Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

20150619_120041

Written for Manila Today

How I wish I could hold the placard which reads ‘Authentic Fan’, take a selfie with it, and share on my social media networks. But I simply couldn’t do it because I am not an ‘authentic fan’ of the 2015 National Basketball Association champion Golden State Warriors. I do not even know the names of their players, their franchise history, and their winning strategy. Yet I was there during their victory parade in Oakland and celebrated the occasion with hundreds of thousands of ‘authentic fans’ from all over the Bay Area.Here’s how I experienced it: When I arrived in Oakland, a confetti of blue and yellow was raining down on 19th Street and Broadway, I reached the tail end of the parade in Snow Park, I think I saw some of the players near the public library, the march swept us in front of Laney College, and finally I found myself on the fringes of the civic center; too far from the main stage outside the Kaiser Convention Center but near enough to feel the spectacle.

So what was a non-fan doing there? I also wrestled with the question during the 35-minute train ride from Colma to downtown Oakland; and before leaving the station, I thought I convinced myself that I have answered it already.

I really have simple motives for being a joiner that day. But wait, it was not an ordinary day. It was 40 years ago when a similar event was held in Oakland. It took 40 years of waiting and struggle before the Warriors became champions again. This alone is enough reason to show up and participate in the street festivities.

The Warriors clinched the championship title and received their trophy in Cleveland but this victory has to be reaffirmed by their loyal fans in the Alameda County. The winning moment is only half-complete if it isn’t shared with the public.

I had to be there to witness the re-enactment of history.

Will history be made again next year? Maybe, but this year’s victory is definitely more special and memorable.

That’s basically it. I wanted to be present during the crowning of the Warriors. I was curious to know how the community will gather and express their pride on that historic occasion. I was there to congratulate the winners. I came to have fun in the company of an ecstatic crowd.

Besides, basketball is a familiar sports. I cannot understand American football and baseball (apologies to fans of 49ers and Giants) but I grew up watching and playing basketball. After all, it’s the unofficial national pastime in the Philippines. I may not be a fanatic but I appreciate the game. There was a time when I knew the slam dunk winners of the 1980s, we cheered for the Bulls in the 1990s, and we all wanted to be like Mike. Basketball was a major influence during our formative years. It was probably the kid in me that roused my interest to celebrate the basketball glory of the Warriors.

But it’s also more than nostalgia or a desire to relive the feeling of being young.

I was more intrigued by the Warriors phenomenon. When I arrived in San Francisco last month, everybody was talking about their Warriors. That it’s the best team in the league, that the players are all nice and talented people, and that this is going to be the year of the Warriors.

There seems to be a Warriors effect every time they win a game: Motorists are kinder, neighbors are talking to each other once more (“Hey buddy, did you see the game last night? It was a really good game, right?”), and strangers can instantly become friends by talking about the Warriors. Families and barkadas bonded by watching the finals. On a personal note, the games gathered relatives which helped in uplifting the spirit of my younger brother who was recovering from a heart condition.

Perhaps scholars can measure the social impact of the Warriors’ victory in the recently concluded NBA season. In terms of consumer economics, there was a lot of buying and advertising of Warriors-related merchandise. It’s probably good for the domestic economy but I am doubtful whether this is the right kind of stimulus that can reverse the hardships endured by working-class families. A $30 dollar original Warriors fan shirt? Ah, for the love of the team and the game! Somebody is definitely making a ton of money because of this spontaneous consumer spending.

But there are other ways of probing the various manifestations of the Warriors phenomenon. On my part, I wanted to verify the broad appeal of the team and the reach of their fan base. I wanted to size up their popularity beyond the TV ratings, the trending hashtags and the fan merchandise. One way of doing this is to check the crowd that will congregate in Oakland. And so I went to the Warriors’ parade.

The turn-out was impressive especially since it was not a weekend event. Fans did not disappoint by arriving in record number to celebrate the basketball victory of their beloved team. People from diverse backgrounds were there. The hardcore fans, the loyal cheerleaders, the new converts, the inauthentic ones like me, and Oakland residents mingled as one. All are assumed to be there because they are rejoicing for the Warriors.

Some parents carried baby strollers. Some students accompanied by mentors seem to be having a summer field trip in the lakeside park. Frontline families of the Warriors’ support team joined the parade. Local sponsors and institutions were represented as well. Meanwhile, enterprising individuals sold Warriors paraphernalia such as t-shirts, caps, framed posters, and banners which are cheaper compared to the official team store.

The feel of the crowd was electrifying. Of course there were some marchers who easily gave up the long walk (satisfied that they already got selfie photos of the players during the parade), tired rallyists who spread false updates about the available space or lack of it in a specific area of the plaza; there were loud fans, drinkers, smokers, and Republicans in the crowd.

But overall, the crowd was behaving like what it was supposed to do. A collective body exercising its power. A sea of warm bodies moving and interacting while remaining in place to stage a significant social and historic event. It is a crowd made self-aware of its massive presence and power to speak. They may not be able to buy the expensive arena tickets during the finals but here they are part of the game and here they are supreme.

It is a veritable proof of the persuasive appeal of a crowd, the creative coming together of the spontaneous, and the invincibility of a collective that exists to achieve a purpose. The multiple as one.

During the start of the program, a local leader mentioned the role of the Warriors in enhancing community unity. This cannot be denied. But the public must be reminded too that sports is not the ultimate mojo that can ignite the wonderful charm we call solidarity. Just a few months ago, Oakland was a site of resistance that echoed the struggle against racial discrimination and economic oppression. It did not reach half a million but nobody can deny that it was popular among the grassroots, that it united various segments of the population, and that it campaigned something in behalf of a collective.

We are told to fear the so-called irrational mob but what they really wanted us to reject is the rise of a politically-conscious crowd.

Struggle is noble and its beauty is reflected in the emergence of a crowd. When experiencing the vastness of nature, we feel overwhelmed. We appear tiny compared to oceans, canyons, cliffs, and mountains. But when we are part of a crowd, the effect is quite different. Instead of being intimidated by the presence of anonymous bodies, we feel empowered. We think we can be immortals. Suddenly, nothing seems impossible. Humanity will prevail.

A sports crowd is massive and dispersed; but the rulers often use it to distract the fighting potential of the masses.

Let the Warriors crowd celebrate today, let us have our moment. But tomorrow we will fight. Tomorrow, the community will confront reality. Imagine the Warriors crowd slaying other beasts in society.

Any crowd is potentially subversive. Authentic and inauthentic followers coalesce, strangers form networks, and voices become stronger. Warriors fans have a nice phrase for it: Strength in numbers.

Leave a Reply