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Decent Fandom

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Portland Tribune editor and sports columnist Dwight Jaynes just did a column entitled Start Training to Be a Great Fan wherein he gives advice for the betterment of fandom.  As is my right as a fan I probably rejected half of what he said the moment I read it.  But it was an interesting exercise anyway.  I had been thinking for a long time about doing a similar article.  Since he opened the door, I figured I might as well walk through it.

I won't go as far as Dwight did and associate these with being a "great" fan, but we will call it...

TEN TENETS FOR BEING A SEMI-DECENT FAN

1.  It is not always the coach's fault.

This is the Number One rule of fandom...or should be.  Sometimes coaches are bad.  Sometimes coaches lose their teams.  But even a bad, out-of-touch coach doesn't pull his team into the huddle and say, "OK backcourt players...after we hoist a contested 23-foot shot against the buzzer why don't you guys stand around for a minute and allow the opponent to get out on a 3-on-1 fast break."  Generally speaking most coaching styles and strategies can lead to success.  All other things (e.g. talent) being equal if a team's players are committed to the coach, pay attention to the game plan, and execute with energy they're probably going to do well no matter what that game plan is.  The #1 cause of bad coaching is lack of talent on the team.  The #2 cause is lack of consistency among the talent you do have.  Look really hard at those things before bringing up the coach.  If a guy doesn't have flour and half of his eggs are broken he won't be making a cake today.  People can come up with amazingly accurate critiques of coaching sometimes.  But a whole lot of coaching criticism is cover for "I don't fully understand what's going on" or "I don't want to admit my team isn't that good".

2.  Don't Boo a Good Call (and most of them are good).

The refs never do right when they're working against the good guys.  But fans who are crying for integrity in the officiating process should also have some themselves.  If we're going to use Jumbo-Tron, slow-motion, instant replays to critique every official's mistakes let's also acknowledge when those same replays vindicate the whistle.  When an obviously correct call gets replayed and you still hear the cascade of boos rain down it cheapens one of the great privileges of fandom:  righteous anger over a truly blown call.  If you cried wolf 92 times how is anyone supposed to take you seriously on the 93rd?  I hate NFL instant replay for this very reason.  You can predict the response to replay rulings with 100% accuracy...a response based not on the quality of the call but on the direction it goes.  If that's the kind of officiating you want let's just pull three home fans out of the stands every game, dress them up in grey and black, and let them call it.  Every team will be 41-41 and we'll all be happy in our glorious mediocrity.  I know better than to suggest fans stop or reduce their dogging of the refs but at least react with integrity when it's right before your eyes frame-by-frame.

3.  Be a fan of the game.

The best thing in the universe is your team winning. But there's really more to the game than that.  It's OK to appreciate a nicely-set pick or an inspirational rebound even if it's not a SportsCenter highlight and even if it's not your own guy doing it.  Maybe those things will inspire your guys.  Or maybe someday some of those other guys will be your guys.  (If you don't notice this stuff how will you know who to covet in the free-agent market besides those 20-point scorers asking for $20 million a year?)

4.  Be Consistent.  What's good for the other team is good for yours.

It's not fair to ask a fan to see the game differently than (s)he does.  Nor is it fair to suggest we should view our own teams from a detached perspective.  We're obviously going to have rose-colored glasses when looking at our own squad.  But it is fair to ask fans to be consistent with themselves when making public proclamations about their team...at least if they want to be taken seriously.  If you proudly made Assertion X about Team Y in Situation Z last year, one would expect to hear that same assertion this year about your team now that they're getting a little taste of old Situation Z.  Or at the very least don't complain about other people's fans and media folks who are making that assertion.  

One of the most common traits of "fandom" is to assume everything will go right for your team in every situation while assuming those same things will go wrong for everyone else's team in those same situations.  That's incredibly sloppy reasoning.  It's not a problem in itself unless you expect to have a public conversation about these things, which most folks want to do at one time or another.  At that point there's nothing that can be said.  It's like someone walking into the room and announcing all men are pigs or 9-11 was a government plot.  What are you going to do?  "OK...duly noted...moving along."

