The Consequences of Caring
The joy and pain of being a sports fan
Grown men were cheering, yelling and crying. It was a strange spectacle. I felt like they were taking this basketball thing way too seriously. I did not get March Madness when I first moved to America.
If you think about it, supporting a team is an odd behavior. Why scream and yell at your TV for a bunch of strangers playing a game far, far away. My dad used to say, “What the hell do you get from watching these people throw around the ball? Do something useful.”
Usefulness, however, does not seem to matter in sports. Fans screaming at the top of their lungs know that the game has no impact on their life. Yet, they cheer when their team scores and cry when their team loses. It was foreign to me at the time. I never cared as much for a team, I had never experienced the agony of loss. Sports never made me cry.
However, the first time I saw the Tar Heels it felt different. Perhaps it was because they were from my state or maybe I was just a bandwagoner jumping on the Carolina hype train. Whatever was the reason, it did not take much time to go from “They need to win” to “We need to win”.
Over the next couple weeks I learned about Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four. I learned about Roy, his time with Kansas and his first championship at Carolina. I learned about Dean Smith and four corners. I remember watching in awe the iconic shot by Jordan against Georgetown over and over again. I could not get enough Carolina basketball.
When the Final Four arrived I was ready. As a newly recruited Carolina fan, I was set to watch Carolina win its 5th national championship.
Funny thing happens to you when you absorb the identity of a team, their wins become your wins. And when they lose, you lose.
I sat in my couch and watched Kansas dominate Carolina in the 08 Final Four. And I finally got it. I knew why they did what they did. Cause it hurt. It hurts deeply to watch your team lose.
“Then I remembered something. Sports is a metaphor for life. Everything is black and white on the surface. You win, you lose, you laugh, you cry, you cheer, you boo, and most of all, you care.
Lurking underneath that surface, that’s where all the good stuff is — the memories, the connections, the love, the fans, the layers that make sports what they are.
It’s not about watching your team win the Cup as much as that moment when you wake up thinking, “In 12 hours, I might watch my team win the Cup”. It’s about sitting in the same chair for Game 5 because that chair worked for you in Game 3 and Game 4, and somehow, this has to mean something.
It’s about leaning out of a window to yell at people wearing the same jersey as you, and it’s about noticing an airport security guy staring at your Celtics jersey and knowing he’ll say, “You think they win tonight?” before he does.” ~ Bill Simmons
That was the first time Carolina broke my heart.
Instead of pushing me away, it pulled me closer. It may have been at that moment that I decided to attend UNC.
I did not learn much in school though. But, I did learn a thing or two watching that 09 Carolina team. They taught me that motivation gives your superpowers. When you have that fire in your belly, you cannot be stopped.
Psycho T and Lawson were on a mission. They played with a chip on their shoulder. Armed by the sharpshooting weapons of Wayne “Make It Rain” Ellington and Danny “Never Stop Dancing” Green, Carolina was unstoppable that year.
The boys avenged themselves in a manner that was never done before. Eviscerating every single opponent that stood between them and the championship.
It took a while, but Carolina managed to piece together my shattered heart. They made up for the broken promises of 08. They gave me a reason to trust them again.
I was a fool.
They did it again on my senior year.
It was supposed to be the culmination of the best years of my life. I was hyped for days to watch Carolina play Duke.
You have not seen a rivalry until you have seen Carolina-Duke. Argue with me all you want, but there is no rivalry more intense than the one on tobacco road. It is public vs. private, middle class vs. 1%, good vs. evil. The two schools hate each other.
Traveling just 8 miles down the road, Duke arrived on campus as one of the best teams in the country in 2012. But we were better.
I remember waiting in long lines to get into Dean Dome. I yelled all night long as we dominated Duke from the opening tip.
They said that we had it in the bag with 2:15 left and I believed them. It was going to be the perfect end to my Carolina life.
That was the second time Carolina broke my heart.
With 2 minutes left, Duke went on a 10–2 run. With 10 seconds remaining, we were still up: 84–82.
