Tonight, at around 7:30 PM, at 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland, California, the Golden State Warriors will receive their championship rings. The rings will be impressive; it is likely that those who own them will cherish them more than many other items, activities, or individuals in their lives. As they consider this fact — yes, for at least one of these players, that ring will mean more than the birth of a child, or the death of a parent — a public address announcer will invite them to raise their heads as a banner is hoisted towards the rafters of Oracle Arena. This, too, will be an exciting moment. For both the ring and the banner carry considerable symbolic power: they allow the Warriors — and all who pledge allegiance to the brand, those who ascribe to whatever definition of fanhood that best suits them — to finally assume the role of reigning champions of the league. When the banner finally reaches the top of the massive concrete structure, all associated parties — thousands of fans, dressed head to toe in regalia only reserved for those who have won the postseason tournament, sweating and cussing and slapping hands with anyone in sight - will roar their delight, and scream their approval. It will be a jubilation only felt once; a fleeting sweetness that will stimulate the taste buds of those lucky enough to get a small bite. It is a pleasure that will be distinct, and a flavor that will never be experienced again. 7:30 post-meridian will be delicious in every possible respect.
Because in my mind, and within this diffuse network of individuals connected by their love of professional basketball, the championship ring carries the power to transcend logical analysis; to leapfrog all of our conventional understandings about the sport. For the fanbase lucky enough to claim it, the ring serves as the ultimate trump card, a non-expiring ticket out of hell. With the ring comes a permanent smirk, the corners of one’s mouth turned up sneeringly, eyes forever aflame with contempt for lesser opponents. With the ring comes an ability to sucker punch statistics and shank historical trends with rusty, homemade knives. Well-crafted analyses can be rejected with a simple point to the ring finger - count the ring, bitch! - and even the most docile challenges to authority are soundly quelled. No, there will be no questioning the ring; at least not while the ring holders are within vicinity. It doesn’t matter which team wasn’t played, or which players weren’t playing. All that matters is were the 16 wins from April to June. All that matters is that ring.
At least, until about 7:43 PM this evening, roughly 13 minutes after the coronation concludes. After that, the experience of getting the ring will only be of importance to the Warriors fans. Once the pyrotechnics are powered down, and the players avert their eyes from the new banner, the athletes will fall into formation, and begin to do what we have counted on them to do for as long as any of us can recall. The players will be busy playing, engaging in all the activities that are associated with playing: dribbling, jumping, passing, leaping, falling, flopping and fouling, all for our enjoyment. The fans, meanwhile, will be busy being fans, and doing all the activities that are associated with being fans: sitting, eating, drinking, staring at screens, going to games, arguing, bickering, tweeting and bleating. Warriors fans, however, will be steadfastly focused on the ring: its shape and weight, its carat and cost, and how to best go about getting as many of them as we can.
At the present moment, the NBA lacks a strong villain, and the Warriors could happily occupy that space. Beneath the Warriors’ sharply adolescent exteriors — baby-faced behemoths with scraggly peach fuzz, looking light and lithe as they play out of position — there has always been a cold cunning; a unique joy in ruining one’s day. It was a role modeled by Mark Jackson and perfected by Steve Kerr, an arc that first took flight when the mighty Mavericks fell in 2007, and gracefully landed as the clock expired in Quicken Loans Arena on that glorious night in mid-June. Long the team most preferred by casual fans due to their freewheeling on-court attitude, their laser-precise shooting and their ubiquitously swift pace, the Warriors have undergone a unique metamorphosis; a team that will slit throats with flair and panache, a team that will entertain your loved ones at your own funeral.
Championship defenders do not remain crowd favorites. We’ve already started to seen this happen; begun to perceive of the status shift. The populace at large have fallen behind the San Antonio Spurs, and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers — teams who, at times in the modern era, have been labeled as “bad guys.” The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers — frequently mentioned as teams that could’ve unseated the Warriors — are looked at as legitimate threats to undo what has been done. Even in the hodge-podge Eastern conference, the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat look to be retooled and retrofitted; ready to face the Warriors head on, and challenge their legitimacy. And perhaps they will: perhaps this celebration will be short and stilted, compromised before it even begins.
But those are concerns for others. Tonight — at least until 7:43 post-merdian — our focus is on the ring: what it means, what it bestows, and what it allows us to conceive and behold. Tonight, for a few brilliant moments, the grumbling will cease, and the doubt will fade into the pastel colors of the early evening. The ring will be adorned, and the banner will be raised. And the crowd will roar; they will roar because it is what they have earned, and for at least 13 brilliant minutes, neither person, place nor thing can take that away from them.
And we won’t be giving it up, because in about nine months, we’ll be winning it all again.