Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Pain of Irrelevancy

If you ask a fan what they want from their team, their answer will invariably be “a championship.” That isn’t all that relevant, however, as only one out of thirty teams will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy each year. A more truthful answer would be “to be relevant.” That is all we want. Sure, a championship would be great, but we really just want to feel like we matter.

For the last few years, that feeling has been lacking in the Bay Area. I’m not just talking about basketball here.

The above table shows the winning percentages over the last five seasons for Bay Area teams in the four major professional sports. It is a pretty sad offering. Besides the Sharks, who have been scary good, the Bay Area hasn’t performed. The Sharks are the only team that has won over half of their games, and they account for five of the Bay Area’s eight playoff appearances. Granted, two of the other playoff appearances resulted in the Giants winning the World Series and the magnificent run of the We Believe Warriors, but the point remains: Bay Area sports haven’t been very good for the last five years, especially if you are a football fan.

Things are getting better, however. The Sharks will continue to remain relevant, though they need to make the Stanley Cup finals to shake us out of our complacency. The Giants are making a good run at building “Red Sox West”, and have just traded for the best available player at the trade deadline, the first time the Bay Area has done that in awhile.

The 49ers and the Warriors both have a chance at relevancy. For the first time since they hired George Seifert (replace Seifert with Steve Mariucci if you are feeling charitable), the 49ers have a quality coach, and managed to grab him even though he was coveted by a few other teams. They can also benefit heavily from a provision in the new NFL CBA that provides money for stadiums. The Warriors have one of the brighter young stars in the league (Stephen Curry), a borderline All-Star (Monta Ellis), a competent owner and front office, and possibly a quality coach. Both teams will have to start winning, however, to prove their relevance.

The A’s and the Raiders, on the other hand, are stuck in the past. The Raiders are still haunted by the ghost of Al Davis past, coming in and making radical (usually radically bad) decisions every few months. The A’s have faced a lot of injuries, employ a DH that is worse at hitting then a lot of pitchers, and can barely draw 15,000 a game. These two franchises need a lot of work.

But that’s the great thing about sports: fortunes can change on a dime. The Memphis Grizzlies hadn’t been relevant since trading Paul Gasol, and then Zach Randolph and co. came a few points away from playing in the Conference Finals. Nobody has any illusions that a Bay Area team, save the Sharks or the Giants, have a chance at winning a championship this year, but we don’t need that. Like everybody else, we just want to be relevant. A splashy new hire, a big trade, a run to the playoffs, that’s all we need to sustain our fandom for another season.

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