A month ago, in stunning fashion, the hopes of our great Western metropolis were dashed. Bastion of liberalism, diversity and tolerance, the Bay Area’s plucky and seemingly unbeatable basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, was vanquished short of their goal. Compounding the humiliation was the hands at whom it came: the swinging door of a state, Ohio, its city Cleveland, site of the Republican National Convention, and its villainous King, LeBron James. The shocking turn of events vindicated LeBron, whose postseason record, at 2-4, had been called into question, and reaffirmed the narrative of a supremely talented alpha male triumphing over a band of lesser challengers. Further bolstering James’ credentials is the narrative of redemption. After abandoning his hometown Cavaliers (James was raised in Akron, OH) to pursue championships with the Miami Heat, LeBron returned to Cleveland and succeeded in bringing home the first major sports championship in half a century. Like a J.R.R. Tolkein motif, America was left with the Return of the King.
But what is the price of kingship? Further developments in the past month have muddied the waters for a nation increasingly on the brink. Donald Trump secured the Republican Presidential nomination and carried out a convention full of controversy, plagiarism, lingering competition, and chaos. If anyone is the epitome of presumptive kingship, it’s the Donald. His leadership style evokes mafia-style dominance, his brazen proclamations that veer from truth matched only by the quivering of his cowed subordinates. And yet now he stands poised for power. A state that twice supported Bush before twice supporting Obama has been restored to extreme national significance. Suddenly, the Quicken Loans Center in Cleveland has become the center of American life in so many ways.
The resistance to such an ill fate is murky. Hillary Clinton is for many on both the right and the left a power hungry villain of her own. And the Warriors, those erstwhile darlings, transformed their identity when they consummated a coup by signing the greatest player available on the free agent market, Kevin Durant. Durant is so good that he was once considered the heir to LeBron’s throne, a title that the Warriors own Steph Curry had begun to stake claim to as well before their ignominious defeat in the Finals. This absurd move, while gutting 2/5 of their starting lineup and the vast majority of their bench, provides the Warriors with an embarrassment of riches as they roll out a “Big 4” of Curry, Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the likes of which the National Basketball Association has never seen.
These developments have led to soaring popularity for LeBron James and a new moniker of villain cast upon the once lovable band of Warriors who deigned once to change the game. Previously the feel-good story of 2015, the Durant signing completes a transition that this past year was already underway. These Warriors are now the Evil Empire, the bad guys. They are glitzy and glamorous, like New York, like Los Angeles, like LeBron’s Miami Heat before them. They are the favorites. And the world would like to see them denied. Just like that, a cultural narrative can be changed.
These developments raise more questions than answers, and cast a pall on our cultural narratives in the late summer of 2016. There are no darlings now, no Davids to fight the Goliaths, unless one peers into the subtleties that lie behind the veneer of our more superficial narratives. And so, we must ask: despite George Washington, despite America’s history, is dictatorship where we are headed? Is it possible to be a champion or a leader without the thorny and egoic fight to become King? And if so, can anyone be a lasting hero in a fast-paced world where the masks of mythic identity swirl and change like the faces as a masquerade ball? In seeing the parallels between our sports and our politics, do any our narratives hold lasting value? Or are we left to grapple with the unsettling truth that underneath them all, it’s only a game?
Our world’s fixation on stars seems to cut against the unselfishness Durant displayed in going to a contender where he will never be the One. Nonetheless, despite their selfless team-oriented style, the Warriors will toil this year under the moniker of evil, operating under the tenuous belief that to vanquish the monster, you must in some way become him. If you are a fan, you accept this new label in the public arena as the price of your devotion. You hold out hope that kingship, while honorable, can be integrated still into a new model. You hold out hope that there is a subtler, more uplifting way.
Gabe Crane is a Qigong teacher and counselor based in Berkeley, CA. He is an avid Warriors and Giants fan, and as a master’s student in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, he is passionate about the expression of new mythologies in our time. Check out his website at www.wovenwings.net/home-1/
You can read the first installment of Gabe’s Golden State Warriors saga here.