When the month of April arrives, Golden State Warriors fan Tony Robles asks himself the same question all over again: “Why am I even supporting this team?”
The Warriors have made the playoffs once in the past 17 years, while owning the NBA's second-worst winning percentage during the last 16 years. A Warriors' fan since the early '90s, Robles says that supporting a losing team for so long can only mean one thing: loyalty.
"As a fan, you want to see a winning team," said Robles, 34. "It's painful to see our Warriors lose year after year. But we [fans] just keep coming back."
Every year, seats are nearly full at Oracle Arena, yet fans’ hopes are dashed by mediocre team performances and poor results. Due to their feverish support, loyalty has become the fans' trademark. It’s easy to support a winner, but supporting a losing product for so long—well, Golden State fans know all about that.
“It's hard to say why fans are so loyal,” said 28-year-old James Pearson, a Warriors columnist on Bleacher Report. “It's quite incredible, really."
But loyalty requires effort, and Warriors’ fans are no strangers to that.
Using his digital-art skills and creativity, Robles, a season-ticket holder, generates a lot of smiles from players and fans alike. Robles produces posters and signs dedicated to Warriors players and the organization.
During the Warriors’ 2007 playoff run, Robles paid particular attention to the signs people brought to games. Many signs failed to impress him. That’s when he decided that creating “professional looking drawings” would be his gift to the Warriors.
“Many people [who brought signs to games] didn’t know how to draw, but kudos for doing the best you can,” said Robles. “I would bring a new sign or illustration of mine as often as I can to games. The players and fans loved it.”
Among the many illustrations Robles has produced is one dedicated to current Warriors’ star player Monta Ellis. Robles placed Ellis’ face on a dollar bill, with Warriors logos and the words “In Monta We Believe.” During pre-game warmups one game, Ellis saw the sign and demanded he own it.
“He looked at it and asked ‘Can I have this?’ and in return he let us take a picture with him,” Robles said with a smile. “Every game I bring a new design and Monta [Ellis] gives us a head nod and thumbs up.”
Surprisingly, Robles does not gain any revenue from these drawings. In the past few years, Robles has produced more than 28 drawings dedicated to Warriors players alone. He exhibits his drawings online through his official website and Facebook page.
But the fans’ passion for their team doesn’t stop there. Many fan-operated blogs, websites and pages have been created to cover the team. The most popular is GoldenStateOfMind.com—a website created for fans to express their feelings about the Warriors. Mostly, these feelings tend to carry frustration toward the team’s poor performances.
There are around 100 monthly fan posts, all littered with passionate commentary and how-to-fix-the-Warriors guides.
What separates Warriors fans from other fans that support losing teams, however, is home game attendance. According to ESPN’s NBA Attendance Report for the 2010-2011, the Warriors' home-game attendance record, which is 10th in the league and exceeds that of eight playoff teams including: San Antonio Spurs, the team with the second-best record in the NBA, the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder—all title contenders.
In fact, for the past four seasons, home-game attendance records show that the Warriors average 18,811 fans per game, just 780 seats below Oracle Arena’s full capacity. Among teams that didn’t make the playoffs for the past four years, Warriors’ fan attendance record is the highest.
“Oracle is always full no matter who comes to town,” said Jay Xu, a 23-year-old San Francisco State University student.
In an article by Gary Peterson, an Oakland Tribune columnist, Peterson statistically points to the Warriors’ attendance record.
“Over the past 33 seasons, interest in the Warriors, as measured by tickets purchased, has outpaced the team's on-court success 18 times,” Peterson wrote. “That's stunning when you consider we're talking about a team that has won 18 playoff games in the time it's taken the [Los Angeles] Lakers to make 31 postseason appearances.”
Not only have fans helped with ticket sales, but they may have helped in the selling of the franchise last summer.
On July 15, 2010, the Warriors were sold for an NBA-record $450 million to majority owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, CNBC first reported. But, as Tim Kawakami, a sports columnist from the San Jose Mercury News points out, fans may have had an impact on the sale.
“How could the Warriors sell for an announced $450M when they’re one of the NBA’s perennial losers?” Kawakami wrote. “That’s a nod to Warriors fans, who kept coming out, kept clicking on the internet links, kept watching the games on TV.”
On the other hand, J.M. Poluard, writer for WarriorsWorld.net, said that fans did not influence the sale.
“No matter how it is that fans felt at the time of the sale, it had little to no bearing whatsoever,” Poulard said.
Nevertheless, on March 5, Lacob was reminded just how passionate this fan base is. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on March, Lacob was asked a question about bloggers to which he responded: “They are not real fans, because they don’t have season tickets,” he said. “Unlike every real fan, they don’t have season tickets.”
“I was upset,” Xu said. “After all the years I’ve watched this team lose, Lacob was gonna tell me I'm not a real fan?”
“The media [was] spinning like crazy [over the statement],” said 27-year-old season ticket holder Ray Almeda. “[I think] he intended to say that bloggers who try to suggest decisions for them shouldn't be blinding doing it over Internet fluff.”
Unlike the previous owner, Chris Cohan, who rarely interacted with the fans and local media, Lacob was able to clarify his comments in an e-mail response to fans.
“I think the vast majority of fans who don’t have a chance to attend games or purchase season tickets are certainly real fans,” Lacob said. “I can see how this could be misinterpreted, or me, quite simply, not making it clear what my exact point was when I was speaking at the conference.”
Stefano Gorgosalice, a Warriors supporter all the way from Italy, says that fans have been a prime reason why the Warriors haven’t yet relocated to another city due to their losing—as opposed to their in-state rival, Sacramento Kings, which may be relocating due to revenue loss.
“Warriors fans are one of the main reasons why this team will be playing at Oakland for a long time,” Gorgasalice said. “Anybody know a better place to be in terms of marketing a losing team than the Bay Area?”
One thing Bay Area fans can reminisce over, however, is the 2007 playoffs. The “We Believe” era, as fans like to label it, helped the Warriors pull off one of the greatest upsets in playoff history by becoming only the third No. 8-seeded team in NBA history, at that time, to defeat a No. 1 seed. With yellow “We Believe” shirts and chants of “Let’s Go Warriors,” Oracle Arena had an atmosphere like no other.
“I downloaded a video on my iPod from that 2007 series,” Gorgosalice said. “Before playing a ball game, I always watch and it just sets me on fire inside. It was such an amazing atmosphere.”
The 2007 playoffs alone bring hope to these Warriors fans that someday, all their hard work will pay off.
And that’s why, every season Robles asks himself why he supports “these guys,” he’s quick to come up with an answer.
“The Warriors have an impact on this community and [they’re] a big part of the Bay Area,” Robles said. “I come back because [the Warriors] are like a second home to me.”