The fluid loyalties of NBA players and fans

Today, a weird conflict came to my mind. I thought on the idea of “loyalty” and “allegiance” in the sporting world, specifically the NBA, both concerning athletes and fans. In one instance, players’ rights are again and again being touted when showing a lack of it to their teams when free agency comes around. There are still those who believe in the “old way” of being with one team and staying there as long as you can, but the number seems to be shrinking, and rather quickly I might say. But for fans, it seems to be going the opposite direction.

The hatred and mocking of supposed “bandwagon fans” has grown rapidly in recent years, and has really come to a head on Twitter this season with Lakers fans, specifically, who’s team is putting up perhaps it’s least impressive season in all the years that recently passed Dr. Jerry Buss has owned the team. In those 30+ years, the Lakers have grown into a symbol and in icon, the way the Bulls did in the 1990s with Michael Jordan and company. Fans from all over the United States and all over the world root for this team, seemingly with no reason to be loyal other than that they’ve always been good. For now, we’re going to ignore the local Laker fans, not because they aren’t a part of this, but because their case for their loyalty is easily made. It’s the hometown team.

But for others, who live in NY and root for say…the Yankees, Lakers and 49ers, perhaps the connection to the Lakers isn’t as easily identified. Often, they’re treated differently by other fans. Often, all a fan need do is point out their odd collection of sports allegiances and their fan hood is legitimately called into question. But is it legitimate? Not all fans are the same. Not all fans look for the same things in sports. Some people like individual players. Some people like teams. Some people simply like the game as a whole. Why is it NOT okay for a person to change the team they are most loyal, too?

Let’s go back to players. With the obvious examples of Ray Allen and LeBron James, both have been sufficiently vilified by “old school” people who believe in players staying with their teams. But on the other hand, there has also been an incredibly strong defense of the two players, who, left what are essentially hometown teams for an easier path to championship. In both cases, they joined forces with some of their nearest rivals/competitors. This goes back to the era of basketball we’re now playing in. Friendship is far more common amongst today’s stars than in the past. They get along, and team rivalries are far less prominent. Not to say this is a bad thing. I don’t personally like it as much because I think it’s less compelling, but it is what is happening.

The defense of these players is that the teams offer no real loyalty to the players, so why should the players be asked to do what their franchises have not? I actually don’t think that’s the case. Teams may not show as much loyalty to players as they should, but some teams and some owners have actually catered to their star as much as they possibly could (i.e. LeBron in Cleveland). There is some sense of loyalty there. In fact, I’d argue it’s far more than the loyalty shown by franchises to fans. So why does there seem to be the growing sense that it is okay for players to jump ship, but not fans? It’s curious to me. People have their different reasons for switching the team they root for, and some will be because it is more fun to root for a winner. What I don’t understand is why that isn’t okay.

This is exactly what Ray Allen did this past off-season, from a player POV. He switched teams because Miami is better. It made him happier. There were other personal issues, but that’s often the case with fans as well. Many have stopped watching the Cavaliers and started rooting for other teams because they do no like Dan Gilbert or how he handled himself post-LeBron. One-time Kevin Durant fans hate him and his teammates now because the team left Seattle after his rookie season.

I don’t argue that it isn’t OKAY for players to switch teams the way that LeBron and Ray Allen have. They’re free to do as they wish. I just wonder, if it’s okay for them to do so, why are fans vilified for doing the same thing? It doesn’t seem right. Long I’ve felt that it’s a backlash against successful teams by fans who have stayed loyal to lovable losers. Among Warrior fans, the hate and dislike of Laker fans, even more than the team itself, is very strong.

There are endless words I’ve seen us Dubs fan use to describe our Laker counterparts. I’m sure if you follow the NBA at all, you’ve seen the same somewhere along the line. Further, any fan who used to root for a different team is a bandwagon fan and therefore not valid. Nor is any fan who can’t name the whole roster, and so on and so forth. You get the point.

But is this because the fans are so awful? If they behaved the same way and their team sucked, would Warriors fans feel the same? I don’t believe they would. I find plenty of other fan bases just as full of crazies, it’s just that they don’t win. To be fair, my opinion here is vastly different than most other Warrior fans. Over time, I’ve grown to like the Lakers and their players, for the most part. But I’ve also enjoyed the Bulls, Cavaliers, Nuggets, and Celtics nearly as much over my lifetime fanhood of basketball. The Warriors actually, have not even always been my favorite team. Pre-Jason Richardson era, I was a Cavaliers fan rooting for Brevin Knight and Shawn Kemp. Before that, I was a young boy rooting for the Michael Jordan because he was one of the only faces I knew. In 10+ years of understanding the game, my knowledge of basketball has continued to grow, but my allegiances are no stronger than when they began. I don’t feel the Warriors are reaching out to me to maintain our relationship. I like them because I could watch them for free before League Pass. Watching them obviously caused some of the players to become endearing to me. Until recently even, I felt little connection between my Warriors fan-hood and regional pride. The game-opening video sequence showing SF, SJ, and Oakland has grown on me. I like it a lot. It means something to me to say that I visit some of those places on a daily basis. But outside of that, and before that, the connection wasn’t very strong at all.

Basketball is simply a game that I love, who’s culture I have grown to love, and who’s players and teams I’ve grown to enjoy, regardless of the location of the franchise or the color of the jersey. Thirty years from now, I could end up a Brooklyn Nets fan. Not likely, but who knows? I just don’t understand why that would be so bad. The game is global. It’s digital. It’s accessible from anywhere. For the technologically savvy NBA fan, you don’t even need to pay to watch other teams’ local broadcasts.

The point made by those that have no issues with LBJ or Allen is a coherent one. Loyalties are fluid. Not everything is so black and white, especially in something so trivial as sporting fan-hood. Sports are fun. They’re entertainment. That’s what they’re made for. All fans should be able to enjoy the game in the way they deem fit, regardless of knowledge of the game. I’m just curious what goes into the minds of those who question and ridicule those who don’t meet their expectations of “fan.”

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3 thoughts on “The fluid loyalties of NBA players and fans

  1. I just think it’s laughable for Warrior fans to call anyone bandwagon fans when their team sponsored the most shameless corporate bandwagon campaign of all time in “We Believe”.

    1. The bandwagy-ness of that whole season was absolutely amazing. Without the extra impact of them, that experience just wouldn’t have been the same for Warriors fans. I think it’s a concept that many of the Warrior fans have struggled to understand. That so many are Giants and 49ers fans (who have both won) too, just makes it even less comprehensible to me. I wish that fans smart enough to breakdown TS% and adjusted +/- could figure out how ridiculous it is to hate a team’s fans for something none of them, individually, can control.

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