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Opinion | Golden State Warriors Fandom and the Specter of Mortality

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A few weeks ago, as I watched the Golden State Warriors submit to a humiliating defeat by the Sacramento Kings, my main feeling was not frustration, anger or embarrassment. Rather, it was resignation: One day I will die.

The Warriors’ three core players — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — have been together since 2012. I remember watching their first playoff run end at the hands of the dynastic San Antonio Spurs machine and reveling in their unbounded potential. They will be back, I thought, and I was right — over the next few years they turned into the defining team of their era, combining swarming, ferocious defense with gorgeous, egalitarian offense. Curry blossomed into one of the greatest players of all time; Green, one of the best defenders; Thompson, one of the best shooters. They went to the finals six times and won four.

How this all came to matter to me is a little mysterious. But one of the charms of sports is that they are empty of inherent meaning: A ball passing through a rim has no practical import or broader significance. But that emptiness makes them a perfect vessel for the entire range of human emotions, their bite no less sharp for the low stakes. For me, the emotional tides of life as a Warriors fan have moved in strange relation to the ebbs and flows of the rest of my life.

The professional life span of an N.B.A. player is short. Players join at 19 at the earliest, and by their early 30s, if they’ve managed to stick around that long, they are often considering retirement. Rooting for basketball players means constantly being aware that they are aging. And now that the oldest players are my age, it means constantly being aware that I am aging, too.

Stephen Curry was born into the N.B.A. in 2009, at age 21. Six years later he was the league’s most valuable player. Nine years after that, in 2024, it’s clear that the end is near, both for Curry and for this team. Parts of his game that I fell in love with have faded; watching him, I can almost feel my own bones grinding against one another. The quick-twitch burst that allowed him to slip past defenders or explode from a dribbler’s crouch to a shooter’s stretch is all but spent. He operates in narrower margins, tighter windows. Flashes of the old wizardry still shine through, but these days he is more craftsman than magician.

If there is one moment for which Klay Thompson will be remembered, it is Game 6 of 2016’s conference finals. On the verge of playoff elimination, Thompson saved the season with a supernatural series of three-point shots: from oblique angles, or with legs canted in the air, or over forests of defending arms. It was everything that I had come to love about basketball compressed into one game.

The Warriors won that game and the next, sending them to the finals in a rematch against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The morning of Game 3, I went with my pregnant wife to her first ultrasound appointment, brimming with anticipation. What I remember most is the billowing silence as the nurse technician fruitlessly scanned for signs of a viable fetus and the way my wife’s palms felt so soft against my own. I did not cry until we had reached the safety of our home.

Later, without much deliberation, we decided to go through with our plans to watch the game. It was a blowout defeat. I cannot remember one half of this day without the other — the real tragedy bound up with the ersatz one. Uncannily, each made the other hurt less, like dull echoes canceling out.

Hampered by injuries and the weight of expectations, the Warriors would go on to lose the series, their historic regular-season success transforming into playoff ignominy. A few days later, my wife became suddenly and mysteriously ill, unable to stand without passing out. I carried her down the stairs of our apartment building; in the sunlight, I noticed how pale she was and began to be truly afraid. What had been diagnosed as a miscarriage turned out to have been an ectopic pregnancy. My wife’s fallopian tube had ruptured. An emergency surgery saved her life. She was still in her recovery bed when we heard that Kevin Durant would be joining the Warriors.

That next year, as the team stormed through the season, my wife’s belly swelled with new promise. The Warriors won their second championship of this run. On her due date, we braved the crowds to watch the Larry O’Brien trophy carried through the streets of Oakland.

The year after that, my son awoke in my arms as the Warriors clinched their third title. We were at a watch party, and the sight of the confetti falling around us fascinated him. Four years later, in 2022, I woke him up — and his new little brother, too — to watch the Warriors win the fourth title of the run, a memory they remind me of often.

A few weeks ago, I took my firstborn to a Warriors game: his first time seeing them in person and the last meaningful game of their elegiac regular season. Despite my nudges and suggestions, the younger Warriors players held no interest for him. He had eyes only for his favorite players: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. We arrived early to watch Curry warm up — he, too, was accompanied by his firstborn. Riley Curry was 2 during her dad’s first championship run, making a name for herself by stealing the mic and the show during the postgame news conferences. Now she was 11 and passed the ball to her dad for a few trick shots at the end of his workout. My son, watching through binoculars, correctly declared Curry “the best.”

The Warriors played from behind for most of the night. Curry conjured up some vintage late-game heroics, but it was not enough. My son, who had invested every shot with world-changing significance, took the narrow defeat with surprising equanimity. They had tried their best and come pretty close to winning, after all. I asked him what his favorite part of the game had been. “You standing up and cheering,” he said. “I just liked it.” He does not yet know why Warriors basketball had come to mean something to me, and to him. But he sensed the currents. This is how it starts, I thought to myself.