The Atlanta Hawks have NBA superfan James Goldstein rooting for them


With 20 wins in 22 games, a small fanbase, and a balanced group of selfless non-superstars who genuinely root for one another, the Atlanta Hawks are primed to add riders to their bandwagon. Throw in the fact that they’re promoted by a devastatingly clever social media team, and it is to no one’s great surprise that fans are starting to join up.

Why not throw in a superfan too?

A note of context

I have probably written 500 pieces for various NBA blogs. As far as I can recall, I have only written once from a first-person perspective. This story involves some of my preconceived (and hooray, largely mistaken!) notions, so to include those perspectives, I’m going to get lazy and do it again.

The Hawks finished a three-game West Coast road trip Monday in Los Angeles. It was a fabulously played game. The Clippers played well. The Hawks played better than the Clippers did. At the end of the L.A. version of the broadcast, Clippers play-by-play legend Ralph Lawler openly conceded that the Hawks were a better team after beating L.A. soundly twice in a month. But on the Atlanta version of the broadcast something else was happening.

After the Hawks’ 107-98 victory, Hawks’ reserve forwards Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore were getting congratulatory handshakes from, of all people, NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein.

Goldstein is famous in NBA circles for his devoted attention to the NBA. He road trips to various cities in an attempt to see as many games as possible, including dozens of playoff games each year. He attends both Laker and Clipper home games. When he was commissioner of the league, David Stern once said of the sideline-sitting fashion maven, “James Goldstein is our largest investor in NBA tickets in the world.”

Apr 27, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers (left) shakes hands with NBA super fan Jimmy Goldstein (right) before game four of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Clippers 118-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jumping to conclusions

I could hardly believe my eyes. It’s not like Goldstein, who lives in the Los Angeles area, is difficult to recognize. There aren’t hordes of long-haired, fashion-savvy, 70-somethings patrolling NBA sidelines in snakeskin hats. But like a bunch of Hawks followers, I was watching way past my bedtime on the East Coast, my eyes were bleary, and the clip was only 1.5 seconds long before the camera cut away, so I didn’t quite trust my first instinct. I had to rewind.

Then I remembered some things I had read from an piece that Goldstein penned himself.

One note of interest: Despite attending upwards of 100 NBA games per season, he didn’t really have a team to root for other than to root against the Lakers.

"My anti-Lakers sentiment became more firmly entrenched for a number of reasons. First, I usually pull for the underdog in any sports competition, and the Lakers were getting to The Finals or winning championships far too often for me. I like it when a different team becomes a title contender each year.Secondly, I didn’t like it that the Lakers were able to attract so many superstars away from other teams."

The other thing that stuck in my mind resonated with my own interests. As far as the NBA goes, I write for two blogs: one about the Bucks (Bucksketball) and one about the Hawks (Soaring Down South). Another keen passion I have is for old pro basketball stuff, hence, my ABA-based Twitter ID: @anaheimamigos.

So when Goldstein wrote that, as a 15-year-old, he had once worked as a volunteer statistician for the Milwaukee Hawks — the first NBA team that called Milwaukee home back in the 1950s — it burned firmly into my often-forgetful brain.

Then it struck me.

Perhaps Goldstein was a long-lost Hawks fan.

Is he or isn’t he?

Think about it: Goldstein liked the Hawks, worked for them as a teenager, but life got in the way. He moved, the team moved — first to St. Louis, then to Atlanta — and of course the real kicker: the Hawks had not gotten past the second round of the playoffs in 46 seasons of playing in Atlanta. Perhaps that fandom was still there, lying dormant but ready to reawaken.

So I reached out via email to ask him. Are you rooting for the Hawks this year? Are you a Hawks fan?

Here was Goldstein’s response.

"“Yes. But not because of the Milwaukee connection. It is because they are showing that it is possible to be a top team without superstars!”"

Well, there you have it. I should have remembered Occam’s Razor. The rule says something to the effect of, “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest number of assumptions is most likely to be the correct one.”

Or, if you prefer the even more distilled version, “The simplest answer is usually correct.”

The Hawks are the upstart team playing unselfish basketball, and it’s simply fun to root for them.

(hat tip to @wha1en for help with the audiovisual things.)

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