How I became a Vegas Golden Knights fan, one ecstatic tribal cheer at a time
It was the Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals between the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets — tonight’s winner would advance one step closer to the Stanley Cup. I was perched in the press box at T-Mobile Arena, trying mightily to maintain some semblance of journalistic composure as my limbic system started losing its shit.
The game hadn’t even started yet. It was the intro part where there’s lots of amplified bluster and blinding, sweeping lights, and blazing celebrity heads on the video cube. The Jets were already swirling around the rink. Then the emcee thundered the name of the Vegas Golden Knights — and this gigantic uterine medieval helmet disgorged the team onto the ice. The arena roared. The clamor was choral, seismic. It was living myth. It was rousing spectacle. It was one of the most transcendently dumb things I ever saw, and I nearly wept with joy and gratitude. On May 18, I became a hockey fan.
I always had a unilateral grudge against sports. I grew up in an obscure and puritanical religious cult called punk rock. I considered organized religion, organized sports, or organized anything to be forms of a dangerous tribalism that was an atavistic regression from my noble utopian project of, I can’t even remember, worldwide vegan socialism or something. (The only true sport was skateboarding, because it wasn’t a sport. It was the anti-matter of sports.) And, I mean, plus, look around! Tribalism is winning everywhere: in presidential elections, on rage-pundit political programs, on nutty conspiracy subreddits and 4chan boards. The internet was supposed to be a crystal palace of informed dialogue and indulgent weltgeist; instead, it’s become a giant panoptical fly eyeball through which we magnify and multiply our grievances. No tribalism for me, kthanksbye!
But there was something about the fabulous and harmless silliness of grown men dressed in Transformers drag wielding improbably dainty sticks in pursuit of a spastic chiclet of rubber that reminded me there can be such a thing as a benign, and even positive, tribalism. It reminded me that fandom, while always arbitrary at its source, can be fundamentally affirmative. One day in traffic I saw a Knights bumper sticker, and I reflexively smiled. Bumper stickers typically foist a binary on you: You either agree with my views or you’re wrong. You’re either in my tribe or you’re the enemy. Traffic jams — all those stickers — can turn into a freaky tensor field of cognitive nausea. But you can’t intellectually disagree with a Knights sticker, or a Jets sticker, or even a Raiders sticker. (Okay, maybe a Raiders sticker.)
It wasn’t long before I was watching the Stanley Cup Finals at my neighborhood bar — and the I melted into a hooting, shouting we. Inevitably, the beauty of the game came into focus. What at first looked like men covered in diapers swashbuckling with toothpicks resolved itself into a visceral ballet: the offensive line’s tactical bursts into liquid speed, the surgical slams, the graceful snipes and wraparounds, the amoebal passing frenzy toward a score — yes, that quantum cat’s-cradle puck-shuffling at the opponent’s goal, and oh wow how you feel your brain pushing against your skull as you find yourself telekinetically willing the puck into the net—
As a lifelong Las Vegan, I thought myself immune to team spirit. Our city’s transience and perpetual nowness suggested the immunity was constitutional or chromosomal, and therefore proper. Weirdly, though, the Vegas Golden Knights’ instaneity and artificiality — a construction as arbitrary and sudden as a Strip casino — make them a quintessentially Las Vegas team. So: See you at the barn, hosers! I think that’s one of the phrases. I’m still learning.