Being a Golden State Warriors fan hasn’t always been an enjoyable exercise. The team’s longstanding supporters dealt with a lot of bad basketball before recent dominance. But winning three titles in five years brings a lot of new fans for better or worse.
Warriors supporters still rank as one of the most passionate fan bases in sports, but there’s a reason the team still gets criticized for being the chosen frontrunners. Is the changing demographic of Warriors’ fans good or bad for the franchise?
Supporting the Warriors wasn’t always cool
It can be hard for people to remember this considering that the story of the Golden State Warriors has dominated the NBA for most of the past decade (and could do so again in the near future). But the team spent most of the preceding 30 years as just another mediocre team who merely aspired for brief moments of national relevance.
After winning a title in 1975, Golden State finished above .500 in 11 of the 26 seasons up to 2012, when the Steph Curry era truly got going. Only two of those seasons happened after 1995. Rooting for the team during this period meant talking yourself into the potential of players like Todd Fuller, Andris Biedrins, and Monta Ellis.
Despite the lack of success, the Warriors developed a fan base that stuck with the team through the rough times, regularly filling the Oracle Arena to watch a team finish 12th in the Western Conference. They loved the team regardless of their talent, but that made the golden (pun not intended) era of basketball in the 2010’s all the more sweet for the diehards.
Success brought a lot of new fans on board
Everything changed after Steve Kerr became head coach and encouraged a style of play that lifted an unproven core of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Even while accounting for the 3-1 collapse against the Cleveland Cavaliers, no basketball would ever dream of their team achieving more than five straight trips to the Finals, three titles, and generational superstars who play the game in the most exciting way possible.
But becoming such an overwhelming winning machine also makes you a target for fans of other teams. The team became increasingly villainized, especially after signing Kevin Durant, and their fans drew more and more accusations of being a bunch of bandwagoners.
There is some truth in the accusations. Social media isn’t always the best barometer for what’s happening in real life, but statistics clearly show that the team grew exponentially in popularity as they racked up the wins. This should not surprise anyone. Great teams draw more fans than bad teams. Most of the people who rooted for the Chicago Bulls in the 90s were not born and raised in inner city Chicago. And the fanbase still ranks as the most passionate group of supporters in the NBA. Most of the scorn thrown at the Warriors boils down to jealousy, but there is a societal reason for why the stereotype of a modern Warriors fan irks people so much.
Is there anything wrong with new Warriors fandom?
Golden State has progressively moved further away from the fanbase that stayed by their side for all those years. The team moved to the Chase Center, a massive achievement in stadium design that doubles as an example of the extreme inequality problem in the Bay Area.
The Chase Center will make the team and its owners a lot of money. Some will be funneled back into the team to return them to the championship level. But it also means the franchise is leaving a lot of its local fans behind, both literally — the Chase Center is in San Francisco and the Oracle is in Oakland on the other side of the bridge — and figuratively.
The increase in ticket prices kept approximately 30% of season ticket holders from renewing their seats before the 2019-20 season. And the ownership group who runs Golden State, which earned money from the nebulous world of venture capital, have gone out of their way to placate this group of people.
Some of the Chase Center’s features include three sets of luxury suites, an in-arena wine program, and the largest arena video screen in the NBA. (Because who wants to watch basketball in a basketball stadium?)
These are the sort of people who come to mind when people make fun of Golden State’s bandwagon. These people are not the causes of late capitalism, but they are the most visible symptoms. None of this has a tangible effect on how the Warriors play on the court. But it will change the faces who fill up the crowd — whenever fans are allowed to watch games in person again — for the foreseeable future. Whether that’s better or worse is up to you.