Basketball is beautiful in its openness. You can see every player's face. With the advent of high definition TVs, you can read their eyes. It's almost as if you can reach a point -- after hours and hours spent watching games and interviews -- where you feel you know the players on the court. Know what they are thinking, know who they are as human beings. But, that same openness and access to player's emotions and actions can turn dark, given the circumstances.
In these past finals, I overheard or was involved in a hundred different conversations that followed one basic arc. "Oh, [Player X]?! Yeah man, that dude is dirty/he's a thug/he's a little bitch/he's a horrible person and that's why I can't root for [whichever team that player plays for]."
We see these people on the court for a few hours a night. It's a small fraction of their lives. And yet the "personal" side of the game drives so much of fans' views on the sport. LeBron James just had, arguably, the greatest Finals performance in history. He accomplished something historic, leading both team in total points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals (something that had never been done, ever, in the Finals) while carrying his team back from a 3-1 deficit (also something that had ever been done, ever, in the Finals). And yet, some NBA fans refuse to accept his greatness. They'd rather call him a cry baby and complain about how he "ratted" to the league. Or how he was complicit in Draymond Green's suspension. LeBron James has done more for my generation than any other player. Take for example his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, his charity work (spending $41M to put kids through college), and more. And yet he's a "bitch?!" That's it? That's your whole opinion?
Or, take Draymond Green. I fell into a long conversation wherein a long time friend -- a person whose basketball takes I normally respect -- told me that, "Draymond is a thug, man. That whole team is dirty, I can never root for them."
Making such bold, sweeping generalizations about the mental makeup and inner character of human beings that we do not personally know is nothing new. It's an unfortunate, powerful force in sports fandom. But these past Finals seemed to bring out a deeper level of vitriol than I'd previously experienced. Instead of celebrating history -- in the form of LeBron's historic outing and historic comeback -- people would rather shake their fist at the sky and blame the league for "rigging" the series. Or, instead of giving the Warriors their due props for winning 73 games and submitting one of the all time great seasons, some people would rather say the Warriors "got what they deserved for being dirty."
Sports to me have always been a place of refuge from the rest of life. What with terror attacks around the world, political instability in our back yard, and an uncertain global future due to changing weather patterns, sports always felt like the one place I could go to see something uplifting and unexpected. The place to go to see a fellow human being surpass your understanding of what was physically and mentally possible. As a Warriors fan, it was painful watching LeBron celebrate after the final buzzer. But, as an empathetic human being and as a fan of the NBA as a whole, it felt damn good to see him finally realize his dream of bringing a championship to northeastern Ohio. I'd seen him do something completely unique. How often can you truly say that?
Sweeping generalizations in sports are never good. We think we know these players, but we don't. Narrative simplicity is tempting, but the next time you want to dismiss a team because you "hate" one of their players, maybe its time for you to take a step back, take some deep breaths, and think about why that is? How can you hate someone you don't know?
I was deeply, deeply disappointed with some of the vitriolic commentary displayed on this page during the Finals. Just...
And not just from Cavaliers fans coming here to troll. Nope. A lot of it was from y'all. And a lot of it was from friends of mine off site, as well. Horrible, dangerous thoughts.
Basketball at its core is a form of entertainment, and we were just entertained in a deep, honest way. How is that not enough, in and of itself?
Let's remember that these players are putting their minds and bodies on the line for our own entertainment. I don't know them, and neither do you. Respect your fellow humans. Let's keep this one tiny realm of our lives free from anger, hatred, and unnecessary vitriol. Because this? This we can control. Everything else in the world? Not so much.