As the new NBA season begins, the Golden State Warriors find themselves in an unfamiliar role: villain.
After the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry from unheralded Davidson College in 2009, fans across the country became enamored with his exciting style of play. Through the years, the team added players to complement Curry’s scoring prowess – Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. In 2015, they won the NBA championship, ending the franchise’s 40-year championship drought. Last year, they broke the Chicago Bulls’ record for most regular season wins.
But when superstar Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder to sign with the Warriors during this past summer – turning an already dominant team into a “superteam” – the backlash was swift: “The Warriors Went From Heroes to Villains in Record Time,” The Ringer declared.
Similarly, Durant, previously a well-liked player, had become a “reviled villain.”
“Watch the exponential increase in venom thrown [the Warriors’] way this year,” sportswriter Marcus Thompson II wrote in The San Jose Mercury News. “Durant jerseys are already ablaze in Oklahoma City.”
I’ve been studying sports marketing and the psychology of sports fans for several years. Fans and executives often lament the formation of “superteams,” saying it’s bad for competitive balance and bad for business. But while these teams quickly become loathed, psychology research has shown that they also make us more likely to watch – and bask in the joy of seeing them fail.