Being a sports fan is a lot like belonging to a religion.
There is a core belief system that makes perfect sense to you, but seems ludicrous to others*. There are sacred stories, fiery preachers, and creation myths. Among the congregation are the fanatical, the merely devout, and the ones who only show up on the High Holy Days. There are prayers.
There are houses of worship - some old and majestic and rich in history, some new and modern and rich in technology. Conversions are rare, and usually caused by marriage or moving far away. Pilgrimages are made, saints honored, and sacrifices endured. The child is often raised in the religion of the parent, and people of the same region often have the same beliefs. Perhaps most importantly, there is faith – a faith that is often challenged, occasionally doubted, and sometimes rewarded.
And there is heresy.
* To quote the great Dave Barry: “…the thing about religion is that everybody else’s always appears stupid. For example, if you read about some religious sect in India that believes God wants people to drink their own urine, you don’t say to yourself, ‘Isn’t that amazing, the diversity of belief systems Man has developed in his never-ending quest to understand and cope with the intricate moral dilemmas posed by a complex and uncertain world?’ No, what you say to yourself is, ‘These people have the brains of trout.’”
I have been guilty of a terrible heresy these past few weeks. You see, I’ve been rooting for Lebron James and the Miami Heat to win the NBA Championship.
Yes, yes, I know all the reasons I should be burned at the stake. As a Knicks fan, my Heat hatred pre-dates the Decision. And the Decision itself is indefensible - I won't spent a single pixel on this screen defending it. And all those Miami fans in white - they seem like a High Holy Day bunch, don't they - have not earned the joy of a championship**
** Though if anyone deserves it less, it's that blue-clad crowd in OKC, who stole their team from Seattle, and near as I can tell are unfamiliar with even the basic rules of the sport.
But my religion has a core belief. If you're a regular reader you know that I have long believed there is a great debate that happens in sports - the debate over the Great Player who piles up statistics, records, and awards, but either don't win enough titles (Wilt Chamberlain), take too long to win (Manning, Elway, A-Rod), or never win (Marino).
Most fans believe there is something inherently wrong with these players. Sure, they break dozens of records, hit hundreds of homers and score thousands of points. But they don't know how to win.
Critics ignore the weakness of their teammates. They unfairly focus on a few post-season struggles. And they exaggerate the abilities of lesser players who were blessed with superior teammates and/or coaching (Russell, Jeter, Montana, Brady).
In an ESPN poll conducted before the Finals - done in Electoral College fashion - 49 states voted that the Thunder would win the title (the lone dissenter being, of course, Florida). They weren't merely rooting for OKC - they believed OKC would win. They had so convinced themselves that Lebron had some sort of character flaw that his scoring, rebounding, assisting, and defending skills couldn't overcome.
This was complete nonsense. Lebron James had carried a bunch of horrendous Cavaliers teams far deeper into June than they had any right to go. In his first season with the Heat, he won the Eastern Conference Championship and went to Game 6 of the Finals. His career is absolutely filled with playoff and 4th quarter heroics. And his game is so damned complete - he does EVERYTHING at a ridiculous high level - it seemed unlikely to me that these teenagers in powder blue had a chance.
And of course, I was right. Oh yeah - that's the other reason I was rooting for the Heat. Pre-season, I predicted they would go all the way, and was told by many people that they lacked all the necessary qualities of 'true champions'.
And boy, I love being right. Or to go back to our religious analogy, righteous.
Manning-Brady: Best "Who's Better?" Debate Ever
What do Robert E. Lee and Derek Jeter Have in Common?
The Duper Level: Why Lebron should come to the Knicks