To be a sports fan is to embrace the inevitability of pain.
Sure, every once in a long while there those who find themselves lucky enough to cheer for teams like the Bill Russell-era Celtics or 10-Cups-in-15-years Montreal Canadiens. But for most sports fans, embracing your favorite franchise often means bracing for the worst, year after year after tortured year.
Far more often than not, your team is going to end its season with a loss. That’s just the way it is. Of course, all losses are not created equal. That’s why ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons created his ingenious “Levels of Losing.” But no matter how you slice it, the agony of defeat is never pleasant. It’s sort of like that horrific Def Leppard and Tim McGraw collaboration ABC is using for its NBA playoffs coverage. You can listen to it loud. You can listen to it soft. You can even change the channel the second that blasphemous first note bombards your sense of hearing and good taste. But no matter what you do, exposure to such toxic audio assault is going to leave you nauseous and begging for mercy. Losing is like that, too.
So why bother? Why put yourself through the heartbreak again and again? Yes, the high which accompanies titles and trophies is fantastic, but there has to be far more to it than that. After all, only a masochist (or Clippers fan) would risk decades of suffering just for a miniscule chance to sample the fleeting euphoria that comes with winning a championship.
Much more important is the opportunity to dream, for that is the essence of the bargain between fan and team. The fan lends his (or her) support, and in return the team extends an invitation to dream—for better players, better days and, ultimately, better endings. Keep the dream alive, and the franchise will find fans willing to follow it to the ends of the earth. Neglect it, and, well… I’m sure the good people of Seattle will be happy to enlighten you on the subject.
So to Rockets fans still mourning a second straight playoff defeat at the hands of the hated Jazz, and 11 consecutive years of postseason futility, take heart; yours is a team on which to dream. There is the steady, stellar play of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. There is the promise of Luis Scola and Carl Landry. There is the hope that a player like Brandon Rush or Robin Lopez could somehow slide to the Rockets on draft day. There is the possibility of a free agent market that could favor the buyer for once. And last but certainly not least, there is the potential inherent within the expiring contract of Bobby Jackson.
To be sure, there remain a myriad of potential pitfalls as well. Ill health and budding empires are just two of the many outside forces which threaten to derail the dream once more. But now is not the time to drown in the ubiquitous doom and gloom which perpetually accompany premature endings. Now is the time to remember the deal you made when you originally signed up for this ride.
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On that fateful day, you were promised plenty of pain, bitter pills and crushing losses; all in exchange for a dream. Well, guess what: Today, that dream is alive and well.
And if you don’t know how precious that gift really is, go ask a Sonics fan. Then give him a hug.
Because losing that dream is the worst pain of all. – Jason Friedman
Tomorrow: The season-ending Q&A with Rockets GM Daryl Morey