Day 59: When I stopped caring about the NBA

Growing up in the suburbs of Portland, I was a hardcore Trailblazer fanatic. I use the word ‘fanatic’ because ‘fan’ is literally an abbreviation of my unbound sentiments. I have mountains of apparel, basketball cards I’d get from eating a steady diet of Franz bread, and once I used to be a scrappy player on the court, always out of control and having a good time.

Four years ago, everything just stopped.

I’m sure many of my closest friends, colleagues, and family would be shocked to hear that I am generally glib about these things.

Let me explain what happened.

I moved to a city that doesn’t care

I lived in Southern California, deep in Laker country (with a growing contingent of Clipper fans). At the time, I thought Laker fans were THE WORST. Some would even cheer when players on my team would suffer chronic injuries. How fucked up is that?

Now I realize that attitude served to strengthen my solidarity with other Blazer fans, including my bad-ass grandmother, who never wavered in her support despite living in California for over 25 years.

I drank the Kool-Aid, and it tasted wonderful.

Four years ago, I moved to Pittsburgh. There is no professional basketball team there, and aside from the fantasy basketball players (gambling acts) or die-hard sports fans (super-bros), there wasn’t anyone around to reinforce my passion.

A fire left unattended will eventually extinguish.

Pittsburgh IS pretty intense about their other sports teams: the Steelers, the Penguins, and the Pirates all have rabid fans. I just wasn’t in any position to adopt a new one.

Side note: because the Lakers AND Clippers aren’t doing too well as I write this post, everyone is now a fan of the Golden State Warriors. My continued sentiment: Southern California fans are the WORST.

I couldn’t handle the heartbreak anymore

Much like being a Boston Red Sox fan between the years of 1918 and 2004, or a Cleveland sports fan all the way up to 2016, it’s not easy being a Portland Trail Blazers fan. I started being a Blazermaniac in 1990, when Clyde Drexler went to the Finals with a solid all-around team and lost to the Detroit Pistons, a collection of hyper-athletic Biff Tanners.

The Blazers would return again to the Finals in 1992, facing off against the Chicago Bulls and inspiring a pretty decent SNES game in the process. The years after became the dark period known as ‘The Jail Blazer Era,’ where players were routinely affiliated with legal battles or thuggish personas. (We were even hit with fines for wearing basketball shorts too low.)

Throughout this era, I remained loyal to my team. I remained patient until the draft handed us three miracles: versatile Washington shooting guard Brandon Roy, long athletic power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and in the following year, the number one draft pick that would be Greg Oden.

I thought this combination would lead to a glorious dynasty in the city of Portland for the next 10–15 years. Sadly, Roy and Oden’s careers were sidelined early for crippling injuries, and while Aldridge was a solid player who committed several years to the team, he eventually went home to Texas and fill the impossibly huge shoes of Tim Duncan.

Losing Roy in particular was the nail in the coffin for me. He was a true leader, gentleman, and fighter on the field. Even Kobe Bryant claimed he was the most difficult player to guard in the league over Kevin Durant.

Watching him go from that to yet another young man succumbed to bad knees was too much for my heart to take.

Ideology is a pervasive drug

Once I stopped, an epiphany: none of this obsession made my life better. Sports fandom operates much like national identity. We choose a side, we find an opponent, and we do everything we can to love our vanguards and hate anything that stands in their way to victory.

I learned to hate people based on their affiliation. It was actually fun in the moment, but now I realize that such a state of mind leaves me vulnerable to the exploitation of others. As long as I was stubborn and apparent about what I believed to be “right,” everything from corporate marketing to pandering politicians could capitalize on my wallet… or even my vote.

Once I learned to let go, I felt more free than ever.

But I do miss one thing: watching “the game” with my Dad. We didn’t communicate well growing up, struggling with language and cultural issues on top of the usual father-son angst that most people go through.

However, we could always talk basketball. Even when I lived apart, we’d still call each other and talk about the game. When Yao Ming came to play, we managed to get two nearby seats and watch it together, live.

Basketball brought my dad and I together, despite the trenches that divide us otherwise. I hope I’ll find other ways to build bridges across them to him.

— Lee