BOSTON — As Stephen Curry emerged from an arena tunnel for his pre-game warm-up routine, he was the center of gravity, drawing fans to him as he often does with defenders on the field.
The Golden State faithful in the stands – who appeared to be in the dozens – hung sneakers and posters in the tunnel for Curry to sign, or leaned over each other to get a better view. Ian Rea, a 16-year-old driving with his parents from Saint John, New Brunswick, held up a sign that read, “Steph, if you sign my shirt, I’ll cut all my hair.
Curry’s meticulous combination of jumps, floats and trick shots with a dash of goofiness is the basketball equivalent of watching Louis Armstrong perform ranges on the trumpet.
Curry didn’t end up signing Rea’s poster. But several rows away, watching Curry run his own scale, Matt Velasquez, 49, a flight attendant, wistfully contemplated the concept of basketball mortality on Friday night, with Golden State then a game against the Celtics in the final of the NBA.
“You may be coming to the end of an era,” said Velasquez, a native of Danville, Calif. He and his friend Dale Villasenor flew across the country just to watch Game 4 in Boston. They each spent $2,500 to sit in the box section. Velasquez, a lifelong Golden State fan, said he tries never to miss a home game in person.
The fan base is not at a crossroads yet. Curry, 34, hasn’t said anything about retiring, and Golden State could end up winning this series. It’s tied, 2-2, with Game 5 on Monday.
The other two hard-core stars, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, are only 32 years old. But age creeps up on us all — and in the basketball years, all three of them are in their 50s and eligible for Social Security. There probably aren’t many races left with these players performing at an elite level.
Villasenor, 49, a dentist from Walnut Creek, Calif., recalled what life was like as a Golden State fan before Curry was drafted with the seventh pick in 2009 when the team was playing at Oracle Arena in Oakland instead of the Chase Center in San Fransisco.
“We used to watch games where we would just hang around and just watch the All-Stars go by,” Villasenor said.
Now Golden State is the draw. Usually when Golden State plays road games, a large contingent of its fans show up. The team is among the NBA leaders in road attendance. Sometimes it’s about having one of the biggest stars in the world on your team in Curry, a top jersey seller.
In Boston, however, a city with a long basketball history, road jerseys were harder to spot on Friday night. Trying to track down a Golden State fan was like playing Where’s Waldo? but for flecks of gold and blue instead of Waldo’s red and white. Every seat in the arena was draped in a white and green Celtics jersey that read, “It’s All About 18,” a reference to Boston’s pursuit of an 18th championship.
This NBA Finals is a contrast in legacies. Golden State has won six titles, including three in the past seven years. His dominance has mostly come in the 21st century, when the Celtics are steeped in nostalgia – nostalgic for the days of Bill Russell and Larry Bird, with just one championship since 1986.
This created different reputations for supporters of each franchise. The recent success, as Chris Swartzentruber, 30, an insurance agent from Kalona, Iowa, put it, is appealing to recent fans.
“I don’t know any Celtics fans on the move,” he said. “I know a lot of fans of the Warriors bandwagon.”
Not that Swartzentruber is the purest fan himself. He said he was only rooting for Thompson, not the team. He has followed the team to several games in the finals since 2015 to watch them play and, as expected, he donned a Thompson shirt to take part in Game 4. For this trip, he traveled alone from Kalona to sit on the edge ground. His ticket was $3,500. His fandom stems in part from the fact that he himself was a strong shooter growing up.
“I don’t spend that much money,” Swartzentruber said. “It’s my vacation, and I haven’t taken a vacation in, like, three years..”
And because sports fandom is an irrational business, it invites fun allegiances and profane behaviors. This is especially the case in Boston, where the fans are known to be – shall we say, expressive. The behavior of Celtics fans became history in this series because of Game 3, when fans chanted vulgarities at Green.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked for his response to fan chants by a local reporter in Boston.
“I want the fans to have fun,” Silver said. “Of course, as the league office, you want this to be done with respect for all participants, but I understand. I love the energy that Boston fans bring.
If Silver’s broad grin could talk, he might have added, “Boston, please don’t be mad at me.” Did I mention I love clam chowder? »
Nancy DeBlasio, 41, attended the game from Berlin, Connecticut, with girlfriend, Ashley Cialfi, 33. Both wore blue and yellow Golden State t-shirts. DeBlasio is a rooted basketball teacher and coach for Curry. DeBlasio said being on the streets of Boston in his t-shirt was “pretty brutal,” but the two were “taking it because we understand.”
“I think it would be worse if we were guys,” Cialfi added.
“Oh, most definitely,” DeBlasio confirmed.
Oh good? But why?
“Because they’re going to take it easy with some chicks,” Cialfi said.
But then came a pro-wrestling style twist: DeBlasio said she was actually a Celtics fan, but at the same time a Curry fan. She insisted that despite her shirt, she was actually going for a win in Boston. (“No, you’re not,” Cialfi informed him.) No epithets were thrown around in that exchange.
Nor were they thrown near Andy and Ryan Malburg, a father and son who had driven nearly seven hours from Buffalo for the game. Ryan, 15, who almost cried when he discovered the tickets, was a lifelong Golden State fan attending his first NBA game.
OK, good point: what is “lifelong” when you’re 15?
But that means Ryan’s generation of Golden State fans are spoiled: he mostly knew the win, which made his reference to the team as a “good up and coming team right now” understandable. (Andy and Ryan are also Buffalo Bills fans, so it balances out.) Ryan’s father, meanwhile, made it clear that the Malburgs would not participate in any profanity related to profanity initiated by rude Boston fans. .
“He knows how to be respectful and he won’t say any of these things,” 43-year-old Andy Malburg said sternly. “I can guarantee you that.”
Sure enough, Celtics fans once again sang at Green throughout the game and sometimes even cursed Thompson. But in the end, it was the Golden State fans who left the arena satisfied. Curry put in a vintage performance, scoring 43 points. Instead of mortality, Curry had fans of both teams in awe last campaign to sign up for basketball immortality.
“It doesn’t get better than that,” Velasquez said after the game, “coming out on the East Coast to watch the Boston Celtics, historically one of the best franchises.”
“The Boston Celticsinterrupted Villasenor exuberantly.
“I say!” said Velasquez, matching his jubilation. “To beat them at home!”
As they were talking, a man who appeared to be in his twenties and wearing a Celtics jersey approached and noticed their Golden State outfit.
“You are tramps, you know that?” the man said uninvited. It was one of many team-related opinions he wanted out of his chest.
As he finished his eloquent monologue, the man turned and did a dance – with his own butt twirling towards Velasquez and Villasenor.
“Eh,” Villasenor said of Celtics fans, sarcastically. “Frankly, chic.”