These days, I’m wondering whether I’m a bad person. Don’t worry, this is not some weird musing about morality that has nothing to do with hoops. You don’t come to this site for that. It’s a hoops-related moral question.
Now that the Knicks are contending for a playoff spot, I am thinking about my NBA team loyalty. And when I think about it, the undeniable truth is that I’m not very loyal. I’m wondering whether this makes me a rational person that others should be like more often, or whether it makes me a disloyal scumbag.
The context for asking this question is that we live in a world where sports-team-loyalty is generally considered to be constant, and is sometimes treated like it’s a reflection on the fan’s character. People become fans of a team by the time they’re six or seven years old, and they remain fans of that team. If the team is bad, their fanship is a sign of loyalty; if the team is good, it’s considered a reward for the loyalty shown while the team was bad. If you become a fan of a team while it’s good, you’re a “fair-weather fan.” Even if you’re a fan of, say, the Celtics because you grew up near Boston, and you wind up moving to, say, Los Angeles as an adult, you remain a Celtics fan or you run the risk of being called a sellout, trader, or something worse. It’s basically your duty to find the bar in Santa Monica where Celtics fans gather, and root, root, root for the road team when the C’s play the Lakers. Just because you grew up near Boston.
But that’s not how I roll. I’ve abandoned my favorite team, and now I’m thinking about going back. Here’s my deal: I grew up in a suburb of New York, and can remember being a Knicks’ fan as early as I can remember being anything. One of my earliest memories is that, one night, after my parents put me to bed and went downstairs, I snuck into their room (the only TV in any of the upstairs rooms was in their room) to watch the Knicks’ game. The Knicks were awful; this was the team with Eddie Lee Wilkins, Louis Orr, Pat Cummings, Rory Sparrow, and Trent Tucker. (And those were the guys who PLAYED.) I remember watching the Knicks get destroyed, and then crying uncontrollably. I knew that my parents would hear me sobbing, and knew that, when they came upstairs to ask what was wrong, I’d either have to lie about what was wrong or admit that I snuck out of my room to watch the Knicks. I was too upset to worry about consequences — I told them that I snuck out to watch the Knicks, and was crying because it just wasn’t fair that they were as bad as they were.
Then, one day when I was a 2nd grader, the Knicks won the draft lottery and acquired the rights to draft Patrick Ewing. I was ecstatic. I had visions of championship banners, and visions of crying Celtics fans, whose parents got mad at THEM when they were crying after sneaking out of their rooms to watch a game. I remember jumping up and down in my den. I threw the couch pillows up in the air. I screamed. I shrieked. I might have even wet myself.
As we now know, Ewing never carried the Knicks to a championship. As I have blogged before, people generally don’t give him credit that other superstars get, and some people even refer to him as a disappointment.
Not me. I grew up during Patrick’s career, and enjoyed being a Knicks fan because he made it fun to be one during the prime home-team-fan-years of my life. I knew he wasn’t as good as Jordan or Olajuwon, but I didn’t begrudge him of anything. When I thought about why the Knicks never won a championship, the things that came to mind were not any shortcomings of Ewing’s, but, rather, images of Charles Smith getting multiple layups blocked against the Bulls, and of John Starks missing shot after shot against the Rockets. Whether that’s a fair assessment of Ewing or not, the point was that, as I watched him age, I felt an immense sense of gratitude. I was mindful of the pain that the Knicks caused me before they got him and of the excitement he created by making them a contender for so long. Sure, it was disappointing that the Knicks didn’t win a championship with Patrick, but he was no disappointment. Not to me.
Just as I started to acknowledge this gratitude, there started to be grumblings in the papers that the young guns on the Knicks — Camby, Sprewell, LJ, Houston — thought that they might be better without my man Patrick. They thought he clogged up the offense, or some such nonsense.
Well, I didn’t like this. Not at all. These fools who were new to my beloved franchise wanted to push my man Patrick out the door. And they wound up pushing him out (people can say what they want about Ewing requesting the trade, my memory is very clear that he only asked out after the guys on his team started talking openly about being better without him). And when they did, they pushed me away from my connection to the Knicks. The year he played in Seattle I was a Sonics fan, and the (somewhat sad) year he played in Orlando, I was a Magic fan. I have not only not rooted for the Knicks since then, but I have actively rooted against them. I’m one of the only New Yorkers who loved the Isiah Thomas era. The franchise that kicked my boy Patrick out the door deserved that, at least in my eyes.
Which brings me to the present moment, and starts to touch upon the question I raise at the top of this posting. Those clowns who pushed my man Patrick out are long gone. The franchise has suffered plenty for its decision to get rid of Ewing for Glen Rice’s horrible contract, a move that set them down a path of misery for many years. Now they’re a lousy but overachieving team with an exciting coach and some players that I don’t mind — as a group, they have many more neck tatoos than the groups of dudes I generally hang around with, but I can actually see myself rooting for this group of players if I decide that it’s ok to root for the Knicks after what the Knicks did to my man Patrick.
So, if I decide to root for these guys, am I a hypocrite? Am I already a disloyal person for hating on the Knicks as long as I have? If so, do I make it right by defending that decision and hating on them even longer? Or, has the wound healed, allowing me to go back to being a Knick fan?
If the answer is that I should have stayed “loyal” to the Knicks all along, what does that say about the essence of being the fan of a sports team? Was Jerry Seinfeld right when he joked that sports fans are just rooting for a certain type of laundry? Or is there more to it than that?