The Player Loyalty Fan Debate, Continued

Last week, fellow TSFJ writer Justin Tinsley wrote a great piece on the NBA's Player Loyalty Fan Debate. The premise of the article struck a chord with me because above all of the arguments that sports exist to facilitate, the debate of where your loyalties lie for players and teams is one that truly exists with yourself.

The article made me sit down and evaluate my own experience as an NBA fan. As a kid, my first exposure to the league was watching Shaq and Penny on the Orlando Magic. I was the biggest Shaq fan, as photo evidence shows. I also thought that team was going to dominate the league for the next decade. I didn't even get too upset when Nick Anderson missed those two free throws in Game 1 of the 1995 Finals against the Houston Rockets; didn't sweat it when they got swept. They would be back. It was like throwing darts at a board, they would get enough shots at hitting the bullseye.

Of course, Jordan returned and Shaq left for Los Angeles. And as a fan, I packed my bags and went with him. When Shaq finally won a championship with the Lakers, I was happy for him, not the franchise. And in the years since, Kobe's become the player that I've had the same affection for.

It's interesting to compare the rooting for players (as they're moving from team to team) versus team debate, if only because in the end -- especially with the game of basketball -- sports is such an individual-driven entertainment product. I realized this when I was flipping through the latest issue of SLAM Magazine that came in my mail. I'm reading about Kyrie Irving, Andre Drummond and Kevin Durant. I'm taking an interest in them and how they'll progress as individuals, the team just becomes a construct within which they'll accomplish those goals and make those progressions.

It's similar to how we all develop a fondness for players in college and about to enter the draft. The appeal of the unknown, of talent that may be realized at the highest level, is a huge draw for most of us. Even before these players find a team, we're fans of Andrew Wiggins, of Jabari Parker, irrespective of which struggling NBA franchise ends up with them.

The individual versus team argument extends beyond just the players too. There are people who are particularly fond of coaches. Phil Jackson is a good example. No one needed to be either a Bulls fan or a Lakers fan to appreciate how Jackson was able to lend a (huge, for those who appreciated him as a coach; not so huge, if you thought he lucked into the best players in the world) helping hand in guiding talented teams to their ultimate goal of multiple championships. Consider Gregg Popovich, a generally beloved figure in most basketball circles. If he were to leave the Spurs and take on another challenge, I'd happily support him and whichever team would have the honor of hiring him.

General managers are mentioned in the same breath. For Sam Presti, or Daryl Morey, the teams only serve as a canvas for which they can perform their work. I appreciate their basketball smarts without having any vested interest in the teams that employ them.

The truth is, there are fans who will read what I've just written and disagree, or argue that it is their devotion to those particular teams that make them appreciate these individuals. That the appreciation of players, coaches and even management is just a by-product of their loyalty to a team.

And that is entirely fine too. On a macro level, I've always viewed sports as an entertainment vehicle, a product which makes fans like myself as consumers, and like any other avenue of entertainment, consuming means that we're allowed to make a choice. The ability to make that choice precludes us from being forced to have to root for a particular team, and if not, then root for a particular player. In fact, those do not have to be mutually exclusive choices. It's okay to have teams you care about, and players too; and those players don't always have to be on the teams you are cheering for.

So if Miami solves the Indiana problem they have on their hands, and goes on to win the title this year; just remember that there are fans that are cheering for LeBron and there are fans that have been cheering for the Heat franchise since Ron Rothstein, Rony Seikaly, Kevin Edwards and Grant Long.

We all root for players for our own reasons, some may be more personal, others may be just a matter of choice and preference, but for all of those choices, the only explanations we need to make are to ourselves.

The bandwagon fan does exist, they're everywhere, but just because some of us root for players, and not stick to a particular team, it doesn't make that person a bandwagon fan with no loyalty or values to a particular player or team. They're just making choices in a game that's driven by the individuals playing it.

8 Replies to “The Player Loyalty Fan Debate, Continued”

  1. I'm glad someone is speaking on this. I'm tired of folk and their fan superiority complex. Just b/c someone roots a player and not a team, it doesn't make them a bandwagon fan. Being a bandwagon fan is completely different.

  2. This can also work in reverse. A player who reveals himself to be a disloyal, fool ass, bitch made punk can poison your affection for the teams he plays on.

    Let's say that a young high school player accepts all the lessons, nurturing and accolades that his coaches and hometown fans can bestow upon him. Then he runs off to perform his miracles for strangers. Even if you have no beef with the teams he plays for, you will find yourself rooting against him as long as that Satan puts on the uniform.

    I have admired the Raiders since their wild, glory days of the '70's. The 1976 team who went 16-1 is vastly unappreciated and deserves to be mentioned with the all time greats.

    Now I must walk away for a year, maybe two. Judas has returned to sully the silver and black. But he's near the end of the line and I'll be back.

  3. I became a Bulls fan because of Jordan, and yeah I stuck around afterwards. Through the bad decade until D. Rose showed up and everything. I find that when your team goes bad, you tend follow a competitor as well, just so that the Playoffs have some sort of relevancy to it and I followed a number of good teams as well. My interest in general in the NBA has waned some, but I still without fail answer to the call of being a Bulls fan.

    Yet, I've never been a player first fan, because usually if you're a player first fan, it's a pretty damn good player. Which means that the low points of fanhood (such as 1999-2008 in Bulls ville). I don't mind if you say you've become a fan of a team BECAUSE of a player, but abandoning that team after that player is gone is weak.

  4. First and foremost, great be Alex aka Steven aka Podcast Game Kanye.

    Secondly, the "player fan" debate is always a touchy subject mainly it's so often confused with being a bandwagon fan. It's like if you understand it, it makes total sense. If you don't, you're gonna see it as a form of being a fairweather fan. I get it lol.

    And I only see this discussion really occurring in the NBA. I very rarely see it in the NFL or MLB.

    1. You are correct, Tins.

      For some reason that I haven't figured out, football and baseball have much more brand loyalty than basketball. When Montana went to the Chiefs, most 49er fans kept right on rolling with Young. Same with Farve and the Packers. But I know plenty of Barkley and then Iverson fans who dropped the 76ers when their boy booked.

      1. JAG,

        Most likely we do this with hoops over any other is that there are only 5 on the floor at a time. It's easier to watch ONE player take over a game. Not so in football or baseball or hockey. Good as any QB may be, the defense can lay down and give up a game right after a brilliant drive. (See the Saints 2012)

        Basketball, however has been this way since Jordan came along and the marketing hype started erroneously pumping up the individual over the team concept. Sure you identified Magic and Bird with the Lakers and Celtics, but it wasn't until both retired and Jordan finally got to face much lesser competition that it seemed to be true.

        I'm still in on the team over the player, but I absolutely will pull for a team I don't care about if it stops a player I hate. (I pulled for the Knicks and Heat throughout the 90's just because I hated jordan).

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