Warriors

How much do Warriors and Capitals fans have in common?

How much do Warriors and Capitals fans have in common?

The Washington Capitals have shown us the true relationship between teams and their fans, and neither should necessarily be crazy about the view.

In losing yet another playoff series . . . another playoff series before the conference final . . . another seventh game . . . the Capitals have been declared as proud members of the Chokers Club, outpointing all other perpetually not-quite-good-enough maybe since the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And because the Caps as players and the Caps as fans must by rule of law view this latest failure, a 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, completely differently, they must view each other with greater suspicion.

Here are the raw facts: the Capitals have existed for 42 years and made the playoffs 27 times. They have won no Stanley Cups, and played for only one. They have lost one conference final, 11 second rounds and 14 first rounds, and been blown out earlier than they believed they should be in nine of the past 10 years.

And fans remember every cruel cut. There are only two players – Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – who played on all those teams, so that the weight of all that history lands on only them and not the other players, but the fans know all of it and define their Caps experience through all of it.

Players? They come and go, except of course for Ovechkin and Backstrom. They disavow the history they have contributed to, and the fans want them to feel their pain, their way, through their prism.

Of such dichotomies do teams and fans part ways, usually in anger.

By way of comparison, Warriors fans have often been upheld as among the best in sports because they loved a series of horrific teams and stuck out the lean decades for what they are getting now, a potentially epochal organization.

But their circumstances are different because they have actually had one disappointing playoff series in the last 41 years, two if you want to count the 2014 first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers – and that series, last year’s championship, was quickly papered over by their successful acquisition of Kevin Durant.

In other words, it’s easy to be a Warrior fan. Caps fans, on the other hand, have had a lot of teaspoons of success when they have promised themselves ladles of it, and they need to blame someone for their unrequited love.

Guess who that’s going to be.

Now this is a generalization as these things must be. Most Caps fans will re-up for another run next year, fully knowing what is likely to happen.

But they will also look at their team with more jaundiced eyes because in their hearts they will suspect if not absolutely know that the players run from the team’s history as the fans are forced to endure it. The mostly mythical sense of community between fan and team is at quiet war with itself in Washington because the town wants the players to feel their decade of pain while the players want to limit their pain to this one series, and forget the history that is now its own creature.

That doesn’t work, not in the faux-romantic way sports is supposed to work. The Brooklyn experience has been much romanticized 60 years on because everyone knows that there’s the payoff in 1955, but also because every Dodger failure of that decade came at the hands of another New York team and fans of that era could do battle with each other in defense of their own.

Caps fans have none of that. Despite the idea that the Pittsburgh Penguins are their bête noire, they have also lost to the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers in the past 10 years. And despite the sense that they can’t win Game 7s, they beat the New York Islanders two years ago in seven and Boston in 2012.

No, it’s the broad tapestry of failure that the fans get, and that the players want to deny. It’s the fans’ sense of predestination fighting with the players’ sense of one-off events. And they can look at each other and say in unison for very different reasons, “You just don’t get it.”

Now there may be a point where the Caps break through all of it, probably now that nobody expects it, and they will be able to hug it out with the customers and laugh at the hard times – kind of the way old Warriors have come to grips with their few playoff series and long stretches of bilious treacle.

But for now it’s too soon, and too raw. Too many Caps fans speak the language of a decade, and too few Caps want to speak with them on those terms. They are like two people who speak different languages and are probably happier doing so, because knowing what the other is thinking can only lead to a bar fight.

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

warriors-confused-us.jpg
AP

The lesson of this second-place Warriors team at the All-Star break

And so ends a thoroughly confusing half-season for the Golden State Warriors – doing all the things you love and hate them for in one fell swoop.
 
In losing, 123-117, at Portland, they showed their full game. Big game by one of the Gang Of Four (Kevin Durant this time)? Check. Lousy start? Check. Big rally after lousy start? Check. Defensive lapses? Check. Impassioned yet disgusted pregame soliloquy by Steve Kerr on the manifest inadequacies of modern American thought? Check, and mate.
 
Of those things, the Kerr attack on the Florida school shooting was the most meaningful development of an otherwise meh evening, but Kerr’s having to explain to us again what we should already know is almost a default position now – like everything else about this season.
 
The Warriors go into the All-Star Break in second place in the Western Conference, which is pretty much what they deserve. They have lost the standings initiative through the sin of boredom, and even if leading the conference at the All-Star Break is essentially meaningless (which it is), it is still fascinating to see so many people buying the argument that “they’ll get it together when they need to get it together.” Never has the argument that the regular season doesn’t matter been put so succinctly; not even Sam Hinkie and his Process fetish did it as well.

In other words, Kerr's latest attempt to re-focus the players lasted about as long as you figured it would.

Things can certainly change between now and June; most NBA observers are still banking on it. The notation “pulled attention span, questionable” does not enter their thoughts. They still see the Warriors as clearly superior in any series, and barring catastrophic injury regard them as essentially invulnerable over a seven-game series – which is an interesting analysis given that they’ve only played two, and lost one of those.
 
