Remember when sports contests got so heated that fans of the opposing teams would actually engage in physical violence against one another?
Picture bare-chested, beer gut-toting middle-aged men attempting to box one another during some random football game. Not the prettiest sight, I’ll concede, but a stereotypical depiction of what happens at sports venues.
What drives otherwise sensible and logical people to the point of physical altercations against each other at sports venues everywhere? It’s not cheap beer, or even the stereotypically male need to assert one’s dominance over others, although the case could be made. It’s loyalty, plain and simple. Loyalty to a team, to a city, or even to a specific identity or affinity is such strong emotional motivation to sports enthusiasts.
A trend that I’ve noticed recently that somewhat baffles me is meeting fans of any given team who, for lack of a more respectful phrase, have no seemingly logical reason, purpose, or need to cheer on that team. I’ve met Oklahoma City Thunder fans from New York, Miami Heat fans from northern California and New England Patriots fans from South Florida. If you’d like to know what my reaction to hearing this looks like, just picture the Jackie Chan WTF meme.
Furthermore, another trend that I must admit I loathe more than the aforementioned geographical oddities in loyalty has got to be the spike in the size of a team’s fan base when the given team begins to win, seemingly out of nowhere. Trust me, if you didn’t notice the ridiculous growth in the Miami Heat fan base after the summer of 2010, then you must have been living under a rock for the past two-and-a-half years. Of course, there’s the one case that I will say I absolutely detest above all the rest, and that’s the growth of the Los Angeles Clippers’ fan base since the acquisition of point guard Chris Paul.
If you know a thing or two about basketball, then you might be saying to yourself right now that I’m just another salty Lakers fan — based on my column moniker — who is witnessing the rise of one team during the outstandingly disappointing fall of my team. Well I am salty, and in any case I’m writing about loyalty, so please indulge.
I’ve been a Lakers fan since I can remember, which honestly would probably be the first time I touched a basketball, so probably somewhere in the neighborhood of sixteen years I’ve been bleeding Purple and Gold. Since I was born, the Lakers have only missed the playoffs once, and although it’s looking more and more likely everyday that this year might be the second time that it has happened in my entire life, I’ll still be in your face if you say anything negative about my team.
Even though the team was below .500, I bought tickets to take my pops to watch the Lakers play on Christmas Day against the Knicks, and even when the Lakers were trailing in the game, I wasn’t dismayed. Instead, I continued to talk trash and cheer on my team. And when the Lakers eventually won, I relished in watching all the Knicks fans who had the cojones to sit in the Staples Center walk out quietly. I just had to sneak that jab in there New Yorkers, so take that.
My point is that I don’t care if the Lakers are 82-0 or 0-82, I’m going to be a loyal Lakers fan no matter what. I didn’t become a Lakers fan because the Lakers are, historically, the most consistently successful franchise in the NBA, or because of the Mount Rushmore of historically significant basketball players who have donned a Lakers jersey at one point in their career. I’m a Lakers fan because I was born into it. My father was a Lakers fan before I was born, so when I expressed interest in athletics, I was immersed into that culture. Rooting on the Lakers became an activity through which my father and I bonded. Long story short, I’m emotionally invested in the Lakers. Being a Lakers fan is not a fad, or something that the rest of my friends were doing, and I’m certainly not doing it to be cool. It’s all about my loyalty to where I’m from, and how I learned a sport that I love to this very day.
When I meet bandwagon fans, the same thought always pops in my head — I wonder how long they’re going to last. I wish I could find a way to measure the change over time of the fan base of professional sports teams, because in a very real sense I can predict right now that there’s always a spike in that quantity the second the team starts doing well, an eventual plateau, and then a decline when the hype ends, or the team has a bad to lukewarm season.
As I sit here typing, fully cognizant of the fact that my beloved Lakers are a very humble 20-25 more than halfway through the NBA season, I’m at a bit of a fork in the road. Should I keep cheering on my Lakers knowing full well that they may not make the playoffs — which I would liken to trudging uphill in rough terrain, or should I jump on a bandwagon to relieve my weary and tired legs?
Logic says jump on the bandwagon and go for a ride, because it’s easier that way. My loyalty tells me otherwise, and your loyalty should too. If you’re finding it hard to cheer on your team, grit your teeth and let the bandwagon go by.