[ NOte from NOel : I’ve always wanted to be a sportswriter, but emotions and partisanship would have made detachment (not objectivity, for true objectivity is impossible regardless of which writing endeavor you embrace) unlikely, but I did write about the only modern-era UAAP basketball championship of State U (1986), so THAT should count, shouldn’t it? 🙂 Likewise, this is in response to a request from my brother Jude ( whom I love dearly ) after several asks about my NBA partisanship, hope this qualifies bro. Sorry for such a long, dramatic title though, please excuse my amateurish attempt at sports-related blogging, and so sorry also for the late May birthday greetings to my kabatch Dr Philip Dy, Rosemarie So-Cheng, Mary Ann Ong-Carranceja, Boyd Barcelona, Peggy Cu and Sherwin Lim. Many happy returns ! ]
Honestly now, just between us NBA casual fans and junkies, answer me this bro/sis : During the recently concluded NBA 2011 Finals, you kept tabs from Games 1 to 6 because (1) You wanted the Dallas Mavs
, the too-underwhelming-to-be-true overachievers from the West to win their first title, never mind the big mouth and brashness of Mavs owner Mark Cuban;
OR (2) you wanted with all your heart for Mr “The Decision” King (LeBron
) James to end up with yet another title-less season, never mind the faultless and heroic play of teammate Dwayne Wade, the efforts of the Miami Heat organization, and the fact that one person’s flaws shouldn’t bring an entire team down?
Well? Is it (1) or (2) ? We don’t know each other THAT well, but unless you’re from Miami, you love betting on the favorite, or you have a bunch of LBJ rookie trading cards that you’re hoping will soar in market value after a Heat title, I’m going with the “hate” vote, which of course is choice No. 2. All the more if you’re a fan of any of the other 29 teams in the National Basketball Association
, and if you’re not one of the estimated 400,000 citizens of the city of Miami Florida
, meaning you’re part of the REST of the 308 million that make up the USA, or the 3 billion of the rest of the hoops loving world.
Whatever your answer, hold that thought for a minute…
…and go back with me to the 2009 women’s US Open tennis championship
contested by comebacking Kim Clijsters of Belgium and “we-all-know-who-the-real-World-Number-One-Is
” Serena Williams
, and regardless of the bizarreness ( the spellchecker doesn’t recognize this word
) of the way it ended, in an awful foot fault call and resulting penalty point awarding the championship to Clijsters, did you (1) want the overpowering and admittedly masculine looking Serena (or at least more masculine looking than Men’s Champion Juan Martin del Potro
) to pin yet another Grand Slam feather on her heavy cap,
OR (2) pull for the first mom to reach a major finals in recent years to put the bulkier member of the Williams sisters in her place?
Hold that thought yet again, and recall the week-old finale of the US Open in golf, and you didn’t have to be a serious golf afficionado to know that something noteworthy just happened. Was it : (1) newest phenom Rory McIlroy
becoming Europe’s youngest major champion (US Open, British Open, Masters and PGA Championship
) in 139 years, (2) McIlroy’s amazing comeback since his epic meltdown at the Masters only a month before, (3) his twin US Open records of 72-round totals (268) and score-to-par (-16), surpassing even Tiger Wood
OR (4) it’s been the 12th straight major that Tiger hasn’t won, putting him further and further from his personal goal of winning 19 majors, or one more than those won by the all-time great Jack Nicklaus…
If you went for the last choice in any of the scenarios mentioned above, in our humble opinion you’ve joined the “hate” fan culture that has transcended the narrow milieu of sports partisanship. It’s no longer just wanting your favorite team or idol’s rival to lose and lose spectacularly, because the waves of hate and animosity are directed towards a particular team or athlete, and the latter isn’t even a rival of your favorite.
To be fair, the personalities in question, King James, Serena Williams and Tiger, didn’t help themselves. The amazing Finals meltdown ( amazing in the sense that up to that point, LBJ was certifiably UNGUARDABLE by anyone, much less a 35-year Jason Kidd who still retains the passing and ball handling gifts, but ran out of athleticism even before MJ’s Third Coming ) will stay with The Chosen One till he unchokes in his breakout Finals and anything less than a decisively won title will fall short; Serena almost got my sympathy again with her emotional Wimbledon comeback after nearly a one-year absence from tennis, but her temper tantrum against Wimbledon court scheduling took it away again; and Tiger will probably participate in a golf major final again, but will never recapture the same level of parbusting magic and shock-and-awe superiority that has characterized much of professional golf in the last 15 years.
