Illustration by Elena Scotti/FUSION/GMG

The NBA Conference Finals are finally in full swing. The Boston Celtics are playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Golden State Warriors are playing the San Antonio Spurs. With the Warriors already up two games against San Antonio, basketball fans are inching ever closer to the all-but-inevitable Cavs vs. Warriors rematch of last year’s epic championship finals. Color me zzzzzzzzzz.

But here at Fusion, the only sports question we’re interested in is this: Which team is woke? We are the ultimate arbiters of sports wokeness, as we conclusively proved when we tackled the all-important issue of which Final Four team was woke back in March. (Answer? Nobody.) So we now turn our gaze to the NBA playoffs. It’s time to dig deep and get some answers.


Once again, we’re using our patented, exclusive Colin Kaepernick Scale of Contemporary Sports Wokeness™, AKA the “so woke, it cost me my job” meter.

Some ground rules off the top:

1) Everything is based off the franchise—its players, its coaching staff, the owners, and yes, even the mascots. The cities and regions they represent won’t figure into our score. So don’t worry, Boston!


2) Assessing the wokeness of a squad of millionaires playing a child’s game at superhuman levels for a handful of billionaires is very important and serious work.

3) This assessment is completely scientific and we’re completely qualified to do this.

Ok, let’s do this.

The Golden State Warriors

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The case for: Right now, it looks like whoever comes out of the Western Conference finals will have the wokest coach in the overall finals. Steve Kerr, who is currently out indefinitely for health reasons, hasn’t reached the no-fucks-given levels that San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has, but he hasn’t minced words about politics this season, either.

Coach Kerr called Donald Trump’s attempted Muslim ban “shocking” and “horrible,” while also pointing out that, if you want to combat terror and protect Americans, this wouldn’t be the way to go about it (and since he lost his father to a terrorist attack, we can maybe trust him).

Steph Curry, meanwhile, has been consistently woke-adjacent, speaking out against gun violence and supporting fellow Bay Area athlete Kaepernick in his protest. Also, if you want to smash fascism in the face, mouth guards are important, and Curry is definitely a big fan of those.

Steph Curry mulls over the gender wage gap. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

And who can forget this beautiful, meme-ified and immortalized moment of Draymond Green boosting up Kevin Durant? Green could very well be extolling the virtues of investing in your own community, the arbitrary limitations that gender norms place on us, or how resistance movements need to be inclusive. But whatever, we guess it’s possible he’s just talking about basketball.

Finally, as far as mascots go, the Warriors (namely this crazy-looking blue thing they call “Thunder”) are about as socially conscious as it’s going to get on this list. Elements are gender non-conforming, I guess, so put that in the woke column.

The case against:

The entire beauty of watching sports is witnessing the improbable-turned-inevitable, and in a lot of ways, the Warriors come-up is exactly that. But there’s an unfortunate side effect. Their success has priced out a lot of their loyal Bay Area fan base—the very people who dutifully watched when the Warriors were trash—and that sucks.


On top of that, the Warriors—in part because the team is owned by venture capitalists, but also because Silicon Valley is a huge cosigner—may very well be the bougiest team in the league. When they’re not on the court, they’re wearing “intelligent sleep masks” and brain-zapping headphones.

Listen, if you’re woke, you’ve got no time for intelligent sleep masks.

We won’t get into whether Zaza Pachulia intentionally injured the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (ahem, not woke), but we should mention Green, who has a really problematic penchant for hitting people in the balls. It’s the ideal place to hit someone if you’re trying to smash the patriarchy, but that’s not exaaaactly what’s happening here.

Oh, and the Warriors are abandoning Oakland for a super-techie San Francisco arena in a couple of years, so...lots of points off for that.

The verdict:

5 Kaeps. The Bay Area continues to show it’s a woke contender, but don’t forget your roots!

The San Antonio Spurs

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The case for: San Antonio may have been the dark horse coming out of the West, but they are the clear frontrunner when it comes to wokeness. That’s almost entirely due to the strength of Gregg Popovich’s hot takes.


