Along with The World Cup and the Facebook fawning over Prince Fielder’s physique, the NBA’s free agency period has been America's biggest sports story, as both diehard and casual basketball fans are waiting with baited breath to see who captures this year’s crop of free agent fish.
Is Melo staying in NY? Is Houston trolling Miami with their outrageous offer for Bosh? If the Spurs sign Pau Gasol, will they lose a game next year? Wait? The Hornets gave Gordon Hayward how much? Is Michael Jordan still high? How much money did blowing in Lebron’s ear cost Lance Stephenson?
Oh, and Lebron. Of course Lebron. Although half the league has been rumored to be in the Lebron running at some point, at the time of writing, it seems like his two finalists are the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers. And, since I very well may be the only person in the country whose two favorite teams are the Cavs and the Heat, this has created quite a bit of ambivalence.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.” I hear you thinking. “Stop right there. How the hell can you be a Cavs fan and a Heat fan at the same time? I mean, you can like two teams at the same time. Sh*t, I like bacon and turkey bacon. But you can’t possibly like THOSE two teams at the same time. That’s like liking both mayonnaise and Miracle Whip. How does that work?“
Easily. Lebron James is currently my favorite basketball player to watch. When he was with the Cavs, the Cavs were my favorite team. And, when he left to go to the Heat, the Heat became my favorite team.
“Ok. So you’re a bandwagon fan, and you’re still a fan of the Cavs because you rooted for them so long and you feel sorry for them?”
No, actually. I stopped rooting for the Cavs completely when Lebron left. Then, four years ago, they happened to draft Kyrie Irving, a player whose virtues I’ve touted since he was in high school. Even before he stepped onto an NBA court, I thought he had the potential to be one of the best point guards...ever. I root for the Cavs now because Kyrie -- my second favorite player -- plays for them.
“So, you’re not just a bandwagon fan. You’re THE bandwagon fan. The president, CEO, and CFO of the bandwagon fan club.” Exactly. “And...you don’t seem to feel any shame about this at all. How the hell did this happen to you?”
Growing up, my three favorite basketball teams were the Lakers, Bulls, and Warriors. I had a poster of Run TMC, a Bulls Starter jacket, and dozens of Laker t-shirts, sweats, and shorts. Since the Pittsburgh papers didn’t print NBA boxscores and Sportscenter came on past my bedtime, I’d make my dad buy USA Todays just so I could see how these teams fared every night.
And then Magic (my third favorite player) retired because of HIV. And then Tim Hardaway (my second favorite player) tore his ACL and was done for the season. And then Michael Jordan (my favorite player) got suspended, er, quit for two years to play baseball. And I realized I didn’t give a damn about the Lakers, Warriors, or Bulls anymore.
Those events took away all sports fandom pretense for me. I didn’t like those teams because I liked those teams. I liked the players who happened to be on those teams. Once those players were gone, there was no reason to continue to root for those teams. So, instead of forcing myself to suffer through Bulls games with Pete Myers and Lakers games with whoever the hell they had running point after Magic retired (I think it was Sedale Threatt), I embraced the bandwagon; continuing to root for the teams my favorite players happened to be on, and not just the team. Which, when you think about it, makes more practical sense than allowing a team to keep your allegiance. As Chuck Klosterman once put it, when you’re rooting a particular sports team, you’re basically just rooting for laundry.
Admittedly, it’s likely that my bandwagonness is concentrated in the NBA because I grew up in a city with no NBA presence. So, with no hometown team connections, when I first became a fan, I gravitated towards players I found exciting. Perhaps, if Pittsburgh had an NBA team, I’d be as loyal to them as I am to the Steelers. But, that didn’t happen.
So, while much of the country is waiting to see if their favorite team gets a new star player, I’m waiting to see who’s going to be my new favorite team. And I’m okay with that.