The Rant: What Happened to the Knowledgeable Sports Fan?

fan | \ˈfan\
1: an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator
2: an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit)

fanatic | fa·nat·ic | \fə-ˈna-tik\ 
1: marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion

The 2016 NBA playoffs are becoming one of the most memorable in recent memory. You have the Golden State Warriors, a statistically historic team, battling injuries and fighting back from the brink of elimination to force a game seven against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then there’s the NBA’s venerable King, Lebron James, with yet another unfathomable achievement, 6 straight finals appearances! I don’t care if you’re a team of adults playing a bunch of 5th graders, that’s still an accomplishment. And don’t forget about the aforementioned Oklahoma City Thunder, a team with two top 5 NBA superstars, who surprised everyone but themselves when they took down the vaunted San Antonio Spurs franchise in 6 games. You’d think with all this drama and greatness we’re witnessing as fans that we’d be appreciative. Well, unfortunately this is 2016, and I’m not sure when it happened but the death of the educated fan has never been more apparent than it is now. But hey…we’ve got memes! This week’s rant is an open letter to all the real fans out there.

1993 was the last time I was an uneducated fanatic. The year my beloved Phoenix Suns lost to the Chicago Bulls in 6.

Why did Charles have to gamble and over run the play?

I cried like someone died. I was only seven years old at the time, but I vividly remember hating Michael Jordan. Why did he always have to win? I couldn’t handle it; my conclusion? MJ had to be a cheater, and the NBA was definitely in on it. No one should/could win that much! I didn’t know it back then, but I was an uneducated fan. My saving grace was that I was 7. I decided that I would never allow a sporting event, I wasn’t directly involved in, make me feel that way again.

Let me clarify. Yes, I’d still be a sports fan, but I wasn’t going to get caught up in the emotional roller coaster that is the fanatic’s existence. I wasn’t going to lose sleep or forget to eat. There would be no more conspiracy theories and fistfights to defend the honor of millionaires and billionaires who didn’t even know I existed. I refused to live and die with the successes and failures of the sports entertainment business. The pain of 1993 taught me a lot.

I became a fan of excellence. Great players. The BEST players. I went from despising Michael Jordan, to revering him for all that he was, maniacal, miraculous, the GOAT. I was able to appreciate Tim Duncan, even though watching his Spurs teams win championships was the basketball equivalent of watching paint dry, except for the Heat series pt. 2 — that was dope. (see Lebron vilifier comment below). When my entire city reveled in Raja Bell’s clothesline, and despite his disturbing obsession with everything Michael Jordan did, I marveled at Kobe Bryant. In a world of Lebron vilification, of which I’ll admit that I have been a willing participant from time to time, I still have tremendous respect for King James. He’s one of the best ever, period.

King James, say what you will, he’s one of the best to ever do it.

20+ years later and my strategy is still working to perfection. I cheer for greatness. Call it what you want, bandwagoning, whatever. This outlook has added years to my life, and the best part is it hasn’t made loving sports any less exciting. Throughout the years there have been many players I’ve cheered for who have been on the losing end. I wanted first Cleveland stint, Lebron James, to win a title and when he didn’t, well I guess we both took our talents elsewhere. Unlike most, I didn’t blame the King either; the Cavs asked that man to win with a YMCA championship caliber supporting cast. I always felt that Kevin Garnett deserved to get a ring; and even though I enjoyed watching Kobe Bryant more at the time, I wasn’t at all crushed when he finally got his ring at the expense of the Kobe led Lakers in 2008. KG deserved that title!

I know you’re judging me. I know I’m an outcast. I understand. However, I feel the need to share my alternative approach, now more than ever, because the world of the fan is completely out of control. We live in a culture driven by reality television, so it’s no surprise that we love fabricated conflict! Soundbites and social media have converged to amplify the loudest most annoying voices. Television personalities masquerading as journalists are being paid handsomely to troll and incite online engagement. Between the Twitter chatter, obnoxious memes, and click-baiting headlines, the knowledgeable fan is all but gone.

Look, I know a lot of this is nothing new, for as long as sports have existed people have always been irrationally passionate about them. I too stand guilty as charged. But this is different. What used to be a fringe group of individuals has now become the majority. A more misinformed, venomous, and sadistic brand of fandom has developed.

That’s why I’m calling on all real sports fans. I believe true sports fans, no matter how intense they are about their team, can always appreciate greatness. Who says we can’t be passionate without all the sideshows? I want to live in a world where fans don’t drop insanely bad diss tracks for attention. In this theoretical world, I would have no association with anyone that subscribes to Colin Cowherd’s views on Steph Curry (WTF is “layering”?).

Again, I know I’m asking a lot. As fans, we’re caught somewhere on the pendulum between love and hate. If your team habitually sucks, you despise them with the passion of an unhappy lover, but you’re never going to jump ship; you’d rather hold on to the pain. The pain is the fuel, the hope for a chance of future glory. Not to mention, our societal heartbeat is a consensus that revolves around heroism. Our athletes are our heroes, who represent the teams, cities, and towns we love.

All I’m saying is that we should appreciate greatness a little more when we witness it. As clever and humorous as memes can be, they cannot always be our default. Photoshopped pictures and MJ’s crying face are not the appropriate response for EVERYTHING. One of the most beautiful things about sports is that win or lose they allow us to escape the noise and circus of everyday life. I don’t want to live in a world where that’s no longer the case. Rant over.