The Undefeated crowned him the NBA’s wokest coach back in November because Pop seemingly can’t stop clapping back at the president. He went all in during the regular season, and hasn’t let up.

This gif going around of Pop running? That’s not him playing a goofy little trick on the camera man, that was him looking desperately for his last fuck to give before he realized he had none.


Also, with Leonard out, the Spurs are the supreme underdogs in this fight. And woke points always go to the underdog.

The case against:

Spurs owner Julianna Holt is one of just a handful of female owners in an industry dominated by men, but she also reached the campaign contribution limit last year when donating to Trump’s Victory Fund. So, there’s that.


Plus, a spur is basically a minor torture devise used to get a horse to do whatever the hell you want, which, if you think about it, makes it the perfect symbol for the way a capitalist society tries to leech every ounce of productivity from its workers.

And who’s a fan of that? Not anyone who’s woke, that’s who.

The verdict:

5 Kaeps. We love you, Pop. But that Holt money comes with one hell of a pricetag.

The Boston Celtics

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The case for:

They’re the David to the Cavs’ Goliath here, and Isaiah Thomas is great.

Literally all we got for you.

The case against:

We also went back and forth for a long time over whether Kelly Olynyk’s man bun was woke or not. It does, for whatever reason, seem to be the source of his powers. But history seems to give us pretty conclusive evidence that white men in man buns are generally not to be trusted. See: gentrifiers and Matt Damon in The Great Wall.

Plus, the Celtics mascot is kind of an ethnic caricature, even though nobody seems to have a huge problem with it.

The verdict:

3 Kaeps. C’mon Boston, it could be worse and you know it.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The case for:

LeBron, LeBron, LeBron. Love or hate him, you have to give this to the man: James has been more vocal on social issues that many of his contemporaries, and if there’s one area where he clearly bests Michael Jordan, it’s here. James hasn’t been afraid to support various social justice movements, and the Cavs were one of the teams who donned “I Can’t Breathe” shirts to warm up after Eric Garner’s death in 2014.

Suffice it to say, James made up for the PR debacle that was “The Decision” a while ago.


Plus, as one friend put it, if you truly believe that power should be in the hands of the laborers, than LeBron IS YOUR DUDE. The league’s best player who is the unofficial coach and GM of the Cavs? This is the future liberals want.

Also, “ally” is a bit of a weird concept (rather than chasing validation, you could just concern yourself with doing the right thing) but as far as allies go, does it really get better than Kevin Love?

The case against:

The Cavs’ owner, Dan Gilbert, is a bit of a mixed bag here. The man responsible for the most butt-hurt Comic Sans breakup letter of all time is also the owner of Quicken Loans, the country’s second largest mortgage lender. As Mother Jones points out, Quicken Loans’ image is relatively clean, though it did get hit with its share of post-mortgage crisis lawsuits. Currently, Gilbert has poured a lot of money into “revitalizing” Detroit, which, however well-intended, is sure to bring its fair share of complications.


Following that vein: Kyrie Irving maaaaaay believe the earth is flat, but he may have also been doing a very effective media troll/“political statement.” Let’s say Irving does, in fact, believe the round-ass earth is not round: It would undoubtedly be a stupid, but also relatively harmless thought to have. Irving has also supported Black Lives Matter and shown love to Standing Rock protesters, so maybe it’s proof that even woke people take naps sometimes.

The Cavs also easily have the most non-woke mascot of the bunch. A little history for you: “Cavalier” originated as a pejorative term for those who supported England’s King Charles I—basically, royalists. And royalty is the antithesis of woke. Which is kind of making us rethink the whole “King James” thing.

The verdict:

6 Kaeps. LeBron carries the day again.

The moral of the story? All roads lead back to LeBron. Also, ludicrously rich sports leagues are inherently not-woke entities. But thanks, NBA, for trying!