Thompson: Warriors’ lasting popularity shines on a record night in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — He’s 14 years old now, so he’s much too cool to cry. But that didn’t make the occasion less significant. It’s been seven years in the making after all.

Joseph Cavazos, a high school freshman, rode four hours from Arlington, Texas. His mother got him Spurs tickets so he could see his beloved Warriors. A gift from his mother to him, a promise he fulfilled from his elementary days to him.

“I saved and saved and saved,” his mom, Michelle, said. “I told him this was his Christmas gift, birthday gift — all of that.”

This was Take 2 on the dream come true. The first time, in 2018, they made the trek from Arlington, but Stephen Curry missed that game. Joseph cried that night.

But the plan came to fruition Friday. Curry played, and Joseph’s major life milestone coincided with NBA history. The San Antonio Spurs hosted the Golden State Warriors at the Alamodome, the football stadium the Spurs called home until the then-SBC Center opened for the 2002-03 season. San Antonio sets an NBA record for attendance, regular season or playoffs: 68.323.

But this night was as much about the magnetism of the Warriors. Ten years since they burst onto the national scene, four years after they were presumed relics whose time had passed, the Warriors are still a juggernaut.

It’s not a coincidence the Warriors were in town for the occasion. When the Spurs informed the league they wanted to pull this off, they chose a game Golden State would be in town. The Warriors signed off.

How many other teams could help these Spurs, owners of the fourth worst record in the NBA, pull off this feat to celebrate their 50th anniversary? The Lakers, for sure. The Celtics. Maybe Dallas at this point? The list isn’t long.

“We love being part of this stuff,” Warriors team president Brandon Schneider said. “It says a lot about us that they wanted us to be the opponent.”

Golden State was a virtual lock to pull it off even while Curry was a question mark. After 2013, when they upset the Denver Nuggets and pushed the Spurs dynasty to six games in the second round of the playoffs, the Warriors jumped to No. 9 in road attendance the following season. They’ve only been below third once since — that was the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season when Curry and Klay Thompson were out with injuries most of the year.

Warriors’ NBA road attendance rank

Year average rank Result

2011-12

16,365

27

Missed playoffs

2012-13

17.204

16

Lost in the second round

2013-14

17,526

9

Lost in the first round

2014-15

18.312

3

Won finals

2015-16

19.134

2

Lost finals

2016-17

19.015

2

Won finals

2017-18

18.884

2

Won finals

2018-19

18,790

2

Lost finals

2019-20

17.454

8

Missed playoffs

2021-22

18.053

2

Won finals

2022-23

18.415

3

TBD extension

The irony about Friday night is the Warriors once made big news in San Antonio for the stars not showing up. In a 2017 ABC prime-time game, coach Steve Kerr rested Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — a protest to his team’s unforgiving schedule. The Warriors became villains, as fans who traveled from far and wide came to see them play. Since then, the league has issued rules against resting star players on nationally televised games and agreed to avoid scheduling prime-time games on the second night of back-to-backs.

Friday was the complete opposite.

“It was special from the jump,” Curry said. “The long walk through the tunnel to get to the court, fans kind of lining the route to get out there. … It was an awesome experience.”

Dynasties have always been the lifeblood of the NBA, their mass appeal a guaranteed boon for the league. The Warriors have been a gold mine. They’ve been the marquee during an era that’s seen franchises spike in value and the reach of the league become as global as ever.

In the 2014 Forbes valuations, before the Warriors won a title, only three teams were valued at a billion dollars or more — the Knicks being tops at $1.4 billion followed by the Lakers ($1.35 billion) and Bulls ($1 billion). the 2022 list from Forbes, released last October, had the league average at $2.86 billion, led by the Warriors at $7 billion. The team with the lowest value, New Orleans, was projected to be worth $1.6 billion — more than any team in 2014.

The Phoenix Suns — who came on the most recent Forbes list at No. 13 with a valuation of $2.7 billion, were sold in December amid controversy for $4 billion. The boom during the Warriors dynasty has been epic.

How far the Warriors have come is illustrated in the last time the Warriors visited the Alamodome.

The Warriors started Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes in the backcourt. Antawn Jamison, Danny Fortson and Erick Dampier in the front court. Adonal Foyle, Bob Sura and rookie Troy Murphy came off the bench. The Warriors left the Alamodome that night in March 2002 with a 16-42 record after losing by 21. The game drew 19,322 fans, not even a sellout.

Back then, the Warriors becoming the NBA’s premier draw wasn’t even fathomable.

Rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. got his first taste of the Warriors’ allure when the team went to Japan for preseason games. While the Washington Wizards had the league’s only Japanese player on its roster in Rui Hachimura, the Warriors’ love dwarfed the Wizards’ during their stay in Tokyo.

“I saw where the Wizards were staying,” he said, “and they had, you know, some fans out there. But then you kind of saw our hotel and they were everywhere. We were trapped in that hotel. If we walked out, if we were in a car, wherever we were, there were just tons and tons of people. Just sitting outside 24-7, basically. It’s just a different stratosphere of fandom. Worldwide.”

