By Anthony Irwin // @AnthonyIrwinLA
For some reason, sports have become less about entertainment and more about winning. Now, the immediate response is, obviously, “Winning is fun, isn’t it?” Yes, it is, but not if it comes at the expense of entertainment.
Whatever the reason might be (fantasy sports, blogging, talking heads and other explanations come to mind), a large number of fans watch their teams with a “title or bust” mentality. As Ricky Bobby famously attested, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Well, Ricky, I have to disagree.
Portland Trail Blazers fans are in the middle of what has to be one of their most entertaining seasons in franchise history. Will they win a title? Probably not, but by no means should that take away from how fun this team and this season have been. Here’s Blazers superfan Ian Karmel to rank this team among his favorites ever:
“The Houston 0.9 seconds team was my favorite season as an adult. This is second.
"The 'Sheed/Sabas/Stoudemire teams were so much fun to root for as a teenager. Their attitude totally matched mine back then.
"The Rip City era with Clyde, Kersey and Duck made me fall in love with basketball.”
So, in Karmel’s decades of being a fan, this team, which, again, doesn’t stand much a chance at winning a title, is damn near the top of his list of absolute favorites, ever. I’m not discounting this team at all, especially seeing as Portland is an immortal Steph Curry performance away from an even series heading back to Oakland. The point here is to point out how trying to win despite such a small chance at doing so often lends itself to fan bases’ utmost enjoyment.
Philadelphia’s fans bought in to Sam Hinkie’s promise of a process, blazing the trail (pun intended, of course) at least in part for other teams’ fans to feel just a little more OK with losing so long as there's a goal in mind. The lasting sentiment: If you’re not going to contend for a title, what’s the point?
Shouldn’t the point be to be entertained by the team you root for? This might be an oversimplification, but the flip side to any oversimplification is overthinking. Put differently: We take our sports too seriously.
So much of how we view success is based on expectations. Those aforementioned Warriors are coming off of literally the greatest season in the history of the National Basketball Association, yet if they fail to win a title, this season will be seen as something of a failure. That’s insane.
In all likelihood, Portland will have no shiny new lottery pick to look forward to next year, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest — even for fans many expected to be rooting for ping pong balls when this season began.
Look, the advancement of how we watch sports, given the amount of information and analysis readily available for fans, is a great addition to the experience overall. This goes without saying, mostly. Yet, every so often, teams like the Blazers step to up remind us why we started watching sports in the first place.
Let Karmel put it as only he can:
“You know, for me, sports is at its best and most powerful when you completely surrender yourself to unabashed, unashamed fandom and you stop watching from the shores and instead tie yourself to the mast of the ship and plummet and soar with the fates of 15 dudes who you've never really met before.
"I did that with this team, and then they rewarded me by beating the Clippers. I have to live in L.A. for work, but I'm a Portland boy at heart, and watching the Blazers kick apart this nouveau riche, agents sitting courtside ass team gave me a feeling I can't describe.”
This has nothing to do with planning ahead for future cap space or how poorly the Blazers might miss a lottery pick next year. No, this has to do with pure, unadulterated fun watching a young, exciting and overachieving team. Let’s do more of that.
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