Something struck me as I was walking around Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon. I was scurrying between the LA Convention Center, where the All-Star practice and media day took place, and the Staples Center, where the Saturday night festivities were.
With my face glued to my phone, I was weaving through the heavy foot traffic of the All-Star Game fans. I was watching a clip of Stephen Curry’s earlier media appearance, when something next to me caught my eye: A family of five, each wearing Curry jerseys.
I moved off of the busy sidewalk and stopped. I watched the packed street, and tried to count the myriad jerseys and shirseys passing by: Curry, Curry, Curry, Lonzo Ball, Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Curry, Durant, Curry, Ball, Curry, Brandon Ingram, Curry, Durant, Curry, James, Curry, Curry, James, Curry.
Just hours earlier, Team Stephen and Team LeBron had gone through a light practice in front of a few thousand fans. Prior to the players taking the court, the emcee asked the fans how excited they were for Team LeBron. The crowd cheered.
He then asked how excited they were for Team Stephen. The crowd erupted.
When the players were individually announced, it was Curry - not James - who got the loudest ovation.
LET THE CROWD TELL YA pic.twitter.com/HINo0VXJ6N— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) February 17, 2018
Six hours later, the Three-Point Contest contestants took the court at Staples Center. Tobias Harris, a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, received crickets. Paul George, an LA-native who has been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers with his upcoming free agency, received tepid applause.
Klay Thompson, on the other hand, was announced to a thunderous welcoming.
Klay got the biggest ovation, by FAR pic.twitter.com/mQfKJ0jjHY— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) February 18, 2018
All weekend long, this was the theme. In the city that houses two of the Warriors’ “rivals”, with 24 of the world’s greatest players on display, including one of the greatest ever, the Warriors were kings.
They got the booming ovations. They got the strongest buzz when they heated up. And they had the most jerseys, shirseys, hats, jackets, and every other form of memorabilia.
All the while, I kept thinking of Michael Jordan, and his trilogy-era Chicago Bulls. How fans came from all over the world to see him, and to see his team. It wasn’t just about basketball. And it certainly wasn’t about a franchise. It was about the player and the team being rock stars; being bigger than the sport.
At Saturday’s presser, commissioner Adam Silver lauded the landscape of NBA fandom. “We now have a social media community globally estimated at roughly 1.4 billion,” Silver said. “Last year, roughly one out of seven people on the planet, a little over a billion people, watched some portion of an NBA game.”
It’s fair to wonder how many of those billion-plus people tuned in to watch the Warriors. To wonder how many turned on their TV or tablet to see the greatest show on earth, and one of the most entertaining dynasties in professional sports history.
Because that’s what Jordan and the Bulls did, and it’s what Curry and the Warriors do. They attract fans, not just from 29 other fanbases, but from other sports, other cultures, other interests.
They pull outsiders into the sport with a presence that transcends the league. And for those of us already transfixed with this poetic game, they remind us that it’s not just about who you root for; it’s about, as Jordan always said, the love of the game.
Monday morning I went to the dentist, which was pretty fitting after a weekend spent at Staples Center. The hygienist asked me what I do, and I told her I write about basketball, and the Warriors in particular. At first she side-eyed me, and remarked, “Well, I’m a Lakers fan.”
Then she burst into a grin. “But I love the Warriors,” she exclaimed. “They’ve got Steph Curry.”