The global fixation on Leicester, England, and its shiny capital, Leicester City Football Club, is as well deserved as it is fleeting. After all, pixie dust has a short shelf life these days.
Ask any properly invested Golden State Warrior fan. The Warriors were in many ways last year’s Leicester, and they and their extended family are different than they were a year ago because that is the nature of winning.
It changes those who touch it and see it, and because the first time can never be repeated, everything that follows is not only epilogue but prologue as well.
Now, the caveat. Leicester is defined globally as the longest shot ever to come in and pay, based on their long and largely undistinguished history, their recent travails (coaching and ownership issues, relegation and promotion, general disdain) and their opening odds of 5,000-1. That last one is an acknowledgement that we are increasingly comfortable letting the gambling establishment establish our expectations for us, which may explain why the NFL isn’t so candypants about having a team in Las Vegas any more.
The Warriors’ story of a year ago is nearly that, and yet not as close as it might seem. Long, largely crap history, then a three-year build to historic (by NBA standards, anyway) levels of success. The story’s been told repeatedly -- they were a gold mine waiting to be discovered, or they were a flooded tar pit never to be reclaimed, depending on your level of despair.
They were never 5,000-1, of course, ever. 5,000-1 is now banned in most betting shops because once 5,000-1 pays off, the gamblers make a new and more affordable frontier. Leicester City is the first and last 5,000-1 shot, at least until the next generation of bookies forgets that there once was a Leicester City.
But here is the lesson, if there is one: Once the Warriors did their deed, everyone invested in them, including themselves, and it redefined who and what they are and what they represent. Their moment of wonderment at the view from the top morphed into an all-consuming desire not only to stay but to build a palace for the future. They are shocking underdogs no longer, and are now considered a juggernaut finding new ways to remind opponents how beyond reach they can get before the sun burns their wings.
The latest example of that is beating the drawers off Houston and Portland in these playoffs without Stephen Curry by using their endless wave of useful players to wipe any lead, hope or dream the opponent might entertain. They open a window for you, wait until you stick your head, hand or leg out, and then slam it shut. That is not being an upstart. That is being, well, a bully: “We’re better than you, and we’ll prove it on our timetable. Until then, you do what you do, and we'll be along by and by.”
This may all change in the next round, or the one after that, because nothing is ever truly certain. The second part of the Warriors’ story, after all, is still being fashioned.
But the Leicester story, at least the first episode, is told. They cheated gravity, they cheated death, they cheated money and they cheated the punditocracy -- the Grand Slam of modern everything. They are the new Most Amazing Story Ever, so amazing that when the “What Next?” question arises, it seems weirdly inappropriate, sort of buzz-kill-y.
There is always a “What Next,” though, and Leicester will be asked to figure out a second act to the greatest first act ever. We as a global culture are fixated on "What Next,” which is why idiocies like mock drafts for the day after the draft exist. It is as if we love the moment but haven’t the patience to linger on the moment for fear that the next moment is being forgotten. We as a sports culture strain for command of the future as though the present is somehow inferior.
So Leicester’s “What Next” is coming, just as Golden State’s did. The Warriors attacked it by being even better in Year Two (they have averaged one defeat every 19.2 days and have a winning percentage including playoffs of .888, two numbers that spit on the merely absurd), and have adjusted their world view to “conquer.” What Leicester does is anyone’s guess, because while they will never be 5,000-1 again, they will still get to carry a fully-laden trunkload of other expectations by those who want to see them reinvent magic.
Fortunately, there are two Premier League games left to wallow in this glorious moment before “What Next?” rears its scaly head, and nine more days for them all to remember the greatest accomplishment in the history of organized sport.
The death of the 5,000-1 shot.