Growing up Far from Golden

Perhaps it was fitting that I had to listen to the biggest Warriors game of their last year in Oakland. It was a Friday night, and I had a show, and I was driving across the bridge from my new home in Oakland to perform in my old home in San Francisco— a drive many Warriors players will be making in five short months. Radio was my first Warriors experience: huddled next to my clock radio, under my Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond posters, learning to visualize the quick action of that Run TMC team in my bedroom in San Francisco in 5th grade.

That was the year I started playing organized basketball, at nearby Glen Park Rec Center. I’d been made hip to the game, after several exclusively baseball obsessed years, by the Cool Hippie Urban Jews who were my my de-facto cousins growing up. (They would later put me onto Robert Johnson and Reverend Gary Davis, among other revelations).

Point is, I didn’t really SEE much of that Run TMC team. Were the Warriors watchable on TV? Sorta. They occasionally broadcasted games on Channel 36, but you had to either live in the perfect beamshot between The City’s many hills, or have Cable, in which case reception was decent. We didn’t have Cable. We barely had a TV. I’d catch snatches of games at a friend’s house up the street. With three rambunctious teenage boys, and a chronically Irish New York Communist Dad, it improbably featured the best of both worlds: laissez-faire parenting, and a generous selection of consumer products — Madden ’93 football on Sega Genesis, a video camera, and yes, Cable TV.

Actually going to a Warriors game was just not considered an option in our house. The tickets were widely understood to be “way too expensive.” (I wonder what Warriors tickets actually cost in the early ‘90s? Twenty bucks? Well, for that you could get four tickets in the Family Pavilion section at Giants games, thank you very much). As a financial aid kid at private school, getting Warriors tickets was like ski trips: a thing I had to get invited to do by other kids’ parents.

Eventually, that happened, and my brother and I were gifted some nose bleeds to our first Warriors game at the Oakland Coliseum. I don’t remember much. Did Saranus Marcioulonous dunk on somebody? Did Manute fall down? Did Tyrone Hill knock down some elbow jumpers to keep it close? Did Tim Hardaway dribble through his legs fourteen times and then hit a running off balance 27 footer? Probably. I don’t remember. What I remember is listening to Warriors games on the radio.

I was OK with listening to games back then. I was less OK with having to go onstage last Friday night with Game 6 of Warriors-Rockets tied 95–95 with 8 minutes left. But the last few play-by-play updates on my phone revealed that Steph was finally hitting some shots, two threes in fact, and that inspired me to stride onstage in San Francisco, and lose myself in my characters, knowing the Dubs were letting it all hang out in Houston.

Coming off-stage 75 minutes later, I grabbed my phone as casually as possible, trying to emotionally prepare for the news of a close Warriors loss. There was one text on my phone, from the youngest of those rambunctious brothers: “Gotta Believe in Steph.”

I checked the score. 118–113. The adrenaline and emotional taxation of having become 11 other people over the last hour plus onstage made it hard for me to process what this meant. The Warriors scored 118? Wait 118 is more than 113, right? Yes. Holy shit, we won.

Back home in Oakland that night, I was able to watch a replay of the game through cable passwords from friends (in the streaming age, you don’t actually have to go to your friends house to have cable, you just need to have those friends).

The glory of the team effort. Klay hitting 3s to keep us in a crucial linchpin game as he’s done so many times. Draymond and his seemingly out of control high-leg stepping spider dribble leading the break. Iggy hitting clutch 3 after clutch 3 and passing and cutting like the old man savant he is. Looney finishing at the rim in traffic and grabbing offensive boards far beyond what his one year contract would dictate. Jerebko flying in for rebounds and loose balls as if he were the poster child for LA Gear mid ’90s: “No Fear.”

And Steph battling like a Hollywood ’80s true hero. Zero points in the first half. Foul trouble. The weight of America’s basketball junkies growing heated and calling him soft in East Coast subway cars, dismissing Steph as a handmaiden to KD’s championships.

But no, that is a false narrative. Not that it needed to be proven again to those who’ve actually followed this team. The Warriors core three: Dray, Klay, Steph, plus Iggy and Sean, that’s the team that won the first title, won 73 games, changed the way the game was played. Yes KD is an incredible scorer and player. One of the greats. He’s the offensive bail out. 10 seconds left on the shot clock, dump it to the KD on the wing. It works. But the bail out is a crutch. Ball movement goes down. And the wondrous glee of Steph’s underdog Christian Montesorri whimsy, it withers and dies.

To see that glee resurrected on Wednesday, when Steph put the team on his back and delivered a Game 5 victory after KD limped off the floor, it had the whole Bay Area thinking quietly to themselves: What if Steph could do it again? What if this team, the old Warriors, could do it not just for a quarter, but take out the Rockets in Houston? Again. This time without KD? What if they could summon that magic for a whole game?

Well the team summoned it in the first half, and Steph did for the second half, slapping cross-over dribbles across the perimeter on PJ Tucker like he was spinning jump ropes on a wet boat deck, then launching a high-arcing three that hits nothing but net. A perfect two man game with Draymond, the hand off back to Steph when the defense slumps its shoulder for half a second and bang, another dagger three! Then Draymond, left alone, and burying a huge three, the way he used to before KD came and he became a bad shooter. And finally Klay icing the game with another three, celebrating in that sweetly restrained way, like his arms are tied down, or his Grandpa told him to keep it quiet but he just can’t contain himself anymore.

We will get another playoff series with these Warriors in Oakland. The rise of Steph, starting in 2009, and the rise of the Warriors and the SF skyline and the booming dot com economy have turned the Bay from lovable underdog to much-derided overstuffed gourmand. Without KD we get to be the underdog for one more run, and we all know after this season it will probably never be the same.

I bought a TV last week to watch games at home because I know this is a once in a lifetime experience. And though listening is good, seeing is believing.

Actor, playwright, journalist, sports fan, politico.

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