The next 10 days are going to be extremely difficult for me and quite possibly many people around me. I am a “Militant Sports Fan”
It is a scary, frothy mixture of being a sports fan, a political analyst and a Black man. Can’t escape just how explosive that combination is going to be over the next few days as the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Miami Heat in the NBA finals.
The cliché that sports bring out the best and worst in us has never quite rung true to me. Sports bring out the unrefined in us, the primal, the raw uncut non-rational beliefs passions and opinions, the human stuffthat we keep hidden from public view and sanitized in front of our co-workers and associates. It’s what Eminem meant when in “The Real Slim Shady” he quipped “….cause I’m only givin you things you joke about with your friends inside your living room.”
Sports allows us to let out our racial, cultural and national id: all under the guise of being passionate fans. That’s why in the 1980’s we could put our differences aside and rally around beating the Russians in the Olympics. That’s why grown men and women can say a collective ‘Awwww’ when father’s let their daughters catch the foul ball at an afternoon baseball game. And at the same time how a chubby 5, 8’ White guy can scream “You SUCK!” at a chiseled 7’ Black man during an NBA game and not get his butt kicked.
It’s all about letting raw emotion loose.
Of course, being a fan or rooting for a team is based on zillions of random factors, like where you grew up, where you went to college, what team your Dad or your Grandpa liked, and in a lot of cases which team or player you hate more. But right beneath these legitimate reasons for fandom, there’s a thick viscous racialized subtext to sports that is hard to ignore.
Remember just 3 months ago when sports reporters were falling all over themselves (in a bad way) just because they couldn’t comprehend an Asian American point guard balling out for the New York Knicks? Or a month ago when a subset of Boston fans were having fits because a Black man scored a winning goal against the Bruins (on a goalie who coincidently made it a point to snub President Barack Obama). Whether it’s the Olympics or the NBA finals, sports allow us in polite society to still cling to and fight out our racial and cultural biases in public.
Race and culture may not be the only reasons we root for a team, but they’re ONE of the reasons and a big one. Which brings me to why I, as an unabashed Militant Sports Fan am rooting for the Miami Heat to win the NBA finals.
I am rooting for LeBron James and the Miami Heat to win, even though they’re objectively underdogs. Like most sports fans, my surface reasons are legitimate. I have been a fan of LeBron having lived in Cleveland and watched him play from day one. I like Dwayne Wade’s ascendance as the dirtiest player in basketball who never gets called out for it.
When clicking I find Miami’s style of play to be as beautiful as the Sacramento Kings of the early 2000’s. But those are my nice polite public reasons. Not the guttural intense ones that have me banging on the bar with my friends and glaring at the drunk frat boys next to me when they start cheering for an OKC team they never cared about before tonight.
I want Miami to win because I want to see LeBron stick it to all of those racist, entitled knuckleheads in Cleveland who burned his jersey and wore anti-LeBron shirts the day after his BUSINESS Decision. I want to see LeBron raise a trophy just to rub it in the face of Ohio Governor John Kasich who had the nerve to root for Dallas in last year’s finals.
I want to see LeBron win the NBA championship so that all of the sanctimonious sports writers who claim “I’m not a racist” before going into a condescending monologue about who LeBron “owes” and his “God Given Talents” while conveniently ignoring the racailized subtext to all of these concepts, have to choke on their words.
I want the Heat to win because of the impending “small town real America Oklahoma City vs. the decadent Miami” narrative that is bound to come out of an OKC victory.
I want the Heat to win because after suffering through weeks of “Lin-Sanity” I think it would be fantastic for Eric Spolestra, Miami’s Filipino-American coach, to strike a blow against stereotypes.
I want LeBron to win a trophy because he represents every other Black man or woman that’s ever performed, been elected, or earned their way into the spotlight only to be held to standards no one else has ever been held to, and then gets blamed, not for failing to walk on water, but for leaving muddy footprints on the ground after they do.
That’s what sports militancy is all about. It’s about embracing your ID when it comes to fandom, it’s about admitting you kinda started watching boxing again because Kelly “the Ghost” Pavlik started winning fights, or that you were kinda rooting extra hard for Cam Newton because you thought he was getting a racial-raw deal from the press, or that you fist pump for Tiger Woods because just a few years ago the idea of a Black man winning in Golf was a comedy sketch.
So tonight when tip-off starts I’ll be at the bar with my friends, proudly proclaiming and embracing my biases, sloughing off my polite education, progressive multi-cultural views and dispassionate cultural criticism for a week of rage, passion and intensity. Hopefully it ends with the champion I want; because I just know I won’t get the same thrill watching the U.S. beat China in the Olympics.