I was upset, and I didn’t know why.
The Clippers had just lost to the Thunder in a wild, controversial finish, and my stomach was twisted in knots. I’m not a Clippers fan, though I immensely enjoy Chris Paul’s surgical precision and Blake Griffin’s progression. I’m not a Thunder fan, even though I lived in Oklahoma for the better part of six years (this is likely the reason why I’m not a Thunder fan), and even though few things are more aesthetically appealing than Kevin Durant’s jump shot.
So I had no reason to be upset following Game 5’s conclusion, yet there I was, loaded with the familiar feeling of irritation after the final buzzer. I didn’t even have reason to care, yet some part of me was sick with unease.
Sports fandom is an odd beast. Sports themselves are a uniting presence, but team vs. team affairs carry outsized emotional impact. Elation follows victory, sorrow follows a loss. To be a fan is to willing persist in a malfunctioning, unbalanced, even abusive relationship. When it’s good, it’s rapturous. When it’s bad, it’s dark and desolate.
More than anything, we want to see a fair fight, if only for the unsullied bragging rights that follow. When we brag to the defeated, we want to be able to gloat free of any ifs, ands, or buts. Controversy gives the victory a black mark, and lessens our ability to brag confidently, or, for the detached observer, to wax poetic about the theater of the match.
The referees didn’t cost the Clippers the game, despite Doc Rivers’ claims in his post-game tirade. It never should have gotten to the point in which the Thunder could conceivably come back, yet sloppy play and uncharacteristically poor decisions by Chris Paul crack opened the door, leaving just enough room for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to barge their way through. However, wild endings such as the one from last night are every fan’s dream — beautifully chaotic and heart-wrenching for both sides. But we want those sorts of conclusions to come about organically, free of outside influences and questionable decisions.
Herein lies the origin of my ire. I wasn’t upset as a fan of the Clippers or as a someone who dislikes the Thunder. I was upset as a fan of the game, of the theater that had been so rudely disrupted by the shrieking whistles of incompetence. Instead of celebrating a fascinating, improbable comeback, there was only mourning for the beauty that could have been.