But it’s not so much a situation of being unlovable losers but the aura of ungracious winners that they projected when they lorded it over their respective realms. LBJ was a winner at every level right before he reached the pinnacle of success (the NBA Finals), and he was anointed and expected to be one (as High School All-America, No. 1 overall NBA Draft Pick, reportedly $70 million richer in product endorsements before he played a single minute of pro ball, Rookie of the Year, All-Star every season played, gold-medal Olympian, regular season MVP, playoffs MVP) His talent, sense of entitlement and tolerated arrogance set him up for a failure that his character could never deal with.
Serena knew and asserted her superiority over every other rival; everyone else accepted this, but did she have to rub it in everyone’s faces? And Tiger’s stranglehold over every aspect of his being No.1 extended to his absolute control over the sports media. No one was allowed to ask unscreened questions during his media briefings, in fact a reporter’s unfavorable or uncomfortable question to Tiger would probably be his last; he would never be allowed to ask a question, much less be granted a Tiger interview again. Every self-respecting member of the media covering this knew this rule and accepted it as an immutable reality during the Tiger dynasty.
After their misfortunes and fall from grace, the mass media gave them more than their day of reckoning : they dissected and milked their transgressions till the very last drop : LBJ, who should be by this stage of the media cycle be a figure of pity or at the very least, mild sympathy, remains someone sitting in the figurative corner, someone to be punished and ostracized until he “eats his humble pie.”
For all of her superhuman achievements, media chose to make the public remember Serena’s lame excuses every time she lost a final and of course, the “we all know” comment above. And we’ve all been witness to the “slow death” torture, some of it well-deserved, of Tiger’s indiscretions, sexting and ill-advised “it’s Tiger” voicemails that have been replayed ad infinitum across every form of media, planet-wide.
If you don’t believe that LBJ, Serena and Tiger have been singled out (not unfairly though) consider superstars of equivalent magnitude : Kobe Bryant escaped a rape conviction by the skin of his teeth, not the least due to a more-or-less “neutral” media that was uncharacteristically quiet, and after his acquittal went on to reacquire basketball god status and two more titles for the Lakers; MJ was rumored to have gambling problems and bullied everyone around him viciously; after smoothing over the more aggressive members of the press, his Hall of Fame reputation remained untarnished. For a while Michael Vick’s foray into dogfighting turned him into Public Enemy No. 1. After a short prison term and a repackaging of his image, he has regained his star status.
For the trio above, it seems that the media correctly foresaw that sales and ads ( for print media ), ratings and ads ( for electronic media ) and hits and ads ( for online media ) would jump a hundredfold if it fed the deep-seated hate seething below the surface for the ego, lust and poorly-prepared media pronouncements ( e.g., Venus and I have won more titles than those playing on Centre Court; not five, not six, not seven titles for the Miami Heat; nothing is more important than my family ). Media fed the hate and consequently fed from the hate in the form of increased viewership, readership and patronage. Not so much the dog biting the hand that was feeding it but giving it exactly what the hand deserved.
It’s almost like for sports superstars, especially those with king-sized egos and raging hormones, love slash admiration for success and talent could in the wink of an eye be transformed into hate and animosity, into currency as golden as annual subscriptions, ad revenue and mouseclicks. For sports fan – driven businesses, Hate could very well be the New Love. Next to titles and championships, nothing gets the media (and by osmosis, the Sports Nation of fans and supporters ) more rabid than the next rumor, indiscretion or foot-in-mouth moment by a top-tier athlete.
If you don’t believe this, ask LeBron why the city of Cleveland held a victory parade for the Dallas Mavericks, why anti-Serena blogs persist and why “Anyone But Tiger” T-shirts, coffee mugs and souvenirs, more than a year after Tiger Got Caught, enjoy moderate sales.
Nowadays, when “bad” things happen to “bad” sports idols, far from pitying them, we say : you had it coming.
Thanks for reading !