Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thanks For The Ride

I am not much of a bandwagon jumper. I tend, instead, to stand by the choices I make with the tenacity that I apply to most other decisions in my life. This is evident in my insistence on sticking with the Denver Broncos as my favorite football team in spite of the disappointments they have handed me over the years. Sure, those two Super Bowl victories back in the previous century helped take some of the sting off, but living in the Bay Area I am reminded regularly of the one that was lost to the San Francisco Forty-Niners. The Forty-Niners outscored their team's name by six points, and ran up a score differential that has yet to be eclipsed. Not even by the Seattle Seahawks when they rolled over those same Broncos nearly twenty years later. I've stuck to my guns, metaphorically speaking. Even though I show up on a playground in Oakland, surrounded by a nation of children in silver and black, I stick to my road cone orange and blue.
Being a Chicago Cubs fan has taught me this: There is always next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after that. And so on. Professional sports may mean never having to say you're sorry, but a little apology now and again would probably be okay. Or how about putting together that winning season? That seems to take the edge off for most of us die-hard types.
I didn't grow up as a basketball fan. I had a certain disdain for the sport, based loosely on my experiences on the driveways of my neighborhood, where I was routinely treated as the hoop version of a tackling dummy by the kid down the street who had some mad skills. I would have been more comfortable with kick the can or freeze tag or four square or anything that didn't require supreme amounts of physical coordination or skill. I didn't get that chance. Instead, I endured countless afternoons of being blown past with a drive to the rim, or endless rain from that spot in the corner. All of this came accompanied with my "friend's" running commentary. He was very fond of Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, and would punctuate his pronouncements with the endlessly aggravating "swish!" Because that's the sound the ball made when it slid neatly through the hoop without touching the rim. My shots tended to make even less noise, falling in that category known as "air ball."
I endured, and eventually I latched onto the Boston Celtics, not because of any understanding of their dynasty, but because of Dave Cowens, whose name was close enough to mine that it made it easy to made the same kind of play-by-play. Even if the results were less than stellar. My reward for this allegiance did not come for many years later when the Celtics drafted Larry Bird. Suddenly, all those missed jumpers and stumbles our of bounds drifted away. I had attached myself to a dynasty. This kept my connection to the local NBA franchise, the Denver Nuggets, limited to the few times a year when the Celtics would roar into town and put a hurt on. I took some quiet satisfaction in those drubbings.
When I moved to Oakland, I kept my football team from Denver, adopted the Oakland A's (since the Colorado Rockies were born the year that I left) and let my basketball fandom slip after the retirement of "The Hick From French Lick." This worked, primarily because I had entered a dead zone for basketball. The Golden State Warriors had established themselves as perennial also-rans, with a scattering of playoff appearances and not championships since I was playing on those driveways back in Colorado.
That changed this year. At first, I paid little attention to the record breaking success of the Warriors. I remembered their last trip to the playoffs, and the "pretty good for them" feeling it gave the city. I didn't want to give into that feeling: The Bandwagon. I watched the sea of silver and black t-shirts on our playground switch to blue and gold. Suddenly, every kid wanted to be Steph Curry. Recalling all my driveway humiliations, I did too. And the message the team kept sending, "Strength In Numbers" came through loud and clear in a city that is too often divided and distracted by any number of concerns.
A couple of weeks ago, as things started to heat up in the Finals, I went out and bought a shirt. I bought one for my wife. I bought one for my son. If I was going to make this trip, I wasn't going alone. As it turned out, I needn't have worried, but I like the idea that by hopping on I didn't slow the wagon down. It only picked up speed. The NBA Championship won't fix Oakland, but we all have something we can agree on. At last. Thanks for the ride.

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