Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Mystery of Sports and Grief

I’ve never understood exactly why professional sports is appealing. What buried (or not so buried) tribal urge is ignited by watching people, who represent your hometown, play a game? Why is that fun? How on earth is it possible that we actually feel emotions (anger, joy, sorrow) over what happens in a game involving people we’ve never met?

Perhaps if I could actually rationalize all of that, I could make better sense of my own feelings towards the playoff match between the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks. Anyone who has read me for awhile knows that, when it comes to sports, I have only two true loves: The Dallas Cowboys and the San Antonio Spurs.

So why am I so conflicted about the Spurs ongoing collapse against the Mavericks? Why do I, forgive me San Antonio, almost want the Spurs to lose?

I suppose it could be that, having grown up in Dallas, I can never really remove my sympathies from that city’s teams. Or it could be that my 91-year-old grandmother is a rapid Mavericks fan and it does my heart good to know she’s witnessing what may be her team’s greatest moment.

But those are merely cushions—soft thoughts that should make the impending Spurs loss less brutal to bear. Such small comforts alone could not make me Benedict Arnold my team. Something else is at play here, something less obvious.

I think this deep dark semi-hope for a Spurs loss is a misplaced attempt to protect myself. If the Spurs are down 3-1 to the Mavericks, they’ll never be able to win the title. And if they’re not going to win the title, I’d rather them not break my heart by making it to the title game only to be defeated.

So I place my hope in the Mavericks, not because I love them, but because I don’t. I merely like them. Any defeat they suffer later in the playoffs will just disappoint me, rather than crush me.

You see, after the first loss of a series you go into denial: “that was just a fluke.” After the second, it’s anger: “how could they play so badly! And the refs! The refs stink!” Now that the third loss has come down—I suppose I am bargaining. I’ll tie my wagon to the Mavericks and then everything will be all right.

The stages of grief shouldn’t really apply to a sports loss. But they do. And thus is the mystery of fandom.


Blogger Tom Strong said...

If the Spurs are down 3-1 to the Mavericks, they’ll never be able to win the title

Well, given that the Pistons are down 3-2 to the Cavs, I think the Spurs' chances remain about as good as anybody's.

I stopped watching the NBA several years ago because it felt boring and predictable. With Jordan, even final-second heroics felt predictable. And it still does, compared to the magnificent randomness of baseball. But it's a lot better than before.

11:47 AM  

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