Over the past five years, I have turned into a fair-weather fan of a sports team I used to be obsessed with. And I have to tell you: it’s wonderful.
I grew up addicted to watching basketball, reading about basketball, playing basketball (poorly), playing basketball video games (less poorly), talking about basketball. And my team was the Sacramento Kings. And the Kings were horrid most of my childhood. All of my childhood? Pretty close.
I remember the 1996 playoffs series against the Sonics like it was yesterday. I was a teenager but felt like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning watching that series. Pure catharsis, even in defeat.
I worshipped Mitch Richmond and booed when the Kings passed on John Wallace for somebody named Predrag Stojakovic. (An astute analyst even then, it’s true.) I cried for Bobby Hurley and believed in Corliss Williamson more than anyone. As someone who enjoyed the Fab Five immensely, I was over the moon when Chris Webber showed up. I relished the era he heralded. So much so that as sports blogs were becoming a thing I started up a site that eventually became Sactown Royalty, the second NBA blog on SB Nation.
For nine years, I led and grew a community of like-minded fanatics. I wrote in depth about Bonzi Wells, Mike Bibby, Shelden Williams, Desmond Mason, Jason Hart, John Salmon, Francisco Garcia, Mikki Moore, Brad Miller, Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, Hassan Whiteside, DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Thomas Robinson, Omri Casspi, Donte Greene, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Honeycutt (RIP), Sylven Landesburg, Orien Greene — Orien Greene started at point guard on an opening night for the Sacramento Kings! There was Justin Williams, Bobby Brown, Chuck Hayes, Kenny Thomas, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Marcus Thornton, Rashad McCants, Bobby Jackson, Travis Outlaw, Andres Nocioni, Ronnie Price, Quincy Douby and exactly one game of Drew Gooden. I feuded with the play-by-play guy, two local columnists, several national reporters, the general manager, the press relations head, the owners, two head coaches and one head coach’s wife. (I think I have since buried the hatchet with all of them save for one of the head coaches, the play-by-play guy and one of the national reporters. I think. It’s hard to keep track of all of my professional squabbles.)
I was the model hardcore fan. I hated the Lakers with disturbing fervor. I would watch every game of a 17-win season and write about that horrid team 10 times a week. When I wasn’t watching or writing about them, I was thinking about them. I was hoping that someday I’d get to write about and root for and watch a good team.
And if I had kept on like that, I’d still be waiting.
In early 2014, I handed the reins of Sactown Royalty over to the team that is now at The Kings Herald. I continued to watch every Kings game that season, even having excised the professional obligation. I was still a hardcore Kings fan. But over the course of the next couple of years, I stopped the obsession. I stopped watching every single game. I stopped thinking about free agency, the coaching carousel and the NBA Draft first through the prism of what they meant for the Kings. I stopped being upset by the foibles of the doomed franchise, and started appreciating how hilariously inept the team was.
I stopped caring so much when the team gave me so little to care about. I became a fair-weather fan.
Before the coronavirus shutdown, I was to the point where I watched the Kings as much as I watched, say, the Pelicans or Grizzlies (two teams quite fun to watch, but for whom I have no real rooting interest). If the Kings were on and the game wasn’t entertaining, I’d change it. If they went on a mystifying three-game losing streak, I’d roll my eyes and watch some Lakers highlights. If they won a couple of games, if Harry Giles had a nice stint, if De’Aaron Fox looked healthy for the first time in months, I’d be excited. I allowed myself to enjoy the Kings as a fan without wrapping myself in the trappings of suffering when things went south.
I had deprogrammed myself from an obsessive fandom into something that certainly seems more healthy.
Now and then, someone will tweet about how I must never have been a true Kings fan since I gave it up now, as a decade of doom mounts. What a nightmarish view of fandom, that unless you’re willing to absorb infinite, eternal despair you are faking it! The world is suffering enough without fake-ass purity tests around hobbies. And that’s the key here: do you view your fandom as an identity or as a hobby? That’s the transition I’ve made. That’s where so many fans who can’t rattle off the 2007 opening night starting lineup but wear the ballcap or the T-shirt live. Having it as your identity is totally fine provided that doesn’t lead you to police the fandom, to determine who is good enough to be granted admission to the happy times when misery lifts for the team.
As someone who wore his fandom like a second skin before and wears it like a hat now, I can tell you that being a fair-weather fan is a totally valid way to experience sports. In fact, if your team is as punishing to your psyche as the Kings have been to their fans, I recommend it!
In fact, if you’re interested in conversion, let the coronavirus shutdown ween you off of obsessive fandom. Allow this break to detach your fandom identity from your corpus and make that team earn your loyalty not through mere continued existence but through success or good works or the creation of happiness. You don’t owe anything to the Knicks, the Browns, the Mariners, the Liberty, Arsenal, Georgia football, the Mets, the Kings, the Hornets, the Jaguars, UCLA basketball, the Sharks or the senior United States Men’s Soccer Team. You can make them try to earn your fandom and spare yourself little miseries when they continue to fail to do so.
The pull of nostalgia and identity and, in many cases, herd fandom and geography are strong. I completely understand and respect those who can’t shed the skin. For those of you who remain all-weather fans, godspeed.