sports fans

Exit 161. A humbling effect.

Nicky Gumbel is a British pastor best known for being one of the people behind Alpha International, the publisher of a series of discussions and Bible studies presenting the basic points of Christianity.  In one of his course materials, Rev. Gumbel tells a story relating the concept that even after we turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior, we aren’t made perfect yet.  In his story, Rev. Gumbel is riding a bicycle, and a cab driver cuts him off.  Rather than follow Jesus’ advice to turn the other cheek, Gumbel pedals fast to catch up to the driver, intending to report his bad driving, and makes a rude comment once the driver is in earshot.  The driver calls him by name and tells him to be careful.  Gumbel looks at him after being called by name, wondering if he heard correctly, and the driver holds up an Alpha workbook.  He then proceeds to tell his passenger about the Alpha course and how inspirational and life-changing Gumbel’s work has been.

Obviously, that sort of encounter would have a humbling effect.  Gumbel said something to the effect that it served to remind him that Jesus is not finished working with him yet.  (By the way, any inaccuracies in this account are mine, but the main points are there.)

I had an experience recently that also reminded me about Jesus not being done with me yet.  I won’t tell the whole story, I’m still a bit ashamed of myself, but essentially I picked a verbal altercation with some fans of a rival sports team.  It got very heated to the point that I was making a scene in public.  I calmed down, apologized, and walked away from the fans of the rival team before the altercation turned physical.  But I felt ashamed for acting so immaturely, especially since, even though the others kept it going, I clearly started the whole thing for no reason other than that they were fans of a rival team who dared to show their team pride here in a different geographical location.

Nothing I can do about it now except learn and move on.  Maybe this whole experience reveals that I still have some unresolved anger about being bullied in the past, some of which happened at the hands of fans of this team.

Exit 98. I have learned that I was wrong.

I am ready to recant a position that I held in my childhood and teen years.  I have learned that I was wrong.  I was misled by a desire for attention and a lack of knowledge of the history involved, and for many years I betrayed my roots.  But I have seen the error of my ways.

I don’t do The Wave anymore at sporting events.

For those of you non-sports people, The Wave is a cheer where people stand up and scream for a few seconds, then sit down.  Fans are supposed to stand up and cheer when the fans next to them start doing it, so the cheer ends up progressing like a wave around the stadium.  When I first saw this on TV at some point as a kid, I thought it was fascinating, and it looked like a lot of fun.  I started trying to get The Wave going at my brother’s Little League games.  It usually didn’t work, and my mother would always tell me to quiet down and stop making a scene.  I’m not sure why she was always so against me being loud and having fun – you’re supposed to be loud at sporting events, after all, right?  Maybe because she grew up in the kind of family where children were seen and not heard when in public, and that was all she knew.  (Mom, I know you read this.  No hard feelings.  I’m not holding a grudge.)

During my senior year of high school, I went to every football game, both home and away.  At away games, I always sat with the group of students from my school who made the trip (much of this group consisted of the girlfriends of football players).  A few times, I got them to help me start The Wave, and it actually succeeded.  It felt good to have people actually pay attention to me being passionate and not discourage me from making a scene.

I never really tried to start The Wave on my own after that, but occasionally I would be at a sporting event where The Wave got started, and I would enthusiastically participate.  About a decade ago or so, though, I started hearing more and more people point out that Giants fans (this is San Francisco Giants baseball) don’t do The Wave.  I never knew why, and I never really gave much thought to it, although since then I had noticed people at Giants games being discouraged from doing The Wave.  But I also had a memory from childhood of a Giants game where The Wave actually happened.

A few years ago, I was at a math teachers’ conference, attending a session about, um, I don’t remember the topic now, but the presenter was modeling how to get students to think in an open-ended way about math problems.  She presented a scenario involving The Wave, and some questions about the speed of The Wave and the number of participants.  She began the presentation asking for volunteers to ask any questions we might be able to think of about The Wave.  Most of the questions were mathematical in nature (“How fast does The Wave travel?”  “How many people are needed to successfully start The Wave?”).  I took a different approach and suggested the question, “Why don’t Giants fans do The Wave?”  Another teacher in the presentation answered my question, saying that Giants fans don’t do The Wave because it started at an Oakland Athletics game.

I did the research when I got home, and although the origin of The Wave is disputed and unclear, one of the earliest documented performances of The Wave was indeed at an Oakland Athletics game, during the 1981 playoffs.  Another early performance of The Wave was in Los Angeles, during soccer at the 1984 Olympics.  An origin in Oakland or Los Angeles would each be unacceptable to Giants fans, with the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers being the Giants’ primary rivals.

