For Golden State Warriors' super-fan Paul Wong, the road to the NBA championship - the team's first in 40 years - was grueling, even as a mere spectator on the sidelines.
“I’m physically, emotionally drained,” he told NBC News. “I wanted it so bad.”
Wong, 43, of Alameda, California is considered by many to be the team's biggest fan. He first saw them play as a six-year-old immigrant from Rangoon, Burma, when relatives in the Bay Area were watching the Warriors on television. Falling in love with the team and basketball, he says, was part of his passage to becoming an American.
This year, Wong, owner of two Hawaiian/Cajun seafood eateries, was watching a Warrior broadcast in March when he saw Leandro Barbosa, the Warrior’s reserve from Brazil utter the words: “We gonna be championship," in a post-game interview.
Those words sent a clear signal to Wong that his team was finally going to achieve what he'd dreamed of for years.
Already a season ticket holder during the 2006-7 season, Wong gained notoriety for distributing handmade placards at home games at his own expense -- about $7,000 dollars. The message on each sign was simple: “We believe.”
The inspiration for those signs actually came from Wong's wife.
“My wife threw a book at me entitled 'The Secret,' because she saw it on The Oprah Winfrey Show," Wong said. “She said, 'read it because you don’t believe in our relationship. You need to focus on it more.'”
“The Secret” - a 2006, self-help book - popularized the theory that positive thinking could help someone to will his way into a particular achievement, goal, or outcome.
“At first, I said, this is hogwash,” Wong said. “But if this principal works, I’m going to use it on the one thing I love the most which were the Golden State Warriors.”
Those were the days when the Warriors would often lose by double digits. Wong recalled hearing Warrior announcer Jim Barnett talk about how players prepare for games under the circumstances.
“He said, 'pick someone out in the stand...show some professional pride…and play for them,'” Wong recalled. “So when I embarked on this journey, I wanted them to play for me. And that sign, 'We believe,' meant I believe in them, that they could make the playoffs.”
The only thing more powerful than sending that message with one sign, Wong thought, was hundreds of signs.
“That’s how I came up with those little placards that I photocopied and distributed within the arena," he said. "So that everywhere these players turned (the message) was in unison—we believe.”
Despite the odds, the 2007 Warriors made the playoffs and defeated the No.1 seed Dallas Mavericks in the first round. But they lasted just one more round. Wong returned to being a more mild-mannered fan in the years that followed. Until this season, when Barbosa uttered his post-game prediction: "We gonna be championship."
Wong's super-fan fire was reignited. “These guys believe they can win this whole thing."
This time around, Wong spared no expense. He had signs, towels, and t-shirts printed, spending upwards of $20,000. The Warriors helped to enable distribution through viewing parties.
“I wanted (the team) to see the words 'We believe championship,’ (so that they) don’t stop believing,” Wong said. “I was a man on a mission."
On the night the Warriors won the championship, Wong was at Oracle Arena, watching it all on the big screen. At his side was Mai, his wife of nearly 20 years, whom Wong credits for launching the campaign by throwing a book at him, and making him a believer.
Wong says he's now looking forward to Friday's celebration parade.
“I’m a tired happy soul,” he said.