In the latest sign we are indeed living through the worst possible timeline, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals last night. And now people are clowning on so-called Warriors “fans” for being a bunch of phony, tech-bro transplants who only took an interest in the Warriors once they started winning. You know, bandwagon fans—the worst people in all of sports.
But I would argue being a bandwagon fan is a perfectly fine form of fandom — in fact, it’s probably the healthiest way to enjoy sports. Arguments to the contrary are intellectually lazy at best; at worst, they’re a sign that you have a borderline unhealthy relationship with sports.
A lot of this, of course, has to do with the fact that Warriors fans aren’t particularly easy to like, much of which has to do with our general contempt for Silicon Valley and all the wealth and power it’s amassed over the past decade.
The area has the second-highest concentration of wealth in the country. With this wealth, they’ve made real estate prohibitively expensive for all but the hyper-rich, and have shown little regard for the people they’ve displaced. Further, they transformed a bohemian paradise — one that was once rich in art, culture and subversion — into a haven for defiantly lame tech workers. They actively resent the rest of the nation, to the point some want to build a libertarian stronghold in the Pacific Ocean, beyond the reach of government. They deify the arrogant white male bosses who dictate the terms of our technocratic dystopia.
The Warriors organization cops the same smug attitude; the team is owned by a bunch of SV venture capitalists who attribute the Warriors’ success to their superior intellects and managerial style. And now they also stake claim to the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled?! Fuck them.
But the bandwagon epithet isn’t just about class resentment — it gets lobbed every time a new champion is crowned in one of the Big Four professional sports. Earlier this season, the Phoenix Suns shamed Cleveland Cavaliers fans in the stands with a “bandwagon cam.” Fans of the NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins were accused of being bandwagon jumpers when the team rose back to prominence in 2012. So were fans of the Chicago Cubs when the team broke its historic World Series drought this past fall.
The argument against bandwagon fans is they don’t deserve the joy of watching their team win a championship because they weren’t there suffering when their team took loss after loss. Indeed, the Warriors were largely ignored by NBA fans, even in the Bay Area, until Stephen Curry emerged as a superstar talent five years ago. Now, Chris Rock and Rihanna sit courtside at their games and tickets go for upwards of $1,300.
All of which makes “real” fans pissed. Their anger, however, presumes there’s a right way to enjoy sports, and that way is to pledge blind allegiance to your local team at childhood and maintain that dedication until death, regardless of personnel changes or how the team performs.
These are grown men who think there’s honor in paying good money to see a team play terrible basketball in person, and then get upset that they spent money to see a team they already knew was bad perform to those low expectations. They’re the kind of grown men who shout “We won!” after the game, as if their fandom has any bearing on the outcome. They’re also the kind of grown men who will pick fights with opposing fans, or have their entire day ruined after a tough loss.
Sports is the rare cultural arena where we don’t think of this kind of blind loyalty as strange, or intellectually dangerous. Why that’s the case, I’m not entirely sure. (It might be because men are more comfortable forming emotional connections to things that aren’t human: dogs, sports organizations, wrenches, comic book heroes.) In any event, getting worked up about something as innocuous as sports is demented.
Sports are, at their best, a vehicle for community, which is why there’s nothing wrong with bandwagon fans. They enjoy the thrill and camaraderie of cheering for a winner, but spare themselves the emotional anguish of a painful loss. They enjoy and care about sports, but they don’t care too much. They’ve achieved perfect balance.
This isn’t to say it’s bad to be a diehard fan. Many lifelong Cubs fans openly wept when the team won last year, ending what they presumed would be a lifetime of futility and suffering. And that’s beautiful in its own way. But when your fandom is so extreme that you need to lash out at a casual sports-enjoyer who just wants to revel in a good time, then you’re the one with the problem.