You'd think that a fan-base with a barely two-year-old NBA championship to its name, a bevy of superstars and a commanding series lead coming into the game wouldn't feel victimized.
But goodness me, I heard that word a lot around the Bay Area in the days before the NBA Finals came back to Oakland on Monday night. Conspiracy. Rigging. Money trumping everything. The innocent Bay, unspoiled by cynicism or avarice and blessedly untouched by the disgusting hand of the oligarchs of the world, was sure that their Warriors were going to lose Game 5. The global forces of capital demanded another game, and another game's worth of television revenues. It was the blameless, hard-working Warriors, like Steve Kerr (averaging a salary of $5 million a year) and Kevin Durant (guaranteed more than $54,000,000 between this year and next year), who would pay the price.
This was the hum I heard in the Stella Artois club at Oracle Arena, where people were poured $13 Bud Lites and were charged $120 for a jersey. The conversation in the air was one of fear, but not the usual "man we're gonna get roughed up by the refs" fear of a team that did not want to slog through another series against LeBron James. Rich, powerful men were convinced that they were about to be robbed. This was chili-tilted, Alex Jones-level muttering, a fan base humming with paranoia about—if stopping just short of accusing—the globalists cruelly using their influence to change the fate of the $1.6 billion Golden State Warriors, who make around $168 million a year. Or at least push the series to a sixth game, anyway.
It's time for some game theory.
My friend Colin is a ticket hound, and regularly gets into games for a few hundred dollars that would usually cost thousands. He does this by gaming the system using a series of apps to play the same digital mind-games that touts play with fans. As he'd told me many times before, the system usually worked on the prospect of driving up pricing right until tip-off. Usually, the ticket hoarders drive up their prices to varying levels of obscenity—over $2,000 for one lower-level seat where you can vaguely make out an ass, but not a specific ass, up to $5,432 (which I heard referred to as "a hell of a deal) for a courtside club seat near the hoop, where you could specifically identify any number of sports-asses, but not really see the game so well.
The bottom line, I quickly understood, was that I would need to put aside my preconceived sense of the value of a sports ticket. It is obscene, almost insulting to the suffering communities of the Bay Area that aren't San Francisco, just to see these numbers discussed. It is easy to imagine a way this could all be a lot less gross; there are an infinite number of better uses for Ticketmaster gouge-fees than being funneled back into the Ticketmaster machine, and the Warriors have a great deal more leverage on this than they appear willing to use. Anyway, the conversation among the people who had been gouged on those fees for this game was about referee rigging.
The Uber For Touting
Usually, if you watch the right apps, you can see the moment when ticket-holders start shitting their pants. Sometime just before the game, people that bought tickets in advance with the intention of making a profit will realize that they are screwed. Prices are meant to drop, but they didn't on Monday.
Before the game, Colin showed me Row 10, eight rows behind me, at $3,400 a seat with taxes and fees. That was more than I'd paid; the seat directly in front of me was selling, or not selling, for $5,102.50. My favorite, and my dude if you are reading this I hope you're a season ticket holder doing Tout Irony, was by the 115 section corner on the Warriors' side, which listed $10,800 for a couple of seats. God bless this hopeful seller. This was less than a pair of $9,000 on-the-floor "VIP" seats, which offered a view both of the game and of Chris Rock and other celebrities checking their phones.
At 6 p.m. I was ready for some football—"uh, this is basketball," the man in front of me told me sternly when I made this joke out loud—and tickets were either withdrawn, unsold, or left at the same price. Just before tipoff a lucky buyer could have gotten a steal (?) of a deal on a $3,965 front-row dead center Cavs-side ticket, or scored one for $3,108 for the same on the Warriors' side. The disparity was not an accident; people wanted to be on "the right side" of the arena despite there being precious few Cavaliers fans in the actual house.
I kept watch for the hour or so in which you can still buy tickets through the Gametime app as the game begins, as well as the Warriors' featured "you can upgrade your current seat using our app for $100-$1000 a ticket" app (which allows you to do so from 4PM to 30 minutes after tip-off.) At 15 minutes in there were still at least 25 seats on sale, all of them priced to the purest obscenity. I was delighted to see that the $10k "why am I sitting here" corner seats disappeared around then. I hope they sold to the biggest, dumbest startup idiot alive. I'm not even going to comment on the $22,954 courtside club seat far off in the bottom corner of the Cavs' side.
Prices just kept on rising, with a few disappearing and more appearing, then at about 6:45 PM the wheels came off of the market. Tickets dropped off rapidly, some withdrawn and some sold; you could see as they'd flash yellow if they were sold (which was much rarer), and those were mostly fairly (in context) higher-level 200's seats of people saying "hey, $800 ain't bad to see the Warriors win." I watched as the $5,232 seat quite literally in front of me (102, row 1), the $8,260 corner Courtside Club seat—by the by, the demarcation between courtside and sideline club is different seat and stair color, and you can get drink service—and the $2,238 section 108 (close enough to say with some certainty "that's Steph Curry's ass!" but not the action) seats sat inert. Colin himself remarked that it was weird.