Then Austin Rivers happened.
The man pulled out my heart, stomped it on the floor and gave it a big fuck you with a buzzer beater 3.
Looking back, it may have been the perfect way to end my time at Carolina. The love affair that started with a broken heart, ended with one.
I was an optimist though. Now that I have experienced the most painful buzzer beater ever, I thought I was safe. No matter what happens, it cannot get worse. Giving up a 10 point lead to lose to our rival at the buzzer was the epitome of agony in sports. It could not get any worse.
I was wrong.
The stage was set in Houston, Texas. I was in NRG stadium to watch Carolina win it all. It was the championship game and we were the favorites. Carolina had a potent offense, but Villanova were no push over. The game went back and forth until Villanova finally pulled away with a large lead towards the end of the game. All hope was lost.
But Marcus was not going to let it happen. It was his last time in a Carolina jersey and he was not ready to go out this way.
I witnessed a miracle that day. With 4.7 seconds left, I saw Paige jump in the air and stay there for a whole minute. That is not an exaggeration. He floated in the air for an entire minute, then double clutched and twisted his body to will the ball into the basket.
That shot had the potential to become legendary. Roy said to MJ later, that if we had won, MJ’s final shot against Georgetown would not have been the most iconic shot in school history. It was that good. The universe suspended the laws of physics for a few seconds to help Marcus make that shot.
It was an absolutely beautiful moment. One in which the entire sports world was unanimous in its awe of what had just happened. The defining moment of a brilliant college basketball career was set.
Then, Kris Jenkins happened.
The man pulled out my heart, stomped on the floor and gave it a big fuck you with a buzzer beater 3.
I stood there watching the confetti fall as Marcus and Brice cried into each other’s arms. I could feel the air deflate from of my lungs. I tried to suck in air, but I could not fill the void. It was empty inside.
For the first time in my life, sports made me cry.
The story doesn’t end there because we all know that motivation gives you superpowers. When you are driven by it, you cannot be stopped. It elevated the Spurs to a championship in 2014 after losing to a heartbreaking 3 by Ray Allen in 2013.
It happens in every sports.
Clemson fueled by motivation fought its way back to the national championship and scored the game-winning touchdown with one second left in the game. The stifling defense of Alabama had no chance against the driven Clemson Tigers.
Even the best team in the NBA history could not overcome the fury of motivation. The Cleveland Cavaliers orchestrated an improbable comeback from a 3–1 deficit to avenge their loss against the warriors.
I am telling you, I have seen it happen over and over again. Motivation gives you superhuman powers.
When you watch the championship slip away from your hands in a moment it lights a fire inside you. Kris Jenkins lit a fire on April 4, 2016.
The day after the most crushing defeat in NCAA history, Carolina kids started a group chat called “Redemption”.
You could see it in their eyes when they were down 5 to Arkansas with 3 minutes to go. Those kids put on their cape and punched back with a a 12–0 run to win the game.
You saw it again against Kentucky. They were down by 5 points in the closing minutes but they would not give up. Like lifting a car off an infant, the Tar Heels dug deep down to put together another 12–0 run to win the game at the buzzer with a dagger by Luke “Big Balls” Maye.
Carolina could have folded against Oregon but Meeks decided to become a superhero and grab the game-winning rebound.
Take a look at the final’s stat sheet, it says, Justin Jackson — the ACC Player of the Year — went 0/9 from the 3 point line. That is a recipe for Carolina collapse. But the stat sheet is not telling you about Carolina’s superpowers.
These were four very losable games. Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon, Gonzaga. Any of these could have been losses. Should have been losses any other time. But not this time. Because motivation always triumphs.
Caring is scary because it makes you vulnerable. I tried my best to not care for this team, after the heartbreak of last year. But hearts don’t work that way.
So I accept the consequences of caring. Go ahead Carolina, you can break my heart, that is fine. I trust you. Break it over and over again, because I care. I cannot choose to not care. I am on the Carolina rollercoaster till the end. I cannot imagine living any other way.