The Golden State Warriors have won their third world championship in four years. This accomplishment, which coronates a team as a dynasty, places the Warriors in the pantheon of historically great professional sports franchises. While the long-suffering Warrior fan base is basking in the afterglow of another world championship the rest of NBA fandom is decidedly less enthusiastic about their rise to prominence.
Let the internet tell it, the Warriors “broke the NBA” because they are too good. There has been widespread criticism of former league MVP Kevin Durant's decision to join an already stacked 73-win Warriors team and completing a seemingly unbeatable basketball juggernaut. The grumbling has gotten so bad that Bay Area rap legend and alcohol empresario E-40 should consider bottling all of this whine and selling it at a premium. If you listen just below the din of pundits and trolls screaming “It’s not fair!” there is a unique cultural moment taking place which a lot of folks seems to be missing.
Sometimes in sports, a team will embody the spirit of its city. The 'Showtime' Lakers of the 80’s were said to be the personification of the glamorous L.A. lifestyle. In the early 90’s The ‘Bad Boy’ Detroit Pistons were seen as the embodiment of their city’s blue-collar grit. This new Dubs dynasty also carries the sui generis zeitgeist of the city and region they play in.
The Birth of Hyphy
Sometime between 2004-06, the Bay Area rap music scene congealed around a high-octane lifestyle that came to be known as Hyphy. The term Hyphy, coined by Oakland rapper Keak Da Sneak, is perhaps best typified by trunk-rattling songs like E 40’s “Tell Me When to Go,” Keak Da Sneak’s “Super Hyphy,” and Mac Dre’s “Feelin Myself” (all of the above remain staples on the Oracle Arena sound system to this day). The Hyphy Movement, which had distinct dances, lingo, and party etiquette, perfectly captured the non-conformist and flamboyant vibe that radiates through Bay Area communities of color. While it was only a part of the national consciousness for a brief moment, the wave Hyphy started continues to ripple through Northern California and beyond.
The Warriors dynastic run began well after the birth (and some would say death) of Hyphy, but their unorthodox approach, borderline reckless showboating, and unchecked defiance are hallmarks of the Hyphy aesthetic.
The Warriors linkage to the Hyphy movement is more than just a metaphor. There is a quite a bit of connective tissue between the Dubs and the progenitors of Hyphy culture. E-40 considered by many to be the Godfather of Hyphy, is a fixture courtside at Oracle Arena and he repurposed his 2017 hit single “Choices (Yup)” into the un-official theme music for the Warriors second title run. Oakland rapper and avowed Hyphy advocate Mistah Fab is in the stands for virtually every Warrior home game as well and has done guest reporting for the team’s broadcast arm NBC Sports Bay Area. Nike attempted to illustrate the connection between Hyphy and The Warriors by using "Tell Me When To Go,” one of a handful of Hyphy hits known nationally, as the backdrop for a commercial featuring Draymond Green. Nike’s thirty second TV ad notwithstanding, I am unconvinced the rest of the hoops universe understands what’s going on here.
illo by AD Avila
More often than not sports journalist have tried to draw lukewarm comparisons between the Warriors and Silicon Valley’s innovative tech culture. The Warriors style of play, with it's never before seen emphasis on long-distance shooting, has been “disruptive” to the NBA orthodoxy for sure. But a Dubs scoring run, and its attendant euphoria has a lot more in common with the automotive acrobatics of an Oakland sideshow than a meeting on the Google campus.
The NBA Hyphy movement is Steph Curry knocking down an impossibly long three-pointer and then breaking into a gleeful and wholly disrespectful shimmy. The NBA Hyphy movement is Draymond Green screaming maniacally at referees perpetually teetering on the brink of an ejection. The NBA Hyphy movement is the Warriors bench breaking into raucous hysterics anytime time the Dubs get hot.
All of the antics mentioned above infuriate basketball purists, and this national antipathy is also part of the fun. This borderline obnoxious behavior that says, “You hate it, but you can’t stop it.” This unapologetic brashness personifies a fleeting moment in time and place.
As the churn of gentrification intensifies, the Bay Area gets a little less hyphy every day. Recent incidents along the shore of Oakland’s Lake Merritt including the now infamous misadventures BBQ Becky and an even more disturbing scene where a jogger tossed a homeless man’s belongings in the lake convey the face-to-face ugliness of displacement. The Warrior fan experience is also getting more gentrified. With the acquisition of each new championship ring, ticket prices go up, and the crowd gets a little less diverse (both ethnically and economically). By the time the 2019-2020 NBA season comes around, and the Warriors start playing at the soon to be completed Chase Center in San Francisco the process of gentrification will be complete. The Dubs leaving Oakland at the height of their greatness is a perfect example of the destructive urban renewal cycle that has become so common in the Bay Area.
The Warriors will be a successful yet culturally deficient corporate entity on par with the other dynasties like the New England Patriots or the New York Yankees. I am a long-time fan of the Warriors, and I hope their run of success continues well into the future. I am also realistic enough to know that we will lose the current Warriors/Hyphy movement synergy forever. That’s why we should not take this moment for granted. The nation should take note of the last small town dynasty, the hoops Hyphy movement, the Golden State Warriors.