Last week, I was at a Sacramento Kings (basketball) game, and The Wave got started at one point.  For possibly the first time ever, I didn’t participate.  Now that I know the full history behind why Giants fans don’t do The Wave, I have to stay true to that, even though this was an entirely different sport.  More importantly, though, The Wave is often a distraction for fans who are bored with the game itself.  I was trying to watch the game.  Five minutes were left on the clock, and the Kings were losing, as is usually the case these days.  One of the few positive things I noticed about the game, however, was that the Kings had not missed a single free throw for the entire game.  During the time that The Wave was going, a Kings player (I think it was Rudy Gay) was shooting a free throw.  The Wave passed by behind the basket just as Rudy was shooting the free throw… and it missed.  The Wave ruined our perfect free throw shooting night.

So I’m through with The Wave.

Exit 79. You have to admire that kind of loyalty.

Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that people I don’t like, or people who support a cause I don’t support, have qualities that I admire.

Last night I watched the Sacramento Kings play the Los Angeles Lakers (that’s basketball, for you non-sports people).  The Kings won.  They led by 31 points at one point, and ended up winning by 18.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.  Northern California sports fans, like me, do not like Los Angeles teams.  That’s just the way things work.  Also, these two teams in particular have a very tense history beyond the typical North vs. South rivalry.  The Lakers are one of the most successful franchises in the histoy of the NBA, having won 16 league championships in their history.  The Kings have only won one championship in franchise history, in 1951, long before they moved to Sacramento, and when the league only had 11 teams instead of today’s 30.  Los Angeles, of course, gets much more attention from the media than Sacramento.  And the Kings’ best chance to win a championship in Sacramento, in 2002, was cut short in a playoff game against the Lakers that featured so many biased calls from the referees, including no foul on Kobe Bryant after elbowing Mike Bibby in the face and knocking him bleeding to the floor, that it has spawned conspiracy theories about being fixed.

The Lakers have fallen on hard times in recent years, however.  Last year, they had two games left, and they needed one more win to avoid having the worst winning percentage in franchise history.  They finished their season with two games against the Kings, one in Sacramento (which I attended) and one in Los Angeles, and the Kings won both.  Games in Sacramento against the Lakers are always tense, not only because of that history, but because there are a lot of Laker fans up here.  Most fans of visiting teams who show up to watch their team play the Kings are pretty decent.  They’re just there to see their favorite teams and players and see a good game.  Most Laker fans, though, make a point of being the biggest thuggish foul-mouthed jerks possible.  They boo the Kings and their star players.  They act annoyed when Kings fans cheer for the home team, as if we have no right to be there in our own arena.  And they keep rubbing 2002 in our faces.  (Of course, I do know a few decent and well-behaved Laker fans.  The next paragraph does not apply to them.)

As I said, the Lakers looked absolutely pathetic last night through the whole first half, trailing by 24 at halftime.  They started to chip away at the lead later in the game, but the Kings led by at least 15 for the entire second half.  The Lakers have not won yet this season (although they, like the Kings, had only played one game before Friday night’s game).  You can’t spell LAst pLAce without LA.  And yet Laker fans were just as loud and dirty as ever, putting down the Kings and cheering on their team that was getting embarrassed on the court.  There was one two seats over from me, and, had the Lakers actually gone ahead in the fourth quarter, I probably would have had to ask my friend to restrain me physically from punching this guy in the face.

The point I’m trying to make here: You have to admire that kind of loyalty.  Not that kind of behavior or attitude, but loyalty.

I don’t really see that kind of loyalty in a lot of Kings fans, at least not as a group.  The building is rarely packed these days like it was in 2002.  I know a lot of people who gave up on the Kings when the team started to fall apart in 2006, and who refuse to go to any more games because of the way the owners behaved in 2006-13, despite the fact that those owners are gone and have nothing to do with the team anymore.  A few years ago, when it looked like the team was going to be moving, I knew people who called themselves Kings fans who said that they wished the team would hurry up and move just so the drama would be over.  As Inigo Montoya might say, you keep using that word “fan.”  I do not think it means what you think it means.  This all makes me sad.

Real fans don’t give up on their team when the team is doing badly.  And for as much as I don’t like the Lakers, and I don’t like obnoxious trolling fans who show up at the other team’s venue and act like jerks, I can’t deny that I admire them for sticking with their team even when they do badly.