But unless the Warriors put on a game-by-game pyrospectacular from this point forward and wipe out all traces of this half-plus of the season, this year will be remembered as the oddest of their run. They seem to have given in to their own hype, believing as we all do that they are merely a toggle switch that only needs an educated thumb to start the engines churning again – which they might well be, no matter how occasionally dissatisfying that may seem to the proletariat.
 
If they win their third title in four years, they will meet expectations without exceeding them, and this season is the first of their four long and delightful seasons that actually seems to be providing more length than delight. This is not condemnation, but rather a reminder that not every plan goes according to plan, and winning gets harder each time it is accomplished. That is the lesson of 2018 – so far, anyway.

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Is anybody listening? Steve Kerr and the sports world louder than our leaders

Steve Kerr is hurt and disillusioned and angry. He is completely fed up with government inertia in the face of epidemic gun violence that frequently manifests itself in mass shootings such as that which occurred Wednesday in Florida.

The Warriors coach is on this subject among the broadening chorus of voices, every one of them existing in a vacuum.

Everybody hears it, every time, but those within power structure never listen, for if they truly did they would take responsible preventive action.

In the wake of this latest tragedy it was evident Kerr, even as he prepared to coach the Warriors against the Trail Blazers in Portland, was particularly shaken.

His visage wore the news of another unhinged soul shooting up a school. At least 17 are dead, the vast majority of them students at Majory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. And the casualty count is likely to rise.

“Nothing has been done,” Kerr said with visible contempt. “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death, day after day, in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country, to actually do anything. And that’s demoralizing.

“But we can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they’ve financed their campaign.”

Yes, he went there. Kerr urged American voters to seek out and support political candidates independent of the powerful National Rifle Association and, therefore, willing to generate momentum toward enacting responsible gun laws.

He barely bothered to address the current government, opting instead to plead with the voting public. Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

There is every indication that voices such as that of Kerr will not be silenced. He spoke passionately and from personal experience. His life was touched by gun violence in the most extreme fashion when his father, Malcolm, an educator, was assassinated at a school in Beirut 34 years ago last month.

Kerr is not alone in this quest for action. Many others joined in.

Former player Steve Nash, a Warriors consultant bound for the Hall of Fame, expressed his feelings on Twitter: “The rest of the world is having success prohibiting access to guns. I don’t see what the debate is about. It’s not working here. People are dying at alarming rates. If you value guns more than life and safety I don’t understand.”

Jared Dudley, a member of the Phoenix Suns and one of more respected veterans in the NBA, spoke up via Twitter: “So sad man! Gotta change theses Gun laws! I’m tired of the slogan guns don’t kill people only people kill people.. Change the Law!”

Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell kept his message to six words, printing “End gun violence” on his right shoe and “Pray for Parkland” on his left.

Mitchell’s mother is a teacher.

Here’s Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins: “How do we stop this? When will there be proactive change from our government leaders to address the complexity of why this keeps happening? Praying for those affected in Parkland. And Orlando, and Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and every other senseless and tragic shooting.”

And former NFL player Damien Woody: “I’m just over here thinking about how we as a society use the term ‘pro life’ . . . days like today doesn’t do it justice.”

And Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, quote tweeting the obligatory “prayers and condolences” tweet from President Trump: “Yea.. but the fact is that they AREN’T safe. Just more rhetoric and no action. WAKEUP!!!!”

Is anybody listening?

Anybody?

Wednesday was the 45th day of this calendar year -- and the 18th school shooting. Quick math tells us that equals two every five days, 10 every 25 and 20 every 50.

Many children of color grow up with violence. Studies have proved that the experience traumatizes them to varying degrees. There are neighborhoods all across these United States in which children are as afraid of law enforcement as they are of street gangs. It’s how they grow up.

The powerlessness and apprehension is growing each day. And each time our elected leaders choose to look the other way while holding open their duffle bags to accept NRA cash, the sense of despair gets deeper.

How many children will go to school today and tomorrow and all the days after that feeling anxieties they should not have to bear in a so-called civilized society?

They’ll be looking over their shoulders. They’ll be wondering about the student whose temper is a bit too quick and hot. They’ll be trying to avoid the student who is too much of a loner or makes threats. They’ll be wary of the bully and the bullied. They’ll be trying to escape those that pose with firearms on social media.

The despair is real, and if you look into the eyes of the young you can feel it.

“Hopefully, we’ll find enough people first of all to vote good put people in,” Kerr said. “But, hopefully, we can find enough people with courage to actually help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues, not building some stupid wall for billions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety, but actually protecting us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semiautomatic weapons just slaughtering our children. It’s disgusting.”

Kerr is among those willing to speak up and advocate for change. There are others. And they will be joined by many more who will make it their mission to follow the example of most every civilized society.

If the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, a single day, could persuade our government to take steps to make air travel safer, how many deadly events does it take to grow the principle and power to say no to the NRA and yes to the safety of children?

Is anybody listening?