In human nature, each and every process has a starting point. There’s always a foundation to anything you do.
In basketball, that foundation is inevitably becoming a fan of the game. Once you learn the elementary basics of the sport, you transfer to a team, or player fan. It’s in all of us. If you watch the NBA religiously today, there’s a 95 percent chance you grew up a fan of a certain franchise. Whether that was during the generation where Washington was still known as the Bullets, or you’re still growing up as a teenager today, it doesn’t matter.
Fandom is the best way to enjoy the experience, to share your passion with others, and in some cases, to understand the game itself.
There’s a prominent example in sports, one that grew up in Massachusetts and devoted his life to Boston sports. Bill Simmons, founder of Grantland, took the sports world by the neck with his love and admiration for Boston franchises (Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins). He turned into the guy everyone could go to for entertainment in sports writing, and the optimism for his teams was something you rarely was accustomed to.
Even Simmons’ columns — love them or hate them — were predicated on being able to relate to the typical fan of the sport, or team. He’s always been a huge supporter of wanting a certain team to win, having some personal interests combine with your unbiased analysis. In actuality, it’s a concept a lot of people wish they could possess in their writing, or radio speaking.
The peak of fun and merriment in sports comes from one’s preference. If you’re a writer or analyst watching Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and wanted Miami to continue their title success, it made it that much more exciting for you when Ray Allen drilled the greatest shot of All-Time.
Another Grantland favorite, Zach Lowe, had a die-hard interest in the Celtics as he rose into the writing industry. Unlike Simmons, however, he grew out of it. Having to watch a ridiculous amount of games, from the other 29 teams, sometimes just drains the fanhood out of you. There’s nothing wrong with that either, as you’ve had your moments supporting the team and just want to move on.
Consider myself as the basis of this discussion.
I grew up a zealous fan of Kobe Bryant, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers. From late 2004 to 2007, the dark days were relentless. After Shaquille O’Neal‘s departure to Miami, nothing could get back on track, regardless if Bryant was the deadliest scorer on the planet. The lack of a frontcourt was sickening, and the unanimous displeasure with Kwame Brown made you wonder how long the franchise would be stuck on 14 titles. Business picked up once Mitch Kupchak brought Pau Gasol over from Memphis, and Andrew Bynum‘s progression actually allowed him to play in an NBA Finals.
To this day, I still relish the onslaught Bryant put on the league during his days of averaging 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game in 2005-06 — and getting robbed of the MVP. Or the maturation of his game beginning in 2007 when Dr. Jerry Buss invited Bryant to his house, and Kobe’s trade-seeking mind quickly changed once Buss explained to him the Laker tradition. How about 2009-10, when he sent five teams packing in the regular season with game-winning buzzer beaters?
This guy became the second generation Michael Jordan, and he had his share of fans during that growth. I was one of the million.
Somewhere along the line, it seems to have caused a problem.
Senior year of high school (2011), I decided what I wanted to do for a future career. Joining the school paper as lead sports editor and entering the University of Louisville after graduation, it was already set in stone that NBA was my cup of tea, and I was hell-bent on getting as close to the league as possible. A few steps later, meeting the Hoops Habit crew along the way, and I was on my way to making a career out of covering the league.
From first hand, I’ll tell you something impossible. It’s impossible to focus your work on a different team, or a group of teams, and not care about the one you’ve been passionate about all your life.
The Achilles tear, along with the fractured lateral tibial plateau, eased the strong fanhood I have with the Lakers, you could say.
Be completely honest … majority of fans out there developed interest in the Lakers because of Bryant, and his championship DNA. When Bryant only played six games this season, it was tough to love these guys in purple and gold. Well, the entire team was different than we’re used to, in reality. Never, since the 2008 Finals appearance vs. Boston, has the Lakers been comprised of role players, 20 different starting point guards, and an injury bug that prevented them from being competitive.
And that’s okay, because we all started as fans of the game.
There is a spot, however, where fandom gets in the way, and creates a hairy problem.
Twitter has grown profusely in the last three years, escalating over 200 million as of February 2013. Half of that — at least it feels like — is “basketball twitter.” The debate that always gets at least 30 tweets out of someone is the Kobe vs. LeBron argument. Sometimes, you get caught up trying to defend the guy you grew up watching, and admiring.
The arguments aren’t going to change the minds of those who have strong fan feelings towards either player, and it just runs into a stat-spitting discussion that goes in circles.
There’s a line, however, that some people get accused of crossing. Seeming one-sided, biased, or even delusional, is some of the reaction you get if you don’t agree with the popular belief. To me, that’s just ridiculous. People have to understand: for the most part, if a guy — or team — is your favorite, it probably means you’ve paid closer attention to them than the ones giving you said reaction.
Take Horace Grant‘s comments concerning Michael Jordan’s Bulls vs. LeBron’s Heat for this one. For those that were raised in the 1990′s and had a general clue about basketball at the time, it would be hands down Chicago. For this generation, some get a little skeptical and say it’s a toss up. Fans are going to have their opinions — as everyone does these days — based on what they’ve watched transpire through their lives.
With your career in mind, if covering sports is indeed the path you choose, you can’t go overboard.
The word “stan” gets thrown around entirely too much when it comes to being a fan of a player, or team. It’s referencing an Eminem song describing an overly-obsessive fan, and people have translated it to sports. That’s where most have it wrong, though.
For me, it’s about Kobe being considered “better” than LeBron. The use of advanced statistics, hypothetical scenarios, regular season MVP’s, and roster strength are all thrown at me. A column in the near future will outline my full argument on the superstar vs. superstar debate, it’s just not the time with the Finals in full swing.
Trust me, it’s not being one-sided. It’s just using my feel for the game, what I’ve witnessed through the years, and watching both grow into their places on the Top 10 All-Time list. It’s not trying to defend Kobe because he’s been a favorite, it’s just basketball analysis and comparing both their games.
Also, understand: When the day comes that LeBron completes his legacy and lays all the cards on the table, I won’t hesitate to move him ahead of No. 24, if that’s how everything unfolds. James will be 30 years old in December, and we have NO IDEA what’s ahead of him. One deadly blowout of a knee, back, or Achilles (God forbid), and we’re left with an incomplete legacy with two or three championships. You have to wait until more is presented to us, in order to place him wherever you choose on the list of greats.
If you can support your choices with respectable basketball analysis and numbers (people never want to be too stat heavy, as there is so much more to sports), fandom is absolutely fine in a journalism career.
It’s about how you handle the situation, understanding that if you’re ever engaging in conversation about your favorite team or player, you talk with your brain and not your heart.
We don’t want our fandom to fade in sports. At the end of the day, it’s what makes it enjoyable. Writing is a thrill — for some people, including myself — but having a preference in what goes on in the NBA makes the journey more exciting than watching with a blank face.