Sports are weird. Sports are the one place in life where I can safely just say “f—k all these people. Screw this whole city. I hate [fill in the blank] team and all their stupid fans,” and not be marched through town like Cersei Lannister with shame bells ringing round my ears.
Sports provide a safe zone of sorts for the worst of our inner urges. As human beings, we are naturally inclined to draw lines in the sand—no matter how meaningless said lines may be—and then blindly align ourselves with all fellow humans on our own side of the line, and blindly malign the moral values of all humans on the other side. (See: all wars throughout history, all political disputes throughout history, and Patton Oswalt’s behavior in the movie Big Fan)
Yes, I was born in the Bay Area, and yes I grew up a huge Warriors fan. I’ve pranced and whooped for joy as Stephen Curry rose to prominence, led his team into the playoffs, became the face of the NBA, and won multiple championships. It’s been an honor and privilege to write for Golden State of Mind, the world’s finest Warriors appreciation site, throughout this unexpected best-of-cases dynastic run.
And yet, something kept nagging me throughout this latest second round series against the hated Houston Rockets.
I kept thinking, “If I was a Rockets fan—if I had been born in Houston, or if I’d grown up watching Hakeem the Dream dominate, or whatever—would I still appreciate the way James Harden and Chris Paul play? Would I buy in, completely and without reservation, to their style of play? Would I be enamored by the filthy, disgusting way they seek fouls and contact not as a pastime or simple hobby but as a full blown calling like Yo Yo Ma caressing a cello, or David Attenborough talking about tree shrews shitting into plants in the jungle? In short, would I ever be able to root for the Rockets?”
My feeling is, yes. Duh. Of course I’d root for them. They’d be my team. They’d be my guys. I’d rationalize it by thinking, “They seek fouls not out of desperation, but as a way to hijack a broken system and turn inefficiencies in the NBA’s officiating model—inefficiencies inherent in all human action—to their own advantage. It’s not ugly, it’s beautiful. Beauty is in winning, and if this is what they have to do to win, I’m in.”
But I’m not a Rockets fan (thank the lord). I don’t have to pretend that I want to watch James Harden jack his head back with the force of a Mack truck slamming into a brick wall every time someone grazes his body, or lands within five feet of his “landing zone.”
This is good: we now know what they’re going to call on these 3 point shots. Referee has perfect angle and he’s considering the feet swaying into defender a no call. At least we now know. pic.twitter.com/FusxcMTq8r— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 28, 2019
I don’t have to pretend that I want to watch James Harden play basketball. I don’t have to pretend I like Chris Paul, and I don’t have to pretend that his ... um, let’s call them “antics” have any place in this game. (More on this, and on Draymond Green in a moment)
I have decided—via life experiences and proximity to the team’s home arena at the moment of my birth—to live life as a Golden State Warriors fan. And because of that, I have decided to draw my line in the sand to surround myself with as many Warriors die-hards as possible.
These past few seasons, it’s been an exhilarating, glorious ride. Praise be.
And because of this false line that exists before me, this fabricated story I tell myself every time I turn on my TV and every time I descend into the madness that is watching sports, I am afforded the right to exhibit signs of insanity or irrationality in regards to my emotions towards other players on other teams. I can stand up and shout, “JAMES HARDEN IS A FRAUD!!!” Or, “CHRIS PAUL IS A WHINY LITTLE SHIT WHO WILL NEVER WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP AND FLOPS AROUND ON THE COURT LIKE A BABY SEAL ON ADDERALL!!!”
I am afforded this right because of sports, and because of the way in which we allow ourselves a certain sense of indignity and outrage when rooting for a team we love. I would not, or should not be afforded this right when, say, arguing about immigration or arguing about whether there were “very fine people on both sides,” or something like that. This irrational right—the ability to blindly hate an entire community based on a false, preconceived prejudice—is dangerous, and must be investigated.
Why? Why do I feel comfortable lambasting Harden, demeaning his very morality and manhood in such a way? I don’t know the man. He’s never physically assaulted me. He’s never personally come to my house and stolen my possessions. He doesn’t give a shit about me, my family, or anything. He’s just out there doing his job. If his job is to hijack a broken system, ensuring he gets as many free points via the free throw line as possible, all while making millions and millions of dollars along the way both via his salary and via sponsorship opportunities, who am I to be offended? What he’s doing—seeing a shortcut and actively exploiting it (legally) within the context of a multi-billion-dollar industry, thereby ensuring he attains a relatively high level of success and ensuring that he personally reaps the benefits—is nothing outside of what millions of businessmen do every day under the collective banner of “progress” and “capitalism.”
But, under the guise of sports, I am allowed my petty anger. I am allowed to say things like...
James Harden searches for cheap contact like a sad, broken man with $100 to burn at 4am in a seedy Vegas strip club. It's honestly depressing to watch.— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) April 28, 2019
...and be totally vindicated in my feelings.
Listen, it’s not my favorite team that lost four out of five seasons to the same opponent, never advanced to the Finals, was built specifically to beat that one opponent, when failed in said attempt wrote a snarkily unproductive memo about the “bias” shown towards their team by the officials (all while hijacking that same system in order to try and draw as many foul calls as possible, thereby making it almost impossible to correctly officiate their team), caught a HUGE break through injury, and then failed again, again, and again on the world’s largest stage.
I reserve the right to hate that team, even if I understand that hatred in this world—especially at this specific moment in history—is unproductive, dangerous, and is a severely misplaced use of my energy and time. I also understand that my team, the Golden State Warriors, are, perhaps, the most universally reviled team in recent history. People f’ing HATE the Warriors. I don’t understand why, but I do understand that it’s true. People hate Stephen Curry for just being himself. People hate Kevin Durant for joining a super-power. People HAAAAAAATE Draymond Green for doing all his Draymond Green shit. And there, perhaps, is where I can begin to empathize with Rockets fans. I guuuuuess I can see how you’d be able to root for such a boring, shitty, disgusting style of play helmed by the league’s two worst actors in Harden and Paul. I guess I see how you’d be able to talk yourself into that, as evidenced by the fact that I love Draymond Green. He’s my guy. I’d go to war for that dude. Any and all Draymond slander will be rejected out of pure principle.
So, yeah, I get it. We all have our little bubbles in which we live and breath. I happen to be a Warriors fan. You happen to be on the wrong side of history. I get it. I also understand that I probably shouldn’t revel in my hatred with such joy and carelessness. It’s a dangerous path that can only lead to empty feelings of misplaced dominance.
But, as the Warriors move on to the Western Conference Finals, and as they close the book once again on another fruitless, failed Rockets season, I stand by my initial statement. I stand by my right, as a sports fan, to be petty as hell right now. I’ve earned it and damn if it doesn’t feel good.
So, once again, at the top of my lungs.
Seriously though, f—k the Houston Rockets.