BOSTON – As Stephen Curry emerged from an arena tunnel for his pregame warm-up routine, he was the center of gravity, drawing fans to him as he often does defenders on the court.
The Golden State faithful in the stands – who appeared to be in the dozens – dangled sneakers and posters into the tunnel for Curry to sign, or otherwise leaned over each other to get a better look at him. Ian Rea, a 16-year-old who drove with his parents from Saint John, New Brunswick, held up a sign that said, “Steph, if you sign my jersey, I will cut all my hair.”
The meticulous combination of Curry’s jumpers, floaters and trick shots with a dash of goofiness is the basketball equivalent of watching Louis Armstrong run scales on the trumpet.
Curry did not end up signing Rea’s poster. But several rows away, watching Curry run his own scales, Matt Velasquez, 49, a flight attendant, was wistfully considering the concept of basketball mortality Friday night, with Golden State then down a game to the Celtics in the NBA finals.
“You may be coming to an end of an era,” said Velasquez, who is from 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 loge section. Velasquez, a lifelong Golden State fan, said he tries never to miss a home game in person.
The fan base isn’t at a crossroads quite yet. Curry, 34, hasn’t said anything about retiring, and Golden State may end up winning this series. It is tied, 2-2, with Game 5 on Monday.
The other two stars of the core, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, are just 32. But age creeps up on all of us – and in basketball years, the three of them are somewhere between middle-aged and eligible for Social Security. There are probably not many runs left with these players performing at an elite level.
Villasenor, 49, a dentist from Walnut Creek, Calif., Recalled what life as a Golden State fan was like before Curry was drafted with the seventh pick in 2009, back when the team played at Oracle Arena in Oakland instead of the Chase Center in San Francisco.
“We used to watch games where we would just go hang out and just watch for All-Stars to come through, ”Villasenor said.
Now, Golden State is the draw. Usually, when Golden State plays road games, a significant contingent of its fans shows up. The team is among the NBA leaders in road attendance. Sometimes, it’s a matter of having one of the world’s biggest stars on your team in Curry, a top jersey seller.
In Boston, however, a city with a storied basketball history, road jerseys were harder to spot on Friday night. Trying to locate a Golden State fan was like playing Where’s Waldo? but for specks of gold and blue instead of Waldo’s red and white. Every seat in the arena was draped with a white-and-green shirt from the Celtics that said, “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 – three of them in the past seven years. Its dominance has mostly been in the 21st century, where the Celtics are steeped in nostalgia – wistful for the days of Bill Russell and Larry Bird, with only one championship since 1986.
This has created different reputations for the supporters of each franchise. Recent success, as Chris Swartzentruber, 30, an insurance agent from Kalona, Iowa, put it, invites recent fans.
“I don’t know any bandwagon Celtics fans,” he said. “I know a lot of bandwagon Warriors fans. ”
Not that Swartzentruber is the purest fan himself. He said he roots only for Thompson, not the team. He has followed the team to several finals games since 2015 to watch him play, and, as expected, he was donning a Thompson jersey to take in Game 4. For this trip, he traveled from Kalona by himself to sit courtside. His ticket costs $ 3,500. His fandom stems in part from being a strong shooter himself growing up.
“I don’t spend that much money, ”Swartzentruber said. “This is my vacation, and I haven’t had a vacation in, like, three years. ”
And because sport fandom is an irrational enterprise, it invites some amusing allegiances and profane behavior. This is especially the case in Boston, where fans are known to be – let’s call it, expressive. The Celtics’ fan behavior has become a story 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 fans to enjoy themselves,” Silver said. “Of course, as the league office, you want to see it done with respect for all the participants, but I get it. I love the energy that Boston fans bring. ”
If Silver’s wide smile could talk, it 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, Conn., With her girlfriend, Ashley Cialfi, 33. Both of them wore blue-and-yellow Golden State T-shirts. DeBlasio is a teacher and a basketball coach rooting for Curry. DeBlasio said that being on the streets of Boston with her T-shirt had been “pretty brutal,” but that the two of them were “taking it because we understand.”
“I think it’d be worse if we were guys,” Cialfi chimed in.
“Oh, most definitely,” DeBlasio concurred.
Really? But why?
“Because they’re going to go easy on some chicks,” Cialfi said.
But then came a pro-wrestling-style plot twist: DeBlasio said she is actually a Celtics fan, but simultaneously a Curry fan. She insisted that despite her shirt, she was actually rooting for a Boston win. (“No, you’re not,” Cialfi informed her.) No epithets were thrown in that exchange.
Nor were they thrown near Andy and Ryan Malburg, a father and son who had driven almost seven hours from Buffalo for the game. Ryan, 15, who almost cried when he found out about the tickets, was a lifelong Golden State fan attending his first NBA game.
OK, fair point: What is “lifelong” when you’re 15?
But this means Ryan’s generation of Golden State fans is spoiled: He has mostly known winning, 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 evens out.) Ryan’s father, meanwhile, made it clear that the Malburgs would not be taking part in any profanity-related high jinks initiated by impolite Boston fans.
“He knows to be respectful, and he won’t say any of those things,” Andy Malburg, 43, sternly said. “I can guarantee you that.”
Sure enough, Celtics fans chanted again at Green throughout the game and occasionally even cursed at Thompson. But ultimately, it was the Golden State fans who left the arena satisfied. Curry put on a vintage performance, scoring 43 points. Instead of mortality, Curry had backers of both teams awed by the latest campaign to enshrine himself in basketball immortality.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Velasquez said after the game, “coming out to the East Coast to watch the Boston Celtics, historically one of the best franchises. ”
“The Boston Celtics”Villasenor exuberantly interrupted.
“I know!” Velasquez said, matching his jubilance. “To beat them at their home court!”
As they spoke, a man who looked to be in his 20s and wearing a Celtics jersey approached and noticed their Golden State attire.
“You guys are bums, you know that?” the man said, unprompted. It was one of several opinions related to the team he wanted to get off his chest.
As he closed out his eloquent soliloquy, the man turned around and did a dance – with his own bum gyrating toward Velasquez and Villasenor.
“Eh,” Villasenor said of Celtics fans, sarcastically. “Honestly, classy. ”