4a. The Trade Machine Addendum:

If you're not going to trade your marquee top scorer for an ancient guy with a bloated, two-year contract, a journeyman point guard, and a pick that's lottery-protected for the next five years then don't ask whether some other team will do it either...even if it works on the Trade Machine.  This applies to everybody but I'm sending a sidelong glance your way Knicks fans.

5.  Honor opposing fans in the arena unless they're being a total jackass.

We all get it.  This is war.  You're pumped up.  For a couple hours at least the team in those other uniforms is the enemy.  It's no fun at all to be sitting near people who refuse to acknowledge your supremacy and who cheer loudest at the exact moments that break your heart.

But you know what?  I've been that guy.  You're 2000 miles away from home because of your job or school.  The people aren't the same, the weather's not the same, your family isn't there, your friends aren't there, your favorite restaurant isn't there...nothing is like it used to be.  But that one thing that brings it all right back is seeing your team in those familiar uniforms...maybe even putting on one of those shirts or jerseys yourself and cheering them on.  The date has been circled on your calendar all year.  It's the one day where you get to feel right and at home again.

Now imagine the one moment you get is robbed from you because the people around you--who are living in their own houses, eating with their own families, and who get to see their team play 41 times a year--are jerks to you just because you're wearing a different colored thread than they are.  

If opposing fans in your arena are trash talking and being obnoxious all bets are off.  But if they're just cheering for their team like normal fans--even if they forget that they're thousands of miles away from home and jump up in joy when their team dunks--be happy for them and let them be.  If you're going to say anything, compliment them about something you notice about their team.  That way your team and fan base get painted as classy and more people will root for you when it's your turn to make it big,

5a.  The L*ker Proviso:  

The one possible exception to this rule are L*ker fans.  If a guy lived in L.A. and has been following them since the Kareem years the above applies...even to them.  But bandwagon L*ker fans who just wear the jersey because it's popular when their own team sucks?  They deserve everything they get.

6.  There is no "THEM".

The NBA is wonky sometimes.  I found it kind of freaky that the Bulls had a dynasty, then Jordan retired and the Spurs won it....ratings plummeted, then all of a sudden here come the Shaq/Kobe L*kers getting three straight championships, sometimes under questionable officiating.  That didn't seem right and I'm sure still doesn't to many Kings fans.

It's possible to find out a lot of disillusioning things about the league as you get closer to it.  One of the things you find out on the positive side, though, is that it's not rigged.  There is no conspiracy.  David Stern does not hate you.  The refs aren't sacrificing kittens wrapped in your team's jerseys as part of a sinister, striped cabal ritual.  The media have not arranged with the Grays and the Reverse Vampires to make sure your team falls short.  I will always believe that your average Bucks and Sonics will have a slightly harder time producing media stars (and thus generating favorable calls and goodwill) than will your L*kers, Bulls, and Knicks.   But that's just part of the deal if you're going to follow this league.  It's possible to stink in L.A. or New York.  It's also possible to excel in smaller markets.  If your team can't make it that's not because of league-wide plotting, it's because they just couldn't overcome all of the obstacles before them.  At that point they have two choices:  give up or come back and go at it harder.  Invoking the shadowy "THEM" equals giving up.

7.  Not all criticism is evil, nor is all praise good.

A good parent understands the flaws of their child.  It not only helps you compensate, it helps you stay sane.  One of the worst trends in modern child-rearing is never letting your offspring get a bad grade honestly--blaming the teachers, school system, the full moon, Buddha, or anything else that will let your kid stay perfect in your eyes.  Guess what?  Sometimes that C- is Junior's fault.  And realizing that helps you and him cope and correct course.  You hear and give the criticism because you love him.  It's no different for a team.  It's hard to hear somebody criticizing the object of your passion.  But usually, especially when it comes from a local or fellow-fan perspective, that's because they love the team as much as you do.  When something is going wrong talking honestly about it helps everybody cope and goes a long way towards correcting it.  Getting defensive and offended doesn't do either of those things.

This is also true when it comes to praise.  When a guy is a buttmunch, on or off the court, he's still a buttmunch when he's wearing your team's colors.  Blind praise doesn't cover that truth.

