeaDubs, but also to be around this welcoming community.