Do you ever wonder why you watch sports?
I do, sometimes. I wonder why I like watching people who are bigger, faster and stronger than I’ll ever be try their damnedest to put a ball into a hoop, or hit a ball with a wooden stick, and I wonder how a face like Kobe Bryant’s becomes synonymous with the city of Los Angeles. Why is a man, who plays a child’s game for a living and makes millions of dollars solely for his ability to entertain us, the first face you see on the escalator down to the baggage claim at L.A.X.?
For the people who don’t follow sports, who don’t spend hours of their time fiddling with their fantasy baseball lineups, memorizing stats or absorbing the height and weight and alma mater of players in their favorite teams’ starting basketball lineups, these questions make perfect sense.
However, I don’t know if I could come up with a broad answer to these questions. For me, sports are about familiarity and tradition. They’re about the first baseball game I ever attended in the nosebleed seats at Dodger Stadium when I was five years old. They’re about watching Michael Jordan warm up in those old black Bulls jerseys with the red pinstripes. They’re about rooting for the best, blindly hating rivals and hoping, praying for an upset between two teams in March Madness you don’t actually care all that much about.
Familiarity also includes watching the same teams, the powerhouses, compete every year, in any sport. The sports world needs its Goliaths. In the sports world, it’s much more clear cut who the good and the bad guys are. Unless you are a fan of one of the bad guys in sports, the bad guys are the Goliaths: the Yankees of baseball, the Celtics and the Lakers, the Dukes of college basketball and the USCs of college football. Ultimately, they’re the teams that even casual sports fans know exist, because of their dominance of their respective sports.
It’s nice to see an upset sometimes, when a lesser known, small-market team dominates a team I despise because of their rivalries with the teams I love (Like when the Bulls almost took the Celtics down in 2009. Sports at its finest: a close upset, but a big-market team who I love to hate ultimately winning.). As a Clippers fan, I would love to see the Clippers win a conference championship over the Lakers. But being from Los Angeles, it’s easy to attach to the Lakers because of their tradition of winning, because other cities care if they win or lose. And I root for the Celtics only as long as the Lakers are still playing, just because I want the rivalry to continue to be fueled.
Yes, some more diversity might be nice to see late into sports seasons. But, honestly, would you actually want to see a Final Four consisting of four mid major programs? Or would you rather see a mid major playing a first seed? I feel the same way about NBA basketball: It would be nice to have a team like Vancouver make the playoffs, but only the Vancouver fan base would be interested in seeing their team in the Finals.
Maybe I’m shortsighted, trapped in a Los Angeles sports bubble that I can’t escape. Still, here’s the ideal outcome for the NBA to attract the most potential casual fans to the sport: A first round upset, a second round upset, a grueling, seven-game series where the underdog takes the favorites to the limit and, finally, The Lakers versus the Celtics or the Cavs in the Finals. Lo and behold, we’re pretty damn close to that outcome. I don’t think it’s an accident (See: Pau Gasol trade). But I wouldn’t have it any other way.