8.  Don't ask for credit until your team has done something.

If you listen to any amount of Sports Radio or read any amount of media feedback you will be familiar with the, "Why aren't you giving us credit?!?" syndrome.  It seldom comes from reigning champions, curiously enough.  Usually you hear it from fans of marginal teams which have made marginal accomplishments.  These could include scoring a billion points in the one game out of eight they won, beating a couple of good teams amidst a host of losses, drafting famous players who haven't played enough yet to warrant constant attention, and the stereotypical (and near-ubiquitous) "If the playoffs started today..." countdown.  A couple of months ago I heard a Detroit Lions fan call in to a national show and complain for two minutes that nobody was taking his team seriously as contenders and then a Cleveland Browns fan came on right afterwards and with a straight face listed the reasons his team would be the one to stop New England in the playoffs.  

Wait for it...  Wait for it...  NEITHER ONE MADE THE POST-SEASON.

Much like crazed college kids with their first credit cards sports fans want to buy attention now and pay for it with future accomplishments.  It doesn't work that way.  Fan sites like this one are one thing but if you're talking about national media sources and large-scale public conversation it's a cash-only business.  You actually have to do something meaningful before you get credit for doing something meaningful.  Imagine that.

If your team actually makes it big you won't have to whine.  Much praise will come your way.  Having to complain about lack of credit is an iron-clad sign that your team hasn't made it yet.

9.  Talk with your money too.

This is a conveniently overlooked tenet of fandom.  Sports isn't a right, it's a business.  Yes, it's often expensive, but what leisure activity isn't nowadays?  How spendy is a round of golf?  Dinner and a movie?  You don't have to go whole hog and down six beers, an arena dog, and park at the facility, but if you love a team and follow a team at some point you should probably also buy a ticket to see that team.  If you're not in town and you have to pay a little for a cable or satellite package to see your squad that's not the end of the world either.  I can almost guarantee that most of us spend more money on booze, frills for the car, maybe even magazine subscriptions than we do following our "passion" for sports.  I know all of the arguments about rich owners, public subsidies, and families being priced out.  I even agree with some of them.  It's ridiculous sometimes.  But we're not talking about becoming a season ticket holder here or voting for a new arena.  I'm just saying if you appreciate a team you should probably buy a ticket or two to show that, or a cap or jersey, or a League Pass subscription.  

10.  Learn to be 100% involved without it being 100% about you.

We live vicariously through our teams and their players.  That's what sports fans do.  I've never had a problem with being immersed in this alternate life while conducting my real one in parallel.  The more you put into it the more you get out of it.  However such vicarious submersion also requires some distinction.  Rooting for a team is supposed to connect you to something beyond yourself.  Lose that sense of "beyond yourself" and you lose what makes it great in the first place.  Worse, you make life miserable for everyone around you.

How comfortable you are with people disagreeing with you is a pretty good barometer of where you stand.  Trailblazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard once said that sports is 100% opinion.  Some opinions are better than others but nobody has the answer 100% of the time.  I don't think there IS an answer 100% of the time.  Really rooting for a team, and being together with other people who are also rooting, makes understanding that mandatory.  The minute you think you are God's gift to sports conversation and your opinion is inviolable you have ceased participating in sports and are only participating in you.  Note that we have been very ill-trained in this sense because sportscasting has become increasingly about my opinion being more correct than anybody else's, me getting most of the airtime and attention, and shouting down everybody else who disagrees or tries to nuance my point.  That isn't sports, it's verbal auto-eroticism.

If you find yourself doing things like making predictions that your team or one of its players won't do well, and then rooting for the team or player not to do well so you can be right, it's time to get out.  If you find yourself taking joy in winning primarily so you can shout down other people on your local message board (or worse on somebody else's) it's time to get out.  If you can't have somebody disagree with you without seeing them as the enemy it's time to get out.  You're not having fun anymore.  You're not being transported with delight anymore.  That isn't passion anymore.   At best it's an addiction to something unhealthy. And it tends to make others unhealthy too the more they listen to and argue with you.  If you're going to roll like that at least do it in a field that either matters or has concrete answers.  You'll never find satisfaction in the field of sports that way.  It'll just be one, never-ending, frustrating, unsolvable argument after another.  That's way too depressing.

Especially when your team is going to win the World Championship like ours is.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  Wow...that ended up being a lot longer than I originally envisioned!  Ah well...don't blame it on me.  It's Dwight's fault.