Tales of Bittersweet Loyalty

The Teams We Root For

June 28, 2011

The NBA Finals wrapped up recently, and one of the many fun facts used as filler by the announcers was that, despite being from Ohio, LeBron James grew up as a Chicago Bulls fan.  Not only that, but he also supports the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.  If he liked the Lakers instead of the Bulls, it would have completed the trifecta of national bandwagon sports fan franchises.

While his allegiances make me want to stick my finger down my throat, it’s hard to find fault in the reasoning of how Mr. James chose the teams that he did.  Imagine being a child growing up in the 1990s with no presumable father figure. Now, imagine being a developing athlete in the process of cultivating your love of  sports.  At the beginning, you have no predispositions or influences regarding which teams to support.  It seems natural that one would gravitate towards supporting the successful franchises of the era.  In this case, the Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys were the clear choices.  Other teams never had a chance.

People pick favorite teams for a variety of reasons, all of which are valid: “I grew up near [city],” or “I went to school in [city], so I support franchise X.”  Often, a person picks a team because of their father: Either to coincide with or go against the paternal grain.  (This explains why there’s an inordinate Cowboys following in New Jersey.)  When there is a lack of personal or geographical connection to any city or franchise, the uninformed fan will logically, in most instances, choose the team that is winning.  People who care about following a sports team care about winning.  If winning isn’t the goal, or isn’t important, then you don’t really care about your team.

If you have a similar portfolio of favorite teams as LeBron James,  I will make fun of you and then shake my head.  This is a promise.  In fact, this has probably already happened.  However, I won’t disregard your fan loyalty, as long as you exhibit a level of commitment to the teams you claim to support.  As long your loyalty doesn’t waiver, you can cheer for the Yankees and the Cowboys.  Basically, everyone is entitled to jump on bandwagons as the basis of becoming a fan, but if you jump off that bandwagon, then there is something fundamentally wrong with your understanding of sport.

Then there’s the worst fan of all: The one who hops from bandwagon to bandwagon.  This is the guy who traded in his Yankee cap for one from Boston in 2004.  As a baseball fan, this makes me angry.  As a believer in sports loyalty, this makes me sad.  It doesn’t matter to this guy who he supports, just as long as he supports the winning team.  This is who Bob Dylan referred to in “Positively 4th Street”—You got a lotta nerve / To say you got a helping hand to lend / You just want to be on / The side that’s winning—that is, if the song were about sports and not some bitch that Dylan was ripping apart.  If all that you care about is supporting the winner and don’t particularly care who wins, then the sport itself means nothing to you.

There is a loophole to the bandwagon hopping system though.  If the reason you became a fan of a team is because of player X, then it is acceptable to switch favorite teams to stick with that player.  Since he’s been such a standout figure in recent memory, let’s continue to use good ol’ Mr. James as an example.  If you became an NBA and Cleveland Cavaliers fan as a result of LeBron, then it was perfectly within your right to move on as he did.  This logic is understandable.  Personally though, I would’ve grown attached to the Cavs as a result of him, and then stuck with the franchise even after “The Decision.”  Franchises trump players.  Players come and go, but the teams stay put (unless they’re owned by Art Modell or Clay Bennett, of course).

Almost as bad (and much more idiotic) as the bandwagon hopper is the polygamist who claims to have two or more favorite teams within the same sport.  The worst is when the two teams fall within the same division of the particular sport.  I went to high school with a guy who claimed that his two “favorite” NBA teams were the Celtics and the Knicks.  Liking these two teams equally is an impossibility, as they compete for the same division every year.  The inherent flaw of this guy’s logic exposes itself when the two teams face off against each other: He then roots for the Celtics.  If that’s the case, then you can’t claim for the Knicks to be your favorite, Bruno.  Look up the definition of “favorite” some time.  You’ll see what I mean.

So what kind of fan are you? Are you the bandwagon hopper? Or are you the die-hard superfan who, through good times and bad, stubbornly believes that this is the year your hometown will finally make a run at a championship?