Sometimes a player is awesome enough to make me cheer for his entire team. Indianapolis' #40 is not that player. (AP Photo)
The best NBA Finals* in recent memory ended last night. I sat in a bar in Bellingham and watched Game 6 as full tables of people who are presumably from neither Dallas nor Miami cheered raucously with each big play. I personally didn't feel any natural allegiance to either team, as I've been a Portland Trailblazers fan my entire life, and I don't really consider either team a rival. And yet, I spent my last two weeks rearranging my personal life to accommodate the ability to watch every minute of each game as if my favorite team were the ones competing for the title.
*I promise this isn't purely a basketball post, so stay with me.
For the entirety of the Finals (until last night), I willingly subjected myself to the punditry on TV and radio, giving thought to each opinion, scrutinizing their analysis, comparing it with my own. The Mavericks and Heat had taken very different routes to get to the championship round -- Dallas with their Picasso-faced stalwart, surrounded by capable role-players committed to bringing a title to the team that many of them had been on for years; Miami with their Hollywood trio of of stars assembled like that Power Rangers thingy to bombard the league with overwhelming talent.
The story should've been about two teams with divergent styles and personalities clashing for the right to put their hands on their sport's ultimate prize (oops, I mean this). Instead, the entire series was caught in the LeBron James vortex, and nothing that Dirk Nowitzki or Dwayne Wade or Jason Terry or even LeBron himself could do would be enough to shift the focus of the Finals off of the maelstrom of criticism he had incurred in trading himself to Miami.
Ultimately, that was the driving force behind the rapt attention that a bunch of strangers shared at that bar, eyes adhered to flat-screens displaying two teams that no one in that room cared about before this year, and most of them cheered for the one they didn't care about until two weeks ago. It wasn't about being a Dallas Mavericks fan or a Miami Heat fan, it was about being pro-LeBron or anti-LeBron; it was about being able to confirm the biases we had all formed about the game's best talent.
Haters proudly proclaimed, as Dirk anti-climatically held up the Larry O'Brien trophy, that LeBron was exactly what they had always said he was, namely a guy who chokes or disappears when it matters most, despite the fact that statistically speaking, most of them probably loved LeBron as recently as a year ago. Conversely, supporters clung to the claim that LeBron didn't get enough help and is still the best player in the league, despite what can be fairly described as wilting in the final three games of the series.
I don't write this to support or hate on LeBron. There's more than enough of that going around right now, and far too many people obnoxiously telling everybody the "change for a dollar" joke as if it hadn't been told 10,563 times since Game 4. Besides, this site isn't the place for extensive basketball analysis. No, I bring this up because it got me thinking about my relationship to sports. I've always striven to be a critically-thinking fan, and as many of you can relate, that presents a conundrum.
It's difficult to find steady footing in the rationality required for intelligent analysis without sacrificing the passion that makes us care in the first place. The former attribute can lead to snootiness and a superiority complex, while the latter lends itself to a fanatic and off-putting disposition. The path between the two looks like this. And yet, on that rickety bridge, is where I, and many of you, aim to be.
The Seattle Seahawks 2010 season is a perfect example of this dichotomy, the tension between the euphoria of a division title and huge playoff win tempered by a 7-9 record and the feeling that the team probably wasn't even as good as that record would indicate. And yet, we cheer. We cheer louder than anyone else even though the Seahawks have never won a Super Bowl and don't appear to be within spitting distance of it next year.
So what makes you cheer? Not just for the Seahawks, but in general? I've been thinking about this ever since the game ended last night.
I'll always cheer for the 'Hawks first and foremost, but my rooting interests are not limited to the warriors in the finger-paint uniforms. Unless they are competing directly with Seattle on the field or for playoff positioning, I root for the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, and New Orleans Saints, in no particular order. Conversely, I cheer against the Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Brett Favre.
I think that my attitude towards non-Seattle teams is mostly fueled by my feelings toward prominent players/coaches on those teams. I've long thought that Peyton Manning was the most impressive and well-prepared offensive player that I've ever seen. I feel the same way about Ray Lewis on defense. I bought into the heart-warmingness of New Orleans' Super Bowl run a couple of years ago and my positive impression of Drew Brees aids my appreciation for them. When I was a young teen, I cheered for the Detroit Lions because Barry Sanders was (is) my favorite player and I thought it was cool that Brian Blades' brother played for them.
I hate the Raiders because of Al Davis and Bill Romanowski and how unbearable my Raiders-fan roommate is when he talks about them. I hate the Pittsburgh Steelers because of Ben Roethlisberger and Super Bowl XL and the gratuitous wringing of the Jerome-Bettis'-final-season-quest-for-a-ring-in-his-home-city storyline. And also because, fuck the Steelers, that's why. I hate the Patriots because of Bill Belichick but mostly because of how obnoxious Boston fans are. I hate Brett Favre because he's a diva but also because I can't stand the verbal fellatio he constantly receives from NFL analysts.
It's weird, because most of the reasons I root for/against teams have to do with a very small percentage of that team's total makeup. Occasionally, I'll jump on board for a certain guy or team in hopes that they accomplish something that will bring the national perception of them more in line with mine, like I did with Aaron Rodgers last year. Sometimes I'll cheer for a team because I think someone on their team is just too freaking awesome, like I do with Andre Johnson or Jamaal Charles. And yes, sometimes I cheer for someone because I think they're a good person and that should somehow relate to on-field success, like I did with Kurt Warner.
And so I turn this over to you, dear readers. Who do you cheer for/against? Why or why not? I look forward to reading your comments.
**Qualifier Alert: I know I started this article out by using LeBron as a vehicle, but please try to limit how much of the comments/arguments are LeBron-based. Not trying to be hypocritical, just hoping this stays mostly football-oriented.