The Warriors are currently America’s NBA team, and for years now have joined LeBron James as the league’s biggest draws. In seven of the past eight seasons, they have been scheduled for 30 regular-season national television games, which is the league’s cap for a starting point. Two of the years, they had extra games picked up. The Warriors played 33 games on national TV last season. They then went out and produced the best NBA Finals ratings since, well, the last time they were in the Finals — 2019.


Even in San Antonio, where the Spurs are a religion, there was no shortage of Warriors jerseys. And not just jerseys.

Gene Williams is a San Antonio resident and Spurs season ticket holder. But he spent the pregame session courtside with his two kids. Cisco, 10, wore a blue Warriors hat with a Curry jersey beneath a satin custom Warriors blazer patterned with the Warriors logo and No. 30 all over it.

NBA League Pass came with Williams’ season tickets. His son di lui started watching the Warriors faithfully. He spends hours on YouTube watching Curry highlights. He takes pride in being the self-titled biggest Warriors fan in San Antonio. And Curry is his idol.

Cisco was joined by his sister, Stella. She had a silky dress in the same pattern as her brother’s blazer. But she was n’t too happy with her father. Stella did n’t want No. 30 all over her dress. Klay Thompson is her favorite.

“He put the wrong number,” she said, pointing to her father. “It was supposed to be 11.”

They both took a picture with Curry.

If this historical night is illustrative of the Warriors’ popularity, then it was a tribute to No. 30. This whole thing is built on him and coincided with his leap to superstardom. Like all dynasties, the Warriors are led by a generational talent who can draw the masses.

After Friday’s game, in the locker room, Jordan Poole and Ty Jerome were talking about watching ESPN’s E:60 documentary on Curry in 2016.

“They were talking about it like it was their first years in youth basketball,” Curry said. “It’s just wild to think about what we’ve been through and the fact that we’re still trying to put things together to keep winning at the highest level. Just embrace the love that we get wherever we go.”

Baldwin was about Joseph’s age when the Warriors were becoming a dynasty. He was living in Missouri when the Warriors were the sexy up-and-comer. He was in Chicago when the Warriors really took off. He remembers going back to school after Christmas and suddenly seeing Curry jerseys everywhere.

Andre Iguodala, who returned to Golden State in 2021 after two seasons with Miami, said he really grasped the magnitude of Curry and the Warriors when he left. Even playing for the Heat, one of the league’s top franchises, he couldn’t help but notice the hype was different. Traveling was smoother. Getting in and out of hotels was absent the hassle of swarming fans. After games, the chatter wasn’t nearly as high. Bad games didn’t produce the hot takes and vitriol.

“Doesn’t affect him at all,” Iguodala said of Curry. “It doesn’t bother him at all. He just moves about like a normal human being. So humble. I don’t think the league has seen anything like him.

“The saddest part of it all is he’s taken for granted,” Iguodala continued. “That’s what hurts the most is people taking his greatness for granted. And that’s why I’m so vocal about what he rightfully deserves. And I’m not talking about, like, Joe (Lacob). I just still believe that he should own a part of this team. Basically, what he built, in any other organization or company, you get equity when you work for the company and build it up. … They’re going to really miss him when he’s done playing basketball.”

Curry was the entryway into a franchise that kept delivering. The awe of his 3-point shooting drew the interest, and players like Thompson and Green seized the spotlight. Their jerseys were sprayed around the Alamodome as well. The Warriors have become a global brand. Their style of play, their emphasis on winning, the way they run their business, it all fuels the mystique.

Warriors’ rank in NBA local TV ratings

Year rank Record

2015-16

1

73-9

2016-17

1

67-15

2017-18

1

58-24

2018-19

1

57-25

2019-20

4

15-50

2020-21

1

39-33

2021-22

1

53-29

The dramatic ascension began when the Warriors started the 2015-16 season 24-0 after winning their first championship. They finished that regular season 73-9, breaking the NBA record, and were officially a juggernaut being compared to the Michael Jordan-led Bulls of the 1990s. Then Kevin Durant joined the Warriors.

“And then it just ratchets up again,” Schneider said. “When KD came, it changed it a little bit. But I think the scrutiny and the interest, and the people on the road wanting to see us, continued to increase. And now I think it just continues to build.”

The crescendo, at least for the Cavazos family, came Friday night. After the game, Joseph and his mother made the four-hour drive back home to Arlington. His basketball team played Saturday morning. But he wasn’t bothered by the drive. The night was too special. A journey that began when he saw a pair of Curry’s sneakers at school, and grew into a love affair with a team from the Bay Area, had him a chest pass from the modern dynasty. He finally got to see his Warriors of him.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Andre Iguodala, currently the Warriors’ third big, has returned at a needed time

(Photo: Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images)

.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *