.Playoff Preview: Inside Warrior Fandom

“Replay! Replay!”

Eddy Dees, dressed in a pale blue and gold Warriors T-shirt styled like the 1979 cult movie of the same name, is sitting courtside at a Santa Cruz Warriors game as he spins toward the scorer’s table, demanding to see a lousy call from the refs up on the the big screen. The long, narrow table seats the team’s laser-focused unsung heroes, their eyes glued to the hardwood—among them Santa Cruz’s Interim Planning Director Alex Khoury, who runs the scoreboard.

Oftentimes when a controversial decision is replayed on the Kaiser Permanente Arena’s jumbotron, Dees is the one who requested it. He pivots back to the big screen above, shaking his head, as the whole crowd groans.

The mood was tense at last Friday’s game, with the Warriors up 81-71 against a team leading their conference—a few days after both teams had already clinched playoff spots, no less. They were competing for seeding and a little pride against the Los Angeles D-Fenders, who are two and a half games ahead of the Warriors in the NBA Development League’s Pacific Division. The Warriors, who started off the season 2-7, have been hot lately. Their fans have gotten used to winning, and the Warriors were up 27 in the first half, which is why a 10-point lead felt oddly precarious at the regular season finale.

“I don’t ever feel overconfident. I do see a theme with this team. They tend to do really well in the first half. They sometimes sputter in the third quarter, and then they do well in the fourth quarter,” Dees says after the game, which the Warriors went on to win 127-117, having led virtually the entire night.

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The Warriors finished with five players scoring in double digits, led by Damian Jones—who put up 25 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks—while an ecosystem of superfans like Dees cheered from the front lines every step of the way.

Dees knows the refs by their full names, gives tips to the Warrior players and argues with the sports reporters in the row behind him—finding a way to embed himself in pretty much every facet of the game.

“I am a fanatic, that’s who I am. I am over the top. I love my team. I love Coach Casey Hill, and I love the President Chris Murphy, and I love the ownership,” says Dees, who has also been to 240 San Francisco 49er home games, starting when he was 4 years old.

Dees and his friend Fred Keeley, the former county treasurer, make friends with opposing teams, too. The Salt Lake City Stars even hosted the two men for a game against the Warriors in Utah last week, the night Santa Cruz clinched a playoff spot.

After Friday night’s game, Coach Casey Hill laughed in astonishment that the team finished 31-19, one year after they went 19-31.

Every team, in any given season, has its quirks, and Hill admits he’s tried a little bit of everything to fire up the team in the third quarter.

“The biggest thing is going into the halftime locker room with a lead, everyone takes a deep breath and relaxes and doesn’t realize that other team is in their locker room making adjustments,” explains Hill. “Necessarily, you don’t make a ton of adjustments when you’ve got a big lead going into the half. You just tighten up on the things you’re doing well, and you try to motivate them. With this group, we’ve struggled sometimes, and we’ve come out and had phenomenal third quarters, but it’ll be a focus for us. I’ll talk about it at some point probably during our preparation.”

He says the team still needs to work on rebounding, and that he told the young team that the upcoming games will be the hardest that many of them have ever played.

Looking ahead, Dees feels great about the Warriors’ chances, even though, in this first round, the Warriors take on an Oklahoma City Blue team that beat them four times in the regular season. He says Santa Cruz is a different team now.

Jones, the Warriors’ center who was drafted last year, could get called back up to Oakland at any time. Neither Hill nor Jones himself knows for sure where he’ll be playing.

A couple of weeks ago, Dees ran into Murphy and told him, “This could be the hottest team going into the playoffs,” a few days before Santa Cruz had even secured a spot in the playoffs.

Not wanting to get ahead of himself, Murphy responded, “Hey Eddy, let’s just get there first!”

Right now, though, Murphy and Dees agree that the team looks pretty hot.

“I don’t think there’s a team that can beat us,” Dees says. “We can beat ourselves on turnovers. And lack of rebounding.”

The Santa Cruz Warriors tip off Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Wednesday, April 5 at 6:30 p.m. (PDT) against the Oklahoma City Blue at Kaiser Permanente Arena. The game will air live on ESPNU.


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