I’m halfway through the book “Give and Go: Basketball as a Cultural Practice” by Thomas McLaughlin. It’s a very interesting book that examines the game of basketball and its place in modern society.
Through lunch, I read through a section grappling with the concept of whether your basketball team represents you. McLaughlin writes about how some basketball communities are organized on a local level.
“They have a local history, with traditions and shared rituals, ways of thinking and feeling developed within an ongoing set of common experiences. They operate under the assumption that their team represents them, that it articulates in a public spectacle the lived experience of the local community… fans commit their communal emotions to a team on a belief that they are playing by proxy, that they themselves have a stake in the outcome of the contest.”
It’s an interesting and valid concept for many fans that grow up rooting for their hometown team. During this section, McLaughlin references his love of the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly enjoyed Allen Iverson so much because he embodied the “tough working-class roots of the [Philadelphia] game and the city in general.” He has “great physical courage, a willingness to throw himself into the traffic of the game, to take his hits and finish the play.” Philly fans see this as a personification of the city’s daily toils.
I see this in other fan bases as well. It was most apparent during the regular season when the Los Angeles Lakers played the New Orleans Hornets. I mentioned this after my recent trip to NOLA, but the tickets there are cheap and their fans are avid and enthusiastic regardless of what’s happening on the court.
Lakers fans, by contrast, tend to sit back and wait to be impressed. If you watched this year’s NBA Finals, the fan attitude is readily apparent. So, I can definitely agree with McLaughlin’s description of local fan communities.
But what happens when someone roots for a team that doesn’t represent them? For example, I became a Bulls fan years before actually moving to Chicago. I was young, I liked Michael Jordan, I knew I liked offense stemming from forced turnovers and they were on national TV a lot. Did I know anything about the Chicagoland area and whether this sports team embodied my 7-year-old value set? Certainly not.
While I was eating dinner, I turned the TV on. The show “Deal or No Deal” was on and they were imploring their viewers to send in a text to decide who their newest briefcase model would be. The only thing on the screen were pictures of three women and a phone number below. With the veracity of a middle schooler, I said, “The hot one is going to win. Duh.”
So, how do international fans decide which basketball team to support? I doubt anyone writes an extensive research paper on the topic before selecting the Chicago Bulls or the Los Angeles Lakers. Does it really come down to a popularity contest? Is it just the most attractive franchise of the now that brings in remote fans?
I met someone from Idaho that said he was a Lakers fan because “well, they’re a western team and I’m in the West.” Good enough but how about the Jazz? Or the Blazers? Or maybe the Timberwolves? I didn’t think much of it at the time but why did he choose the Lakers? Because they were the most successful back in the early 00’s?
I see people wearing Duke and North Carolina shirts all the time. And if it ever comes up in casual conversation, I’ll ask if it’s their alma mater. They respond with, “no, why?” As if I’d wear a DePaul or West Virginia shirt just for the hell of it.
Does your choice of team stem from its success and media accessibility rather than McLaughlin’s claim that your team embodies your city’s values?