Bryce Harper works in Washington. He is from Las Vegas. The hockey team from his current place of residence is playing the one from his hometown in the Stanley Cup Final.
“Being born and raised from Vegas, I think a lot of people are very proud of it. I know I am,” Harper told NHL Network in an interview broadcast before the Final started. “Being able to say that I come from Las Vegas, a lot of people looked at it kind of weird when I was younger, thought I lived in a casino and didn’t really have a real house to live in. Being able to have a sports team come for the first time and having a team that’s been winning and playing hard and doing it in the city, and also in the rink, it’s huge. They embraced the city the best they can, and we did as well as a team. It’s just a lot of fun to watch, and fun to be a part of. Being a fan for a team for the first time in my life, really, it’s pretty incredible.”
Harper has showed up at Nationals games over his years in D.C. But he said he’s been to 25 or 30 Vegas games in the team’s first year. He participated in a ceremonial faceoff the first time the Capitals visited Vegas, in December. He says nice things about the Caps, reserving particular praise for Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, and T.J. Oshie.
“I’m definitely happy for the Caps,” he said. “A lot of great players on that team as well. I love Holtby. He’s one of my favorite players. Ovi of course, Carlson, Oshie. I mean, what a great club they’ve got. But I was born and raised in Las Vegas, and I support the Golden Knights. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s gonna be a great series, it’s gonna to be hard-fought. I’m just happy I’m not on the ice and not getting hit by Tom Wilson, because he hits pretty hard.”
Harper hopes to make it to Game 4 of this series next week in D.C. If he gets there, he plans to wear a No. 81 Vegas jersey for little goal-scorer Jonathan Marchessault.
A few people in D.C. will probably be disappointed in Harper. But rooting for a local sports team is just about the most natural thing in sports. As SB Nation’s David Fucillo, also a Vegas native who’s never had a team to call his own, puts it:
For a large percentage of sports fans, you do not pick a team, your team picks you. You are born in a city or state with certain professional teams. Or, your family has long attended a given college, and so you are all fans of Notre Dame or Florida State or Georgia or pick your major college program.
The Golden Knights present a fresh experience, quite literally unlike anything Las Vegas sports fans have ever experienced. Rooting for a hometown team is distinctly different than rooting for an adopted team through which you have a limited connection at best. This is a rare opportunity when you move beyond childhood to get this kind of new experience as a sports fan.
Harper should enjoy this series.