Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cheering for a Champion: One Laker Fan's Lament

No one cries for a champion. At best, winners receive a begrudging kind of respect. At worst, winners are the targets of pitched jealousy. Both are earned. Neither really matters. The champion is the champion. There is no need for any further validation.

When your favorite team wins a championship, it is common to feel a beautiful combination of joy and relief. All of those nights you cursed at your TV were worth it. All of those mock drafts and fake trades you generated had meaning. And every piece of shit you talked with opposing wasn't just shit-talking, now was it?

In the event that your team wins a second or third or fifth title, your vantage point as a fan evolves. No longer are you the desperate observer. Instead, you may find yourself wallowing in the sustained brilliance of your team's play. As you wallow, you'll behave arrogantly. This is inevitable. If you're any kind of smart, you'll move away from the arrogant sense of entitlement that can seize the average winner. And you'll recognize that you occupy a privileged observational space.

Most people are quick to acknowledge that history is being made, but how many can say they followed it from the precise point in time the moment was conceived? While cheering for a dynasty, you're not just watching history happen, you're in the middle of it repeating itself over and over again. It's hard to explain to someone who is ambivalent about sport--let alone a fan whose team has never won a title. You may as well tell someone you were an engineer when Herbie Hancock used to play with Miles Davis. Or when Jay Dilla recorded with...anyone.

What you may lose sight of--either because you're consumed by the long tail of your team's brilliance or because you're reluctant to accept that it won't trail forever--is that every conception eventually yields to a completion. If it began, it must end. When a season ends with your team raising their sport's most coveted trophy, the ending itself is the source of desire. That's what you wanted and that's what you got. It is the epitome of satisfaction.

But after you've tasted that same kind of satisfaction for the fifth time, it's not quite so...satisfying. Relief overtakes joy leaving that feeling you felt way back when your team claimed its first championship to be grossly imbalanced. And you're probably gonna wonder why that is.

Truth be told, when you're cheering on a transcendent player (or group of players) you'll reach a very distinct point at which you must accept that their transcendence may endure in the videos and t-shirts and headlines they leave behind. But it cannot continue on the court (or the field) forever. And you never know which championship will be the last one. To be frank, that feeling kinda sucks and it is your unique burden. No fan of any other team will weep for you. To be frank again, you can't even really talk about it as the conversation will only elicit a sense of relief in other fans that your team's obnoxious stranglehold could soon be coming to an end. And that is not the kind of relief any fan of a champion several times over wants to contemplate.

So where does that leave you?

As a fan, your options are limited. You can rage against the dying of your team's light by advocating for trades to concede the current season in favor of stockpiling for a more serious run at next year's title. But what if there is no next year? And what if the trade that looks good today is oh so wrong in the long run? You can run a bunch of numbers to generate extremely likely probabilities, but you can't know exactly what will happen until it actually happens. can watch the games and take the journey. Again. Just like it was the first time. The desperation is there. But it is very different. The desperation of a champion is not at all like the desperation of a challenger. The challenger, as you'll recall, needs to know what winning feels like. The champion, as you now know, worries that the era of his dominance may never come again.

It is not, in fact, much of a choice at all. Fortunately, your favorite team continues to compete. And there is a championship--somewhere out there ahead of the regular season slog--to be won.