By 7:01 PM all that remained were two staunch, sad seats—lower baseline ($1,127 for a view of some yellow and reddish ants) and $1,400 (217, row 17, a better view, off to the left). They never sold.
During the game, I went out to grab a beer and was confronted by some sort of touch-screen beer thing. You'd slide a card, you'd choose a beer, and then the thing would dispense the beer. A woman grabbed me by the arm and yelled that I'd "LITERALLY [emphasis hers] ignored the ENTIRE line." The line was long, to be fair, but I had misunderstood the process. The process was that you had to line up behind 50 people in order to get a punch card, in order to buy beers from a totally automated machine.
Take a look y'all:
The people in this line were mumbling about "biased" refs, too. "It's bullshit," said one guy in line at the bar as he gulped down a beer that he'd finish before he got to the machine that would sell him another beer. "They let us get this far so they could make money, now it'll go to Game 7, because they want to make money." I asked how he thought they'd do this, what system was in place, and he looked at me and said "look, man, they've got cameras everywhere. They know when to call shit." I still don't know what this means.
Near my seat I chatted with a guy who'd had season tickets since the 1990's, and who also shared the conspiracy. "Three phantom calls!" he bellowed in the first minute when the Warriors were called for fouls like "he touched him" or "shoe was too squeaky, distraction on the play."
"It's crooked," he grunted at me as the refs failed to call LeBron for the foul of "scoring points on The Warriors."
Of course this isn't unusual in sports, and Warriors fans are no less petty than any team claiming the referee's a wanker, or wants the other side to win. But they were not quite talking about the refs, or not just talking about the refs. They kept saying it was about the NBA wanting to rig this for an extra game. Perhaps it was more that the Warriors kept trying to do flashy triple-passes or were being outshot from three by a percentage of 36.8% to the Cavs' 45.8%. Or maybe a belief somehow persists that the NBA is just hurting for cash, and must conspire to make more. Like all conspiracy theories, the truth said out loud is absurd—the fans I asked said they "beat the shit" out of the Cavs the first three games, but Game 4 was "stolen." This one was "rigged" too. If someone glanced harshly at Steph Curry, someone in our section would cry foul.
When David West and Tristan Thompson got angry after Kyrie Irving yelled (I think) "Westworld fuckin' sucked!" a fight began. The woman behind me, in the same tone that I've heard really nasty shit said, yelled "THEY'RE FUCKIN' ANIMALS," and "OUR BOYS ARE CLASSY."
Conspiracy or not, the Warriors carried a lead over an exhausted opponent. My nephew and I could see the tiredness in LeBron's eyes—he had conviction, and some evident fury at his team's failures, but he mostly skipped the Warriors' truculent, endless complaining. The Warriors played whimsical and fancified at times; they seemed almost to be having too much fun.
Yet people kept saying there was a conspiracy. "Refs are in the pocket of the NBA" came from the top of the stands. "It's fuckin'RIGGED," they yelled at every foul, even with a 10-point lead and the Cavaliers approaching exhaustion. Whenever they missed a shot, a man in his late fifties, on his own, would throw the bird and yell "FUCK YOU LEBRON" at the Cavs bench. No matter the Warriors lead, there remained a cacophony of queasy dipshittery.
Yet it really was a great game. Both teams played all out until the end, but the dominance the Warriors hold over the NBA is brutal and stunning to behold. It's simple and stunning how powerless every opponent was when it came to preventing Durant from doing what he wanted; Curry's speed and vision seemed supernatural. If there was coaching happening on either side, I didn't see it. I just saw two teams locked in a game that, however imbalanced, was incredibly entertaining.
In those last 58 seconds, I could still hear chatter behind me about how "we're lucky to have won, 'cause the refs wanted seven games. The NBA just wants our money, man." Twenty seconds remained and one guy yelled "FUCK, WHAT WAS THAT?" for some reason. If you were wondering who was booing when Adam Silver was introduced to hand Durant the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award, wonder no more.
My brother and his girlfriend later confirmed that things were no different in their seats. People were wailing about the conspiracy against the Warriors despite a dominant performance. "It doesn't matter we're leading, they're just gonna take it from us," with they being the NBA. The Warriors fans—and I suppose I should add that I'm a Warriors fan, and that I live in Oakland—were worse than just sore winners. They were tantrum-throwing children, seething over their expensive toys.
Hearing "NEVERTHELESS, THEY PERSISTED" as the Warriors led by 10 to 14 points was inarguably my second-worst moment of the game. The next was when the announcer said "and thanks to the players of the Cleveland Cavaliers" and the arena erupted in boos. Sure, it's normal sports bullshit, the human nature of us versus them. But after crying that the NBA was beating up your multi-million superteam and then giving Cleveland hell isn't just unsportsmanlike, it just felt pathetic.
It also felt like the Bay, circa now. What happens if the Warriors decline, as they eventually must? Will it be a conspiracy, then? Will it be bad coaching, then? Will Steve Kerr Have To Go despite two championships in three years? There are a lot of wins ahead for this team, but it's hard to imagine that there are enough for the people I saw fuming through this victory. We don't just have a tech bubble. We've got a Warriors bubble. And when it bursts, it'll be painful.