Unwritten guidelines are present in basketball fandom. Is being a fan of a player over a team politically correct?
Maybe this shouldn’t be exposed to the world, but perhaps it should. My grandfather – J.D. Marshall – was a flawed individual. He never won “Husband of the Year” for a variety of reasons prior to him and my grandmother divorcing in the ’70s. J.D. never once denied any of his flaws to me, however, and I’m sure as the years passed by, he grew to resent the decisions of his past. Yet, I can say this. He was a damn great – exceptional, even – grandfather.
He taught me about life, his mistakes, his successes and how not to treat the people who’d ultimately give their lives to prolong yours. We also bonded over sports. In fact, that was our biggest commonality. He was a coaching legend in the CIAA, even being posthumously inducted into the conference’s Hall of Fame in 2009. “In sports, remain loyal to what first opened your heart to the game.” Grandpa never said these exact words, perhaps due to irony, but his lessons always validated such.
I’ve carried the aforementioned quote near my heart throughout the years. Growing up with my mother, becoming a fan of the Dallas Cowboys was expected. She attended summer camps with Tom Landry’s daughter and had latched on to the team at some point in her youth. Regardless of who plays quarterback or wide receiver or linebacker for the Cowboys, my loyalty and my constantly rising blood pressure resides with the star on the helmet. And despite my personal quest to obtain every MLB game day fitted, the Atlanta Braves will always hold top rank because their Triple A affiliate – the then-Richmond Braves – were a 30-minute drive up I-95 North. In the NBA, however, the logic was always different.
Saturday night following the Knicks’ season-ending loss to the Indiana Pacers, friend of the family D’Brickashaw Cadillac Lubriderm Jenkins-Smith (@DragonflyJonez) took to Twitter to voice his opinion on his squad and provide a brief backstory of how a kid from Virginia became associated with a basketball team from New York City. Without putting words in his mouth or running the risk of telling the story incorrectly, he credited the bulk of his influence to his father. His old man cultured him on the values of fandom, and supporting the name on the front of the jersey trumpeted the name on the back. Matt Whitener reflected the same sentiment when discussing his love for the San Francisco 49ers despite being the most famous St. Lunatic after Maya Angelou, Josephine Baker, Lou Brock, Miles Davis and Nelly.
And I get it. Trust me, I do, because in a sense we’re all coming from the heart with lessons from men who all played invaluable roles in our own maturation processes. Having noted that, and without speaking for anyone else but myself, basketball has always been unique. I indoctrinated myself with player loyalty, but with an appreciation and humbleness for the importance of the NBA from a macro-perspective. In simpler terms, there’s loyalty to a player, but a lifelong commitment to the game.
My first memories of the NBA involve Michael Jordan, Wheaties, unattainable (dope) sneakers, Gatorade and the VHS tape of Come Fly With Me. I wore wristbands like Mike, chewed gum like Mike and reenacted game-winning shots like Mike in my driveway. Hell, as crazy as it sounds, I wanted Michael Jordan to be my dad. Even later as an 11-year-old, there’s the story of how I purposely gave myself the flu on the eve of a little league basketball game because of my obsession to replicate “the flu/hangover/bad pizza” game. Or the time I moved in the barber’s chair when I was 8, forcing him to take a chunk of hair out of my head so he’d shave the rest of it off. The harsh reality of resembling a lightbulb more than the greatest basketball player ever was irrelevant. In my eyes, for that short period of time, I was Michael Jordan.