Love And Basketball

An examination of what it means to love something incapable of loving you back.
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1

 

What does it mean to love something that has no idea that you even exist?

 

Most of the time, that question is asked by a 14 year-old semi-loser with a huge unrequited crush on the best-looking girl in school. It's depressing for him, because they pass each other in the halls every day and might even share a few classes. But if she's anything more than generally aware of his existence, she doesn't show it. The 14-year-old is being overly dramatic, of course, because (a) he's 14 years old and has no idea what "love" actually is, and (b) she does know that he exists; she’s oblivious and/or apathetic to how he feels. (Which, admittedly, might be worse, hence the overly-dramatic sentiment that might feel safer in his head).

 

I know what that feels like, because I was that 14-year-old semi-loser. And I'm starting to feel that way again, albeit in different circumstances. It’s understandable and a little bit funny, for instance, for that hormone-flooded teenager to have no idea how to process their emotions.

 

When a 26-year old feels that way, it's weird, and a bit concerning. Also, I should mention that I’m not referring to a girl this time. I'm talking about basketball.

This may seem strange, which I'm okay with, because it feels strange to me. But ever since the idea took root in my head, it's been impossible to pry out.

 

Basketball does not know that I exist,because basketball is a societal abstraction that lacks sentience. Not only does it not know that I exist; it's incapable of knowing that I exist. But that's never going to stop me from loving it. It's a strange relationship that consumers have with the products the prefer, and everyone knows it on some level, even if they don't know that they know it.

 

2

 

Even if basketball has no idea that I exist, it still provides a small modicum of meaning to my life. Being an NBA hyper-fan provides for a sense of camaraderie, on the blogosphere and on Twitter. I can connect with people that share my passion in a way that loyal consumers to other products cannot. If the compulsive part of my brain had become obsessed with the idea of owning a Toyota or eating Frosted Flakes every morning, my life would be very different.

 

But entertainment is a communal experience. Everybody’s morning bowl of Frosted Flakes is different, as is every commute to work in a Rav-4. But when I watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals, I know that everyone else is watching the same Game 6 of the NBA Finals. I can surrender my agency and let the experience wash over me. So even if basketball doesn't know that I exist, I know that basketball exists, other people know that basketball exists and, by extensinon, other people are able to know that I exist as a person who loves basketball.

 

These shared experiences come to define who we are as a community, playoff deciders as well as the regular season minutiae. Sometimes, