To Love the Game

Michael Hogan writes about the fictional championship belt of basketball and basketball history at The Basketball Champs Belt and is currently working to develop the U.S. Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. – Ed. 

Why do we love the game? The following classic 1998 quote from Woody Allen in the New York Observer, sums it up nicely.

When asked why it is so important that the Knicks win, since at the end of the game or even the season nothing in life is affected one way or the other, I can only answer that basketball or baseball or any sport is as dearly important as life itself. After all, why is it such a big deal to work and love and strive and have children and then die and decompose into eternal nothingness?… In short, putting the ball into the hoop is of immense significance to me by personal choice and my life is more fun because of it. – Woody Allen (via The New York Observer)

In most cases, we choose to love the game. We choose to love because the joy and sorrow that our love brings helps us to feel more human. The joy that a Dallas Mavericks fan feels watching his team finally win the championship after many not-quite-successful-enough seasons and the pain experienced by a Minnesota Timberwolves fan when a promising young team loses player after player to injury. The excitement of a long-time Miami Heat fan when LeBron James chooses to take his talents to South Beach and the heartbreak felt by the city of Cleveland after the very same decision. Or the joy of a San Antonio Spurs fan watching superior execution and leadership year-after-year and the pain felt by a Portland Trailblazers fan when yet another player has his career cut short way too early due to injury.

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These feelings help us feel more human. I’m no expert on the subject, but nowhere in the animal kingdom am I aware of another creature that creates complicated games with clearly defined rules and legions of spectators simply for the sake of enjoyment. Strip away the financial incentives, and I suspect that Kyrie Irving or J.R. Smith would still spend significant time dominating at their local recreation centers or outdoor courts. And many of us who either wish we could play at a similar level or have had our time cut short due to various physical woes would still spend time on the sidelines cheering on our favorites, celebrating with them as they hit a last second shot or silently commiserating when that same shot, launched from tired legs that have given tremendous effort, falls short.

The society in which each man lives is at once the basis for, and the nemesis of, that fullness of life which each man seeks.- Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society

Basketball connects and binds us. It divides us into warring tribes that establish immediate connections upon recognition when on foreign soil. Spurs fans attending Mavericks games in Dallas exchange knowing smiles when they encounter one another outside of the American Airlines Center, just as random Mavericks fans who have never met exchange high-fives and words of encouragement outside of Brooklyn hot dog shops before watching their team take on the Nets at Barclays Center.

 


Sometimes love finds us almost inexplicably. My own love affair with the game began when I developed a deep affinity for the local Dallas Mavericks by watching them lose game after game on television beginning in the early ninties. As if to sustain a stronger connection to my hometown, my attention to the team grew when I moved away from home, first for an education and then for a career. Then, in 2006, I traveled back to Dallas while in the midst of making plans to move back. While on this trip, I attended a NBA Finals watch party at the American Airlines Center, where I experienced the pain of watching the Mavericks lose game five of the 2006 NBA Finals along with thousands of other fans. Almost everyone in attendance left the building in stunned silence after the controversial overtime loss.

Like everybody who is not in love, he thought one chose the person to be loved after endless deliberations and on the basis of particular qualities or advantages. – Marcel Proust

At these times, this love feels less like a choice and more like divine intervention. If I had been a child growing up in New Jersey, a similar story might have repeated itself with the NHL and the New Jersey Devils. If I was young in Indianapolis, I might told a similar tale about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts. But my particular set of circumstances led me to the NBA and the Dallas Mavericks. And when the Mavericks raised the Larry O’Brien trophy two years ago, it was one of the greatest thrills of my lifetime. It felt like the end of a long and heart-wrenching journey. With my voice still hoarse from screaming wildly while attending game five of the same series in Dallas, I celebrated the Mavericks championship at home with friends and celebratory champagne.

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But love sometimes hurts. As has been well-documented, the Mavericks disassembled their championship roster due to the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement and spent what should have been a celebratory 2011-12 season limping along through the shortened season with a roster of castoffs and one well-publicized malcontent. While there was a banner to be raised and rings to be delivered, the post-championship season was a bittersweet reminder of what was and would likely not come again anytime soon. While there was hope of Dallas-native Deron Williams and Mark Cuban-fan Dwight Howard joining Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas to create a dream “3D” scenario, the hope proved to be false. And now fans in Dallas are left wondering if we will ever see another NBA championship parade.

We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.- Marcel Proust

Ultimately, for love to last, we must choose. Just as we must choose to view our children as more than simply another responsibility to be managed and we must choose to nourish deep and meaningful relationships with our wives over the ups and downs that inevitably come, we must choose to follow our favorite teams into the abyss when our favorite star begins to age and they break up the band. Whether that choice involves intentionally turning a blind eye to the current state of affairs and limited probability of future success, whether it involves intentionally accepting the future pain that our choice will almost inevitably bring, or whether we simply choose to put our hopes in the Bank of Cuban, we must choose.

Bank in Cuba, By Panther 

Every sports fan must eventually face this choice. Even the mighty Los Angeles Lakers and New York Yankees travel through the inevitable cycles of boom and bust. And every championship won might be the last of a generation or a lifetime. But despite the likelihood of heartbreak and difficulty, we choose. In the same way that every wedding leads to an uncertain future, we choose and we hope. As fans, we share our joys together and together we suffer at our teams failures.

It by caring about things that we infuse the world with importance. – Harry G,Frankfurt, The Reasons of Love.

As another NBA regular season begins to come to a close, some of us will be required to choose short-term favorites to cheer during the playoffs, while others will be rewarded with the rare thrill of ultimate success. And then the calendar will again turn and we will again choose.

In suffering, our love will grow. And in success it will be rewarded. But if that success never comes again, we will at least know that we will have suffered together. And when we recognize familiar team colors, we will share our stories in large arenas and small gyms across the country. If we’re lucky, we’ll pass our love to our children and perhaps their children. Or we might one day sit alone near a television in a stark nursing home cheering our teams to victory or agonizing in their defeat.

But whatever happens, it will be okay. Because we will have loved.

By Jean-Paul Laurens Rochegrosse 
[CC-BY-SA-2.0 or Public domain],

Hardwood Paroxysm