From dogs to underdogs

Yes, I know last week was “sports week”, but an uncanny situation is developing in sports that demands some special attention.  You may have even heard about it.

A few months ago, several of the NBA’s better players (including two often listed in the “top five”) decided to join together on one team in the hopes of creating a dynastic combination that would sweep to several championships.

The intention was not ignoble, nor was their willingness to sacrifice millions of potential dollars to be the singular star elsewhere.  The courting process was unfortunately public and ridiculous; perpetuated by the multitude of cable channels and an effectively quiet news period (just how many stories CAN you print about the decay of the American economy?).

The players made two tactical errors.  One decided to make a “show” of his leaving his former team.  The revenue to charity notwithstanding, it was an amateurish blunder that was universally criticized.  The second error had to be hung on their new team’s management.  Upon arrival in Miami, the three were “unveiled” on a smoky stage, preening and posing to an adoring local crowd.  Unscripted answers to carelessly planned questions created an even more negative tone to the three joining together (everywhere but locally).  Within a span of a week, a team which could have been celebrated for its star power and entertainment value was transformed into the team most people wanted to see lose.

Since those two public missteps, the trio of stars, team and organization have been careful not to create further antagonism.   In fact, they have gone out of their way to try and appear humble and respectful.  In the typically conscientious manner of all humanity, their “sins” have not been forgiven and they continued to be roundly pummeled by critics and fans alike.

I won’t go into the various defenses to their actions or exposure of the imbalance of the public and professional backlash.  Up until this year, I rarely even watched basketball, it just wasn’t my thing.  The fact that I’m watching it now, consistently, proves that, all else aside, the trio created compelling theater and has probably increased the profile of the NBA dramatically.

What I do find inappropriate, though, is the “joy” sportswriters, broadcasters, players and fans have in the recent struggles of the team.  These are all young men in their 20’s.  They made a couple mistakes to begin their partnership together.  Somehow, those errors in judgment are unpardonable and the relish with which supposed professionals take in their difficulties is awful to watch.  It speaks of man’s basest characteristics, that of “kicking a man when he’s down” rather than extending a hand to help

As an avid fan of other sports, I feel I am well within my rights to criticize or complain about the team that my ticket or tax money helps support.  But I don’t boo my team except for one thing and one thing only:  lack of effort.  Everything else, I may moan, cry, scream or sulk, but if they are trying and get beat, hey I know how that feels all the time on the tennis court.  Believe me, they don’t WANT to lose.  No one does.

And there lies the rub.  The truest axiom in all sports is “winning cures all ills”.  While the team is currently mired in this losing streak, their flaws and struggles will be microscopically dissected in the way that all things public are these days.  Hey, that’s why they get paid the millions.  Suck it up, right?

Still, I wonder.  Should the team “figure it out”, go on a tear and somehow actually win the championship, do you think anyone will give them their due?  Will those same “experts” who say their recent struggles show why they can’t be champions turn around and say “Well, they were supposed to win the whole thing with that stacked deck”?

I think you can bank on it.  You usually can’t go wrong betting on John Q. Public’s paucity of forgiveness for public figures.  Although I have no real vested interest in the team, I am now rooting for them to win it all.  Not because of any bond I’ve formed for any of the players, but more because of the terribly boorish behavior they have been subjected to.  The arrogant and pompous righteous indignation offered up by the unforgiving public and media.  It’s astonishing.   With so many rooting against them, I have to root for them.  I love rooting for the underdog.