Wednesday night marked an end and a new beginning. For many teams, the NBA season is just now hitting full stride. The playoffs are among us and there is no questioning how thrilling it is to have finally reached the pinnacle of a very long season. However, for 14 teams, the regular season finale stands as a bittersweet end.
My Cavaliers are obviously not headed to the postseason and for the first time in several years simply go home. Game 82 is the end of the road for mine and so many others’ favorite teams. To many true fans, however, this is much more than a systematic completion to a difficult campaign. Not only will I be unable to watch the Cavaliers play, I must also curb my passion for several months. As a pure basketball fan, I will thoroughly enjoy the drama and quality team play of the postseason, but something will be lacking. Naturally I have my preferences about the teams that still have hopes of claiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the diehard fandom that makes the sport so enjoyable was cut off last night.
For fans of homeward bound teams, like myself, the conclusion of the NBA season is a both a blessing and a damn shame. Watching the team you love, struggle, night in and night out, becomes difficult. The offseason seems like the only safe haven from a beleaguered roster and unsatisfying results. At the same, though, you don’t want it to end. The heated discussions and bonding over similar enthusiasm are things that go far beyond sports. I had always maintained the thought that being a fan meant more than the contests on the court or the transactions in the front office. But not until last night did I truly understand the unifying power and transcendence that accompanies the game.
Several hours after the Cavaliers concluded their season and graced the legendary Joe Tait with a farewell victory, I tuned into some of the other season finales. Some fan bases eagerly await the first round of the playoffs and others show their utmost appreciation for their players in the midst of a disappointing season. No matter how each team ends their 2010-11 season, fans will hold a similar sentiment, one that provides hope and allows their passion to be perpetuated.
There’s always next year.
For the supporters of the Sacramento Kings this may not be the case. As I glanced at the score tracker on my computer screen I was unsurprised to see the Los Angeles Lakers beating up on the Kings late in the game. Nevertheless, I turned on the game to watch what many figure to be the last game played in Sacramento before the team relocates to Anaheim. I don’t know any Kings fans personally, nor do I have any connection to the franchise, whatsoever. Regardless, the events I witnessed on April 13, 2011 will forever be engrained in my mind.
A deafening Arco Arena roared as the severely outmatched Kings staged an incredible comeback. I know that my team will be back next year, but the thousands of Kings fans faced the prospect of their passion being tested for a final time. Cowbells clanged and chants of Hear We Stay could be heard loud and clear. The so-called “Sixth Man” willed their team to a 20-point, fourth quarter comeback in order to force overtime. Although the team fell to the Lakers in the extra period, the game sent a message: We want more basketball in Sacramento.
And that is exactly what they deserve. Thousands of fans refused to leave their seats following the game and waited for the team to emerge from the locker room. As I sat on, watching the most primal emotions be unveiled in fully-grown men, I could not help but feel for them and put myself in their shoes. Knowing how unbelievably devastated I would be if I lost the team that I love so dearly, I was unable to hold back tears. I would have some rather choice words for those who claim that it is “just a game,” and urge them to watch the emotional signoff by the Kings’ broadcasters. Fanaticism certainly gets overblown at times and needs to be put in perspective, however, the game is just not the same without it. Being a supporter of a team is much more than just watching the games and hoping for pleasant results. It’s about the lessons learned from losing, just as much as it is about the jubilation that accompanies winning.
Moments like the one we witnessed in Sacramento, Wednesday night, show why our society is obsessed with sports. Athletics have the uncanny ability to bring a community together and teach us about our human nature. The Cavaliers allow me to stay attached to my home while attending school on the other side of the country. I woke up in the morning and proudly put on my Cavaliers sweatshirt. Being a fan allows you to become part of a family, something that is much bigger than yourself. I knew I would be ridiculed in class for representing one of the worst teams in the league, but anybody familiar with what the fans in Sacramento are going through knows that it is much more significant than a ball going through a hoop.
The game on the court is what makes it entertainment. The passion off the court is what makes it so much more than that.