“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”
The first line of A Tale of Two Cities is strikingly accurate in the context of sports fandom. In fact, if you asked me to describe “sports,” I don’t think there’s a better way that I could put it. As I watched my favorite team, the #1 seeded Boston Celtics go down 0-2 to the #8 seeded Chicago Bulls, dropping two straight games at home to a team that just barely crawled into the postseason, it reminded me of the pain of the 2011-12 season. This was the beginning of my understanding of the concept of “sports” and what it really means to be a sports fan.
The first time I ever cried over a sports result was in 2012. The Boston Celtics, coming out of the lockout that led to a shortened 66-game season, sputtered out of the gate. They looked old. They looked washed. The guys looked tired. The hot takes on social media and from national media personalities were flying. “This team is finished.” “They’re too old.” “They can’t get it done anymore.” It was painful for me to hear because I was still relatively new to sports fandom, and all I had known was how to be a fan of a good sports team. The C’s dropped five straight games, and it actually left me in tears. It was a really weird experience, one that I was going through for the first time.
At that point, that was my sports low. I had never felt so defeated over watching grown men toss around a ball. Then sports happened. What I mean by that is that the Celtics turned their season around. We went from the worst of times (a terrible start) to an extremely strong finish in the Eastern Conference Finals (the best of times). I’m still upset about Game 2 (IF THEY CALLED THE FOUL, WE WIN THE SERIES). I mean, seriously, look at this:
Devastating. That’s a four-point swing in a game that ended as a one-possession loss for Boston. But ignoring that, watching the team march through the playoffs was such a joy, and the only reason why it was so enjoyable was because we (I’m going to pretentiously speak on behalf of all Celtics fans here) had struggled through the early season. When I think of the 2011-12 season, I don’t actually think of “the pain” of that season. I think of how phenomenal the journey was.
Those same talking heads that called the team old suddenly respected them as veteran leaders. The Celtics went from tired and washed to tough and rested. The narrative changed, and it was glorious watching everyone from national media to Twitter trolls swallow their words. Feeling the struggle of going from top to bottom back to the top only to sink to the bottom in order to surge back to the top . . . that’s what we call sports, and it’s beautiful.
Well, it is if you’re on top. It’s hard to keep perspective when you’re in the valleys. Oh, but how great the peaks are!
What makes the peaks and valleys so high and deep, respectively, are the narratives. If the Celtics hadn’t been labeled as old and decrepit as they were, it wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying when they were crowned savvy and having moxie (can’t believe I just used that word). Currently, the worst part about the Boston Celtics going down 0-2 to the Bulls is the collection of all of the narratives that’ll be running until either the Celtics win or they’re put out of their misery.
“The worst first seed of all time.” “Assets.” “Brad Stevens is overrated.” “The Nets pick didn’t score tonight.”
The Celtics still could win this series. Never underestimate this Chicago team’s ability to mess things up, and coming back from a 0-2 deficit isn’t impossible. They also might not win, and the Bulls can continue their progression away from the mean. No matter how this series ends up, other teams smell blood, and the narratives won’t go away overnight. It’ll take a massive turnaround and a deep postseason run (which really isn’t looking likely, but let me not get started) for people to even begin to think about reversing the narrative. Frankly, it’s annoying. We’re here to support our team, and finding resistance to that inherent goal that we have as fans is frustrating.
I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.
It’s okay that people may not like your team. It’s okay that your team sucks. Your team, which might not be the Celtics, may be in a valley right now. Enjoy it. Soak it up. Embrace it. Breathe in the negative narratives. One day, maybe one day soon, it’ll all flip, and your team will be on top*.
Getting there might be painful. It might be frustrating. You might not even care. But the best part of sports is the emotional effort that we put into it as consumers. It’s a double-edged sword; it hurts when balls don’t bounce our way. That emotional investment makes the valleys really low. It can put us in a dark place, especially if our real lives are already not going well. After all, sports function as an elaborate form of escapism.
But! When you put that emotional investment in, and you ride with your team through the valleys, the peaks are worth it. In other words, the lows feel extra low when you put emotion into it, but the highs are extra high, and those are the moments we live for. There’s no better feeling than to love
a sports team and to be loved which is how you feel when your sports team does good sports.
It’s all worth it, and an entire franchise’s fate can be changed in an instant. Why? Because sports ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Enjoy the ride.
*Doesn’t apply to perpetually trash teams like the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks *ducks*, etc.