A Fan's Notes

Go Marlins! Go Panthers! Go Heat! Go to hell.

Consequently, he is not selling his teams to fans. He doesn't covet working-class diehards who spend the entire game tracking each athlete's personal quest for perfection. As the vanguard of New Greed ownership, he'd rather pack the stands with monied dilettantes who scamper up and down the aisles trading cash for merchandise.

I don't fault Huizenga for trying to lure us to his new games. Unlike the hoary old Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes, his franchises have no fan base to work with. What I find disquieting is his eagerness to dilute the fan base. There is no sense of awkwardness, or experimentation, about his teams. They look as if they have been spit, fully formed, from the head of some marketing Zeus, to be sold as trends, as novelty acts.

If you want to get some perspective on just how contrived a Wayne Huizenga production is, just check out a game at your nearest high school. I did not long ago and was enthralled to find some 3000 fans riveted by the game alone. No flashing lights. No concessions. No million-dollar contracts. Just the bleacher-rattling buzz of watching young players do battle.

According to my mother, I have rooted for the Warriors since birth. I feel she is exaggerating. But I can say that my first distinct recollections center on the legendary 1975 campaign, in which they swept the NBA championship from K.C. Jones and the burly Washington Bullets in an upset so epic as to seem ethereal. No one could quite believe it had happened.

Least of all me. I remember watching the Warriors dash off the court after game four, amid the startled silence of Washington's Capital Centre. Rick Barry. Keith Wilkes. Butch Beard. They looked like they were leaving the scene of a crime. All except Al Attles, the coach. Attles was a badass. You didn't make him run. He made you run. I was eight years old.

The Warriors have not won a championship since. The closest they came was three years ago, when they hobbled into the Western Division semifinal and were trounced by, yes, the Los Angeles Lakers. For this reason I have always held dear that '75 championship team, especially Clifford Ray, the big galoot center. Ray was the definition of workmanlike, a giant defensive rampart with clay hands who galumphed around the lane and missed several thousand lay-ups in the waning seconds. Once I read an article about how he stuck his entire arm down a dolphin's throat. I never figured out why he did this, but I remember studying the accompanying photo of Ray, shoulder-deep in dolphin mucus. His face was crinkled into a mask of giggling fatalism, as if he had just come to understand the great cosmic joke being played on all of us. The face, I decided, of a Warriors fan.

I know it would be expedient, and far less masochistic, to root for another team. But it is the Warriors with whom I have made my covenant, and if a fan is to exhibit any real rootedness to his rooting, he must abide by his covenant. "Covenant" might seem a bit weighty, but I tend to favor the Old Testament metaphor, because my long-suffering affiliation to the Warriors smacks of a certain Judaic martyrdom, which in turn allows me to regard the Los Angeles Lakers as my own personal Philistines, an image I rather like.

My friends get upset watching me watch the Warriors lose over and over. They don't understand the perverse pride a fan takes in the ritual. (Yes, it is a loss. But it is our loss.) They are, if I may risk the observation, too in love with the palliative effects of sport. Too ready to reduce it to white noise. Like the owners, they chase around winners.

They forget that before jet travel and cable TV and transplanted professionals, fans rooted for one team, the same team, all their lives. More often than not, that team lost. (The Yankees excepted.) Sport, therefore, was about learning to cope with failure. About storing faith. To pull for a losing team, or the many teams that failed to win it all, was to strengthen one's unspoken kinship with the players.

After all, most fans, had they succeeded as players, would be on the field breathing in the roar, not in the stands helping to create it.

My devotion to the Warriors has never felt quite so antiquated as it did on the night of this year's Miami Heat opener, which I attended in the hopes of cornering general manager Lewis Schaffel. For those who missed the event, a brief summary: A man on a motorcycle traversed the arena on a tightrope. A cherry bomb exploded. Burnie, the Heat mascot, conducted a laser orchestra. An Elvis imitator sang "America the Beautiful." The Heat dancers fucked the air. Bottle rockets shot across the rafters. A man won $5000 from Coca-Cola. Corporate sponsors swilled champagne. Schaffel blew me off.

Somewhere in between, the Orlando Magic thumped the Heat, 116-96.
Watching all the hoopla, it was hard to believe that just fifteen years ago, at the commencement of my fandom, the NBA was actually on the brink of bankruptcy. But by the late Seventies, half the league's teams were losing money. The problem was simple: a predominantly white fan base considered the sport too black. Too showy. Too ghetto. The one factor that keyed the resurgence of pro basketball was the decision not to obscure this "blackness" but to market it. Not only does the game emulate street ball, but the NBA ambiance has become a sanitized simulation of black urban culture (or at least the white conception of this culture). Rap music. Fly girl dancers. Slam dunks. Fast food. Call it Ghetto Lite.

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