Monday, June 21, 2010

Champions of My Heart

We've come to the end of another long NBA postseason and, once again, I find myself emotionally bereft. Well, maybe not bereft, but certainly disappointed. I managed to attach myself to the losing side for the final three rounds of the playoffs, and in the Finals the team I was rooting for lost for the sixth straight year. There hasn't been an NBA champion I was honestly happy for since the '04 Pistons. (I should've been happy for the '08 Celtics, but, due to cowardly extenuating circumstances, I was not. For an explanation, refer to my post from June 2008, "I Won't Let the Celtics Hurt Me Again.")

Heading into the playoffs, my team was the Cleveland Cavaliers, as it was the year before, led by my favorite player, the charismatic (and messianic) LeBron James. For the second straight season the Cavs had the best regular-season record in the league, and for the second straight season they crapped out in crunch time.

This year their comeuppance was delivered by the crafty, often-decrepit Boston Celtics, although the difference in their second-round matchup was an up-and-comer, Boston's point guard Rajon Rondo. The Celtics administered a devastating lesson on the finer points of the game, schooling the younger, more athletic Cavs with poised, heady play. It was another reminder that, as Don Mashak once said, "Age and Guile do not always beat Youth, enthusiasm and Idealism, but that is the way to bet." Of course, this begs the question, "Who the %$@# is Don Mashak?"

Once LeBron and the Cavaliers had exited stage right (in an inglorious and ignominious fashion, I might add), my loyalties drifted to the Orlando Magic in the hope that they could dispatch these rough, crude Celtics post-haste. Sadly, the Magic proved just as helpless to Boston's wiles as the Cavs had been. The Celtics made Orlando look amateurish and stage-struck as they conducted a basketball clinic against another youthful, spry opponent.

Matched up against the Lakers in the Finals, I had little choice but to pledge my allegiance to the Celtics. In '08 my rooting interests had become so confused that I'd found myself (shockingly) pulling for the Lakers against the Celtics, despite a pro-Celtic, anti-Laker bias bred in childhood by my father. I wasn't able to throw my support fully behind the Celtics until Game 4, when Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Nate Robinson, two Boston bench players, provided the decisive lift to even the series at 2 games apiece. After making a key basket while drawing a foul, the 6'9", 289-lb Davis let out a barbaric yawp (along with some drool) as the 5'9" Robinson jumped onto his back. (It should be noted that the listed heights and weights of professional athletes are not always accurate. Davis and Robinson are a few inches shorter, and Davis a few pounds heavier, than they would have us believe.) Their unbridled enthusiasm and uninhibited revelry won me over.

By the time the NBA Finals had reached Game 7 (for only the third time in the last 22 years), I had pitched my tent firmly in the Celtics camp and thus effectively ruined Boston's chances for their 18th championship. The final game was a gritty, defensive struggle with all the effort (if not all the skill) one would hope to see in the season's ultimate showdown. Los Angeles came out on top, and I was left to pick up the pieces once more.

The questions I have to ask myself now are: "Why does it mean so much to me? Why do I put myself through this?" The mystery of fan-dom has confounded scholars since time immemorial. If I may add my two cents, I would guess that I'm eager to place my happiness in arbitrary hands, because I have little faith in my ability to bring myself happiness. Also, rooting for the home team is a shortcut to a sense of community sorely lacking in our society these days. Finally, and most crucially I think, sport provides a stage for mythic storylines to be played out: Good vs. Evil, Celtics vs. Lakers, Anybody vs. Duke. Although, just as in real life, there's no guarantee the Hero will defeat the Villain, which makes the contest all the more interesting. Doesn't everyone need a Champion to ride into battle on their behalf, whether it's Richard the Lionheart trying to wrest the Holy Land from Saladin or LeBron James dunking on Kobe Bryant's head?

No comments: