Young Warriors fans have only known success, not heartbreak


I asked my teenage son Theo the other day (before Thursday’s frustrating loss to the Celtics in Game 1) for his worst Golden State Warriors memory.

“I wasn’t really able to understand it for a few hours,” he said he remembered thinking. “’The Warriors just lost? What’s going on?’”

He’s a bitter parent who harbors jealousy toward children, especially his own. But that’s a very real feeling for those of us who have lived through the 37 horrible Warriors years that came before the past 10 transcendent ones.

As Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the other world-beaters fill their arena again on Sunday for Game 2 of their sixth NBA Finals appearance in eight years, there will be two large groups of fans whose foundational Warriors memories couldn’t be more opposite:

• Those born in 2005 or later, who probably don’t remember a full losing season* for the Warriors (*excepting that weird pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, when the injury-depleted Warriors won just 15 of 65 games).

• Those born in 1985 or earlier, whose memories might be filled with decades of self-loathing and nearly uninterrupted woe, including 17 out of 18 seasons from 1994 to 2012 when the team didn’t make the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker (9) drives ahead of Golden State Warriors’ Adonal Foyle in 2002.

Ben Margot/Associated Press 2002

Former Warriors center Adonal Foyle, who played for a decade during what he calls “the lean years” and lives locally running his Kerosene Lamp Foundation, compares the dynamic to a mother or grandmother who struggled, lecturing a disinterested child about hard times.

“But it’s just not the same because you don’t have that experience and that desperation and fear,” he said. “If you were brought up in a situation where you don’t experience losing, how can you be expected to appreciate losing?”

Golden State Warriors President Brandon Schneider fully appreciates coming up short. His first job with the Warriors in 2003 was in lowest-rung ticket sales, cold-calling fans who would shout into the receiver, “You guys suck!”

And, to be blunt, the team often did.

Here’s how Schneider remembers it going that first year, when Eric Musselman was coach and the team was staring down its 10th straight losing season.

“You’re calling people saying, ‘Hi, this is Brandon Schneider for the Golden State Warriors!’ ‘Who are they?’” (From there, he’d go straight to selling on the teams that came from out of town. “You know Michael Jordan? We play him.”)

Los Angeles Lakers center Elden Campbell (41) slams for two of his team-high 26 points over Golden State Warriors center Todd Fuller in a 1997 Lakers victory.

Los Angeles Lakers center Elden Campbell (41) slams for two of his team-high 26 points over Golden State Warriors center Todd Fuller in a 1997 Lakers victory.

Reed Saxon/Associated Press 1998

Here’s a game you can play with longtime Warriors fans: Throw out the name of a single ill-fated draft pick (Chris Washburn,
Ike Diogu, Vonteego Cummings) and watch them curl into the fetal position under a weighted blanket of hopeless memories.

When I shared my Shakespearean feelings of parent-child jealousy publicly on social media last week, I received a Thunder-storm of similar reflections.

“Have them Google Todd Fuller,” longtime fan Bob Noto wrote on Twitter.

(The Warriors drafted Fuller in the first round in 1996, two picks ahead of Kobe Bryant, who then outscored Fuller for his career 33,643 to 835. And, yes, I typed this parenthetical aside from the fetal position.)

Not everyone is scarred by the losing seasons of the 1990s and 2000s. Robin “Sweater Mom” Schreiber and her husband, John, have been season-ticket holders since the late 1980s, raising their now 30-year-old son going to games at Oracle Arena.

Schreiber, who went viral dancing in her Warriors Christmas sweater during games, doesn’t remember much suffering, only near-constant optimism and some wonderful memories among the blowout losses.

“You always keep hoping,” she said, talking about the losing Oracle Arena years. “I remember our saying, ‘Gee, this is kind of like my second home.’ It did feel like that. We knew everyone around us. It was fun to go, no matter what the outcome.”

Asked whether young Warriors fans know how good they have it, Foyle offers a hearty laugh and an “Oh, hell no!”

But he rejects the notion that the suffering was separate from the current glory. And swears he feels no jealousy for current players or their young fans.

Foyle calls the cathartic “We Believe” year of 2006-07 — his final season with the Warriors — when the team made the playoffs and shocked the No. 1 seed Dallas Mavericks “a foretelling of what was to come.”

“I see it as a stepping-stone,” Foyle said. “I always thought the fans were loyal and knowledgeable and committed. … This one bright light was telling people what’s possible.”

Warriors President Schneider, whose 5-year-old son, Tommy, knows only the current Golden Age, is sympathetic to those who’ve never known the sting of persistent, consistent defeat. He says in all-hands Warriors meetings, he’ll add reminders for the youngest staffers that ups and downs are part of the game.

“And I think our fan base at large, you get so used to the success, it becomes almost expected,” Schneider said. “What I like to remind fans is, as a sports fan, you grow up your whole life hoping your team gets to this point. Well, we’re there, so enjoy every second because it’s fleeting.”

Season-ticket holder John Schreiber recalls a speech to his son JP, after the addition of Kevin Durant yielded a second championship.

“I remember saying to my son when KD was still here, ‘These are the golden years. Really enjoy this. This is it.’”

Robin Schreiber, also known as Sweater Mom, dances in the crowd as the Golden State Warriors take on the San Antonio Spurs during the fifth game of the NBA Playoffs Round 1 at Oracle Arena in 2018.

Robin Schreiber, also known as Sweater Mom, dances in the crowd as the Golden State Warriors take on the San Antonio Spurs during the fifth game of the NBA Playoffs Round 1 at Oracle Arena in 2018.

Jessica Christian/The Chronicle 2018

Except it wasn’t. The team won a third championship with Durant. And now with an aging Curry, Thompson and Green joined by young talent including Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga, it’s back in the Finals, with a shot at a fourth, and who knows how many more golden years.

Talking to Foyle, Schneider and the Schreibers was good therapy. I’m feeling zero resentment, and a little more pride as a battle-tested fan. Let the kids have their fun, while we share the stories of the stepping-stones; from Sarunas Marciulionis to Manute Bol to Stephen Jackson to David Lee.

Foyle, the wisest man ever to play nine straight losing seasons for the Dubs, says jealousy definitely isn’t the best response. But that doesn’t mean my generation should stop passing on our tortured memories. Someday, the kids are sure to have a few of their own.

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