The Value of Loyalty

This is a response to my previous post, where I defended the NBA fan who roots for players, multiple teams, or is just a casual observer that really only pays attention when things are going well. In other words, the bandwagon fan. As I discussed there, part of my reason for doing so was because a part of me is just that. You can read more about that here.

But it was brought to my attention by a friend that in addition to that defense, I also seemed to dismiss the value of loyalty in fans. After re-reading the post, I still felt that I came up a little short on that end, so I thought I might amend my mistakes.

First of all, showing loyalty to a team is to be respected. It shows a sense of commitment to an organization that, through watching them, has made your life a little better. Especially if it is your hometown team, it shows a sense of community as well. Figuratively, you live and die watching your favorite team with other fans in your community. Whether it’s friends who watch the game with you, the people you discuss the game with on the internet, or the arguments and trash talk that come after a big win  or loss, there’s a sense of pride in your team. In each player. In the colors that they wear and the city/area they represent.

Last time, I talked about the connection between team management and fans and how often, a team does so little to really make fans feel wanted. There are some bad ownership groups out there, and as a fan of the Golden State Warriors since 2003, I can say with certainty that it’s a lot less fun when you know the owner just wants to put your money in his pocket.

But what I forgot, is that ownership is not the only thing that crafts the franchises identity. Obviously, it helps to have an owner that wants to win. That expends effort and money to improve the team. But there are always players, no matter the team, that are going to find their way inside your heart. Coaches can do the same.

For me this season, two Warriors stand out in-particular. Coach Mark Jackson and backup point guard Jarrett Jack. On and off the court, they’ve become favorites. In previous seasons, it was players like Jason Richardson, Kelenna Azubuike and Monta Ellis, who’s efforts on the court, despite bad teams, bad coaches and bad ownership, never went without my notice.

I will say this, despite my beginnings as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, and my tendency to wander through other teams and players, watching one team and rooting for one team can feel very good, even if it’s sometimes heart-breaking. The Warriors of 2007 and 2008 are perfect examples of that. As an NBA fan, my team had never experienced success like the Warriors achieved during their “We Believe” season. In fact, no team that I’d actually rooted for had ever made the playoffs prior to that. To this point in my life, it’s still some of the most fun I’ve had as a basketball fan. More than a few moments from that run easily crack my top 10. I wouldn’t have felt that if I weren’t at least somewhat loyal to the Warriors.

But I’m not one to speak to the experiences of being truly loyal to any team. I can’t claim to be. I don’t think I ever have been. So instead, I’ll try and paraphrase some of the arguments that my friend made to me:

-Loyalty is Black and White, not dependent on others

-Bandwagon fans bring in $, but true fans are the backbone of any franchise

-Loyal fans are better because it’s a stronger connection than any other a fan can have

-It’s misleading to compare fans and players, or the perception of them

The thing is, not all of these points conflict with the message I originally laid out. Some just lacked inclusion, which makes for a pretty one-sided theory. However, I think that one of the strongest disagreements here is my main premise.

While I painted a view of loyalty as a fluid object, maybe it’s not. I’ve come to the realization that, in my original post, I confused loyalty with how deserving someone is of it. You can easily justify breaking ties and allegiances with something or someone that does not deserve it, but at that point, loyalty ceases to exist at all.

For this important issue, I turn to my most trusted of philosophers, Dominic Toretto of Fast & Furious fame. In the trailer for the upcoming Fast & Furious 6, Toretto says “You don’t turn you back on family, even when they do.” I use Toretto because his words are relevant, and for some reason, they came to mind when I went to address this issue a second time (I am eagerly awaiting Fast 6, so that probably explains it).

For fans to stick around through the rough times and be voices that expect better of their team is true loyalty. It is rightfully very highly valued among many fans. But another point needs made here. The relationships between fans and teams, players and teams, and people outside of sport should be confused as the same. I did a little bit of this in my last post, comparing the public view of player-team and fan-team loyalties. For the sake of making the argument, I chose not to mention what I consider an very understood principle. For players, choosing a team has very much to do with their livelihood. It’s deeply personal for some, but it’s also professional.

But coming back to fans, the connection is not professional. It’s entirely personal. There are many things fans look to root for in sports, loyal or bandwagon. For each, what they’re looking for is likely quite different. A quick list of possibilities might look like this:

-Distance. People like rooting for teams close to them and to their community.

-Continuity. When things are always changing, sometimes it’s hard to keep up.

-Success. Winning is fun.

-Style. Is the way that the team plays the game exciting or enjoyable?

-Colors, mascots, or jerseys. Perhaps even more trivial than the game itself, but still very true.

-Players. On and off the court, are they players interesting and likable?

All of these things are subject to taste. On the subject of the perception of bandwagon fans, they’re more likely to follow the more superficial options, and that’s a fair assessment. And while I wrote this post to rewrite some of the ideas I put forth, I still don’t feel like all of those things are so terrible.

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2 thoughts on “The Value of Loyalty

  1. I love this stuff. In fact, I blogged something very similar to this about how we should pick teams and how not to. Glad someone is contributing to the conversation.

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