I’m renowned for describing, in excruciating detail, just how much I hate basketball. Now, with the country consumed by March madness and me being in Basketball Central (otherwise known as Indiana), you have to wonder how I’m coping with the NCAA college playoffs.
Pretty well, actually, because – truth be told – I don’t hate basketball. Don’t let word of that get around; I have a reputation to maintain. The only thing I really dislike about the playoffs is the way they seems to attract bad weather.
Granted that I’m not terribly interested in basketball, except for the cheerleaders. I don’t know who the stars are, I don’t know who’s favored to win, and despite being from the land of Notre Dame, IU, Purdue, and all those other U’s, I don’t have a favorite team. If I did, I’m not sure I’d admit it. This time of year, emotions can run faster than a lawyer chasing an ambulance.
But I don’t hate basketball. I save hatred for bigger targets, such as Osama bin Laden, that mugger who beat up the old lady in New York, and the roots in my sewer line. In fact, I think the mugger should be made to crawl down my sewer line, then be stranded in a cave with bin Laden and no shower.
At its best, basketball is a noble endeavor, an example of humanity at its most athletic and competitive. It exemplifies teamwork and sportsmanship, the pursuit of excellence, and the cheerleaders ain’t too bad, either. When it’s at its worse, it’s usually the fault not of the game, but of individuals. Those individuals might be players with a chip on their shoulders, fans who take the whole thing too seriously, or owners who give in to greed. And yet, despite all we see on the highlight reels, the bad apples are still in the minority.
Think about every fandom you’re familiar with, it doesn’t matter what. Sports fans might make fun of, say, the people who organize Star Trek conventions; the Trekkers might look down on the sports nuts. But they’re a lot more like each other than they’d admit, right down to dressing in uniforms, arguing over fine details of their hobby, and screaming when their favorite stars appear. The only real difference is that Ralph Sampson (he’s a player – I looked it up) could probably take William Shatner. As long as phasers aren’t involved.
In both fandom’s, you have people who cause bystanders to shake their heads in wonder and/or disgust. In basketball, maybe it’s that player who loses his cool and jumps into the stands, or the idiot fan who causes it by screaming insults or throwing objects. With Trekkers, it might be that fellow who wears his Klingon costume to work.
I’m not entirely sure why it’s okay to wear your Purdue hat and jacket to work but not your Klingon costume … it’s just not a fair world, I guess.
You can’t really hate a guy for being fanatical about his favorite hobby, as long as it doesn’t involve storing body parts in the freezer. (Then again, maybe he’s a butcher.) The guy with a house full of Colts memorabilia, the fellow who bought Doctor Who’s phone booth at auction, the comic book collector – who are they really harming? Okay, you can go over the line when you start burglarizing the neighborhood for women’s underwear, but otherwise the worst you’ll do is make people smile and shake their heads. What’s wrong with making people smile?
Basketball has its moments when it’s a thing of beauty. That perfectly executed example of teamwork, that impossible basket, that arc that ends with nothing but net, that moment when a player seems to defy gravity and sail gracefully through the air – even a non-fan can appreciate the artistry.
And non-fans should, because even if we don’t follow basketball, we’re likely to know
the feeling. Here’s an example:
As a long-time science fiction/fantasy reader and writer, I’ve become involved in the fandom devoted to what’s sometimes called the JossVerse: the television shows created by writer/director/producer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly). A few weeks ago I wrote a short story about some of his characters (it’s called fanfiction), and posted it on my LiveJournal blog. It was an angst-ridden, sad story called “She Would be Thirteen”, about a young girl who dies just as she’s beginning to fulfill her life’s potential. I confess to being worried about how people would react, since my writing is usually light, humorous pieces of fluff.
Turns out I hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. The story earned raves, with “bravo’s” raining in from all directions, leaving me a bit shocked and very, very happy. (Maybe it’ll get nominated for an internet fanfiction award … so I’m fishing, sue me.) I jumped around some, screamed, and cut the net down from my computer keyboard.
Okay, I made that last part up. The point is, how is my winning at that effort any different than the celebration that results from victory on the basketball court? I submit it’s not; that in fact, geeky TV fan writers like me are much more like basketball players than most people could ever imagine.
We just don’t get our faces on Wheaties boxes.
So no matter what your area of fanaticism, enjoy it; flaunt it; shout it from the rooftops. If you’re paying your bills and not hurting anyone, you’ve earned the chance to have a little fun. Maybe, someday, some kid will be shooting hoops in his back yard, or plugging away at her keyboard, and thinking about how they want to be just like you.