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Why do I Care About The Lakers (and Sports in General)?

This is still the catchiest sports song that I know.

Wow! Tonight’s NCAA tournament final between Duke and Butler was a hell of a game. When I feel no affiliation toward either team, I always root for the underdog. The problem with this tendency is that I am often disappointed, just as I was tonight when a Butler player’s last second prayer barely missed banking in and giving them a one-point victory. This was the only game that I watched in this year’s NCAA tournament, an annual billion-dollar event that has historically been one of the greatest in American sports. In the past, I would have watched many more.

Some of my earliest memories revolve around sports. I was dribbling and shooting a basketball on a miniature little rim before I could write. When basketball was not in season, I would shift to baseball, football, soccer, or whatever game was going on at school or in the neighborhood. Sports were always activities that came pretty naturally for me. I also have early memories of listening to Chick Hearn announce Laker games, of my parents explaining the concept of the Olympic Games, and of following baseball statistics as if they held vital information to explain the meaning of existence. I can still remember exactly where I was when some of the greatest sports moments of the last thirty-five years took place in front of me on the TV screen. Sometimes, I remember exactly when events in my life occurred by associating them with the sporting events of that time.

I still enjoy playing sports whenever I get the chance. It has become a tradition on my birthday to spend most of the day playing volleyball, softball, and sometimes soccer, for old time’s sake, at a local park. I stopped playing basketball, my first love, shortly after our first daughter was born. I badly injured my thumb for about the twentieth time in my life one day, and when I got home, I realized that I could not pick her up. After years of minor and occasionally major injuries that seemed to get more common as I aged, I decided that it was time to pick a new sport. I eventually settled on racquetball, which has proved to be much safer so far. Racquetball is also one of the greatest vehicles for stress relief known to humankind. Running around like a lunatic and wailing on a ball as hard as possible can definitely make you feel relaxed for the remainder of the day. For me, playing sports, along with listening to music, is the closest that I get to a spiritual experience. These are the two things (along with sex) that put me into a state where I am not thinking about anything else. It will be a sad day if my body eventually gives out and I can’t get around the court any more. (Of course, I can then take up golf, or maybe bowling.)

I also still enjoy watching sports, although I don’t follow them nearly as closely as I once did. I lost interest in baseball many years ago. The players seemed to change so much every year, and a few teams, who get to go out and buy the best players, seem to always win. Football is still fun, although the Rams and Raiders abandoned Los Angeles many years ago. (These days, that is definitely a blessing.) But the only sport that I really follow with any passion is my old first love, basketball, and our local powerhouse of a team, the Los Angeles Lakers. I run into a major problem, however, when I watch them, a problem that will only increase when the playoffs begin shortly. I am so emotionally attached to the outcome that I am unable to enjoy watching them. This stress that I experience makes me ask a simple question: Why do I care so much? If these guys that I have never met lose a game, will it have any measurable impact on my life? Of course, I am not alone in getting so emotionally involved in sporting events. I live in a country (and world) where people go into incredible states of ecstasy or blind rage over the results of sporting events. For many people, life would virtually end without “Sportscenter” and Fantasy Baseball. How can this behavior be explained?

The truth is that I don’t have any rational explanations for my emotions and my closely related crazy behavior. Being entertained by sports, however, makes some sense. Live sports may be the earliest example of reality TV. It has all the drama of TV shows, the movies, and literature, but the ending is not scripted. The strategies and statistics involved with sports can also be fascinating to those who understand them. This level of analysis is not much different from the type of studies done by economists, political scientists, or military historians. The players and teams can also become like characters in any play or novel, and sports fans can become as attached to the saga of their heroes as a person wrapped up in his or her mystery novel or soap opera. Any great entertainment, after all, has the power to emotionally connect with its audience.

Sports also have the power to create a tremendous sense of camaraderie. When the New Orleans Saints reached the Super Bowl this year, it was hard to root against them when you saw how passionately this battered city rallied around its team. Some saw this as a great moment of redemption for a city still struggling to recover from Katrina. Any time that you become a fan of the local team, there is a good chance that you will find many others to discuss the latest sports happenings. This is particularly helpful for men, a gender that is not known for emotionally connecting to others. We may not be able to share feelings, but we sure the hell can talk sports. I have personally experienced several moments where the shared love for a sports team has created an instant bond, if only temporarily, between total strangers and myself.

But still, caring so much about the Lakers does not make any sense. Why did I choose this particular team to care about? Is it because they happen to play their home games in the local vicinity? When they win, does it truly benefit me or my local community? Also, since the faces on the team constantly change, why do I root for people with whom I have not had the time to develop any personal “relationship.” The players that I grew up watching are long gone. They have now become coaches and announcers, and some of them are even the parents of current players. Am I really just rooting for the uniform? Last year, Ron Artest was the enemy, but now that he has changed uniforms, I find myself rooting for a guy that I was calling a punk and a thug just a few months ago. I guess that the purple and gold jersey cleanses all past sins.

I could ramble about sports for a long time and continue making fun of myself and other sports fans, but instead, I will make one last point. We human beings are not a particularly rational species. Sometimes, it is appropriate to resist our irrational natures. But there are also times when you should just allow yourself to be silly. Does it make any sense for me to care so much about the outcome of Laker games? Of course it doesn’t. The only problem is that I do care, so maybe I should stop thinking so much and allow a little irrationality in my life. As long as you maintain a certain amount of perspective, it is sometimes fun to just join the mob.


  1. I enjoy irrationality is ironic a little because I just finished my post about celebrating Easter and it would be best if I went with the irrationality of it and have fun with my daughter hunting for plastic candy filled eggs.

  2. My suggestion is to abandon the the Lakers in favor of the Celtics.

    As a kid, except for playing soccer, I didn't watch or care about any sports. I hated when my television was held hostage for football and Nascar. Other than that, my father didn't watch any other sports.

    I fell in love with basketball when I got married. When I moved to Cambridge, that Red Sox fever took hold. I'll watch the games, but it's often while I'm surfing the net. I give much more attention to basketball. But for both, I love live games.

    Obsession with sports doesn't seem to make much sense, yet I guess it serves some purpose because it happens... a lot.

    After watching The Blind Side, I even appreciate football.

  3. My dad instilled the hatred of the Celtics in me. It might even be in my blood. He watched the Celtics win over and over again back in the 1960's. He says that he would be happy if they never win another game. I'm not quite that hard core, however. I don't think a Lakers-Celtics finals reunion will be happening again, however. There is a good chance that neither one will get there. The Celtics are looking old, and the Lakers have lost their confidence.


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