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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Passion or Obsession (a retro-piece)

Posted by ASPOV

(Denzel Washington and Diddy at Laker game)

A good friend asked me recently why I love to watch basketball so much. I watch games, or at least portions of games, about three or four days a week; some games more closely than others. As a Miami Heat fan, I attend as many games at the American Airlines Arena as I can without going broke to do it (game ticket + parking + drink and snacks can get quite expensive). I get up in the morning and while having my morning coffee, I'm reading about the previous night's games--the very games I sat up all night watching! My friend wondered if I might not be celebrity obsessed. I certainly can understand the question.

I'm not an athlete, though I did play the game on the playground when I was young. A good friend and I were the only girls on the court with a bunch of the neighborhood boys. I possessed a decent jump shot, was money from the foul line, and as a 5'7" ten year old, I was big enough to give the guys my age some trouble down low. But, as puberty hit, my love of sports changed from participant to observer. Maybe it was social pressure, but I'm not so sure. I think that it was the fact that there just wasn't much in the way of organized basketball for girls in those days. I bring this up just to show that my love for the game today doesn't come from playing it as much as it does from appreciating the beauty of the game from the stands.

Given that, my questioner wondered why I didn't follow college basketball as much as the NBA. Or, for that matter, why I don't follow the WNBA as much as the NBA. Her obvious point being that if I "truly loved" the game, I'd be just as interested in the collegians as I am in the pros. I'd watch the women as well as the men, if it was really "the game" that held my rapt attention, she argued. All good points. So, here's where she asserted that my passion for the pro game had more to do with living in a celebrity obsessed culture and being "sucked into" the manufactured drama that is today's "athlete as celebrity", and less to do with a genuine passion for the sport.
Now, I could wax poetic about the grace and artistry of the athlete in motion. It truly is a beautiful thing to watch. I could also argue that the pace and finesse of the men's pro game is far more exciting than the women's and the amateur's. The intensity and the competitive fire that is a part of every NBA game; the strategy of the coaches and the players' ability to both follow that strategy and freelance when it breaks down; the joy when my favorite team wins and the anguish I feel when they lose. All that is part of why I enjoy witnessing these young men try to throw that orange pebbled ball into that hole suspended ten feet in the air. But...

We're living in a period where entertainers are "celebrated" as much for their lifestyles as for the talents they use to entertain us. We're fascinated with the cars they drive, the "cribs" they live in, and the clothes and jewelry they wear. We fantasize about being like them (remember the "Be like Mike" Gatorade commercial?). Our sports heroes are "sold" to us through carefully crafted peeks into their personal lives and life styles, so as to make us believe we "know" them and can relate to them, and more importantly, so that we buy the products they endorse. When the question was asked of me, I was forced to examine my motivations and my attachment to this sport and to this particular aspect of the culture I live in.

I've worked hard in my adult years to try to rid myself of what I consider the negative aspects of western culture. Patriarchy, materialism, classism, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, sexism--all the "isms" that I think get embedded in our psyches from infancy--form the basis of the differential treatment of human life. It tells us implicitly which lives are more valuable than others. I've tried to make sure that I don't contribute to these "isms"; that I recognize when they are in effect in my day to day living, and I fight for my right to live free of them. That work continues and I've accepted the fact that it will probably never end. I recognize that I must constantly examine my belief systems to make sure that I relate to others in ways that reflect this work.

As uncomfortable as it is to admit, I recognize that some of my attraction to following all that is the NBA has to do with the celebrity aspect of the athletes that play the game. I'm fairly certain that that's not all of it; I really do love witnessing the competition and I know more about the game of basketball than a casual fan. For instance, I love watching the Spurs play the game. In my opinion, their brand of basketball is the best example of how the game of basketball should be played. And they are considered by most fans of the NBA as the most boring team because of their perceived lack of "personality". I know my passion for the game is real, and not just about a fascination with celebrity. But I also know that I have to "check myself" when I find that I am more interested in the players than the game.


Ryne Nelson said...

Wow! This is what I've been waiting for...I knew SKO had something epic like this cooking!

ASPOV said...

When I get the time, Ryne, I'll try to contribute more. The fellas hold it down though. I just like to add my "Sistah's point of view" occassionally.

Moose said...

Nice work, Cheryl. So you're a Heat fan? You go to American Airlines Arena?

I happen to be in the Miami area for the Dec. 23rd matchup between the Heat and the Warriors. Anything you can tell me about the arena? I already asked Eboy and got his take, but what's yours?

p.s.: new stuff on Hibachi 2.0!

Eboy said...

Cheryl, I remember this from back in the day...and it still reads great today. Lovin' your contributions as of late, and once I'm back in South FLA, I'll get some new words up for SKO. Lovin it.

Moose said...

By the way, I started a second-priority blog (behind Hibachi) and I update it daily. It's basically just my stream of consciousness about the NBA, so it might be interesting for you guys to see my opinion, maybe. So click my name, click "The Leprechaun's Lair" (for my Celtics) and read! Hope y'all enjoy . . .

Tariq al Hayder said...

For some reason I started reading this thinking that Eboy wrote it. Not sure why. In any case, when I read that you were only one of two girls, I thought: "Wow, Eboy is being REALLY introspective and honest."

But seriously, great piece, Cheryl.

Since you and I are pretty much in the same boat (The only form of hoops I follow is the NBA), let me address an argument I find a little disturbing... the argument that since you only follow the NBA, you are not really in love with the game, but rather attracted to the celebrity allure of a Dwyane Wade or an Allen Iverson, and that's what makes you follow the sport, not your "love of the game".

I have to say that this argument does not hold water. Sure, I love the idea of these epic celebrity/athletes going up against each other, but that, in and of itself, is nothing. I will never follow the MLB, no matter how big Barry Bonds is (pun intended). If celebrity/athletes were the obsession, then surely you would be interested in A-Rod and Manny Ramirez, right?

The thing is that the NBA is the perfect vehicle for your love of the game. Or at least mine. When I see Chris Paul post these casual triple-double and 20-10 games, I am mesmerized by his ability. I love watching the guy. But at the same time, the fact that he's doing this IN THE NBA makes it really interesting. If he were doing this in the college ranks, it would surely be note-worthy, but I would have adopted a wait-and-see viewpoint. Like, let's see how good he REALLY is once he graduates to the L. And now, I'm excited to see how CP3's career will develop and stack up against the all-time greats. Is that celebrity obsession? I don't know, but it doesn't make that ball-fake he had against the Thunder the other night any less sweet.

And I mean, I do this with all sports. I love futbol (soccer), and so I watch Barcelona every week, for no other reason that it is aesthetically pleasing to me to watch Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta dance around and set up Samuel Eto'o for yet another cracker or a goal. I also follow the English and Italian leagues, just because they're the strongest leagues around. Sorry if I'm not the purist who makes it a point to watch twelve-year-olds play soccer because he just loves the game that much. I want to watch the best in the world.

And you know what? when all these "celebrity/athletes" get together in one arena to play....if that particular game is not exciting from a basketball standpoint, you know what I do?

I change the channel.

Tariq al Hayder said...

* cracker OF a goal.

By the way I never use that phrase. Don't know I just did. How British of me. Meh.

TADOne said...

Tariq called me out. I ain't no cracker!!!

Oh, and great piece Cheryl.