By Ed Diokno
After the Golden State Warriors historic, record-setting 73-win season and during the 2016 NBA playoffs, take a close look at the gold-clad fans in Oracle Arena, home of the Oakland team. No single race dominates, but there are lots of Asians: Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Asian Indians, Pakistanis, Burmese and more.
The Warriors don’t keep the demographics of its fans, but it’s hard not to notice that half the fans at Oracle are not White. According to the Census about 2 million Asians call the Bay Area home – perhaps the largest concentration of Asians outside of Asia, Hawaii included.
Don’t think management hasn’t noticed the composition of their fan base.
The organization started having Asian Heritage Night when Jeremy Lin was a rookie in 2010. When Lin left after one season, the Warriors continued the night and added Bollywood Night, Asian American Heritage Night, Polynesian Heritage Night and Filipino Heritage Night.
They honored Chinese New Year with a special shirt featuring the name of the Warriors in Chinese characters. Some may quibble with the design but it was historic that the team even bothered to have the shirt, making them only one of two NBA teams to note the date, important in Asian cultures. (The other team was the Houston Rockets, which was the first team to mine the Asian fan base because of the popularity of center Yao Min, who is still revered as a superstar in China.)
The Golden State Warriors are also looking to the future — at the largest market in the world, China. The team recently surpassed one million followers on Weibo. Weibo is a Chinese social media platform that combines the services of Facebook and Twitter, and is one of China’s most popular websites. Last October, the Warriors became the first NBA team to launch an official Weibo account so they will be well set when the NBA Global Games are held in Beijing and Shanghai.
It doesn’t hurt to have Asians in highly visible positions.
A Filipina American, Jennifer Cabalquinto, is the team’s Chief Financial Officer, one of the highest ranking woman in the NBA outside of owners. She has over 20 years of finance leadership experience in a variety of start-up, turnaround, and high growth business environments including Telemundo, TV stations and cruise lines.
“Do you know we have more Facebook followers from the Philippines than we do in the United States?” said CFO Cabalquinto. “It’s amazing. Of the top ten cities where our Facebook followers are based, eight of the top ten cities are in the Philippines. It’s just phenomenal.”
Every sports team has a hype guy to get the fans excited. For the past 11 years, for the Warriors, that’s Franco Finn, aka “Freestyle Franco.”
Being the hype man for this place is really a dream come true,” Franco told a reporter from Balitang America. “It’s just amazing. I’m a Golden State Warriors fan ever since I could remember and now I get to say I pass by this building and say ‘Wow, do I really get almost 20,000 fans here hyped up on their feet?’ It’s an amazing experience.” Franco starts by introducing the players as they come on the floor then leading the chants on the loudspeaker. “Dee-fense! Dee-fense! Dee-fense,” or when star Stephen Curry is on the free-throw line, the chant changes to “MVP, MVP, MVP, … or the iconic cheer that strikes fear in opponents, ” War-riors! War-riors!” That’s Franco at work.
As he says in the video, from his observation, every game should be Filipino Heritage Night because Filipinos are such devoted and knowledgeable fans. You can be sure if he sees any of his kababayan (fellow countrymen) in the seats, he’ll make an effort to interact with them.
The team strengthened that tie-in with Filipino Americans when the Warriors raised funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged the Philippines two years ago.
‘It’s super important that the Warriors are embracing the Filipino culture,” says Warriors Girls Director Sabrina Ellison, a Filipina American.
When the dance team comes out on the floor. Freestyle Franco goes into action, exhorting the crowd to cheer for the dancers. Among the dancers are several Asian American Warriors Girls – Patrisha, Danielle and Clarise.
Wong etched his way into Warrior lore in 2007 when the team was making it’s first playoff appearance in decades, he came up with a two-word slogan that hiked fan frenzy even higher. He printed up hundreds of “We Believe” posters with his own money and handed them out during the opening series against the Dallas Mavericks. Management took notice and the next game, printed up 20,000 yellow t-shirts emblazoned with the rallying cry.
“The team represents what the Bay Area is all about: diversity,” Wong told a Mercury News reporter. “That’s what makes them so popular.”
San Francisco is one of the most popular destinations for tourists from Asia and for Asian investors seeking to invest in the safe and stable U.S. real estate market. Add to that, the fact that immigration from Asia has surpassed Mexico; the future remains bright for the Warriors’ investment in the Asian and Asian American markets.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Originally written in 2015, this post has been updated to include the team’s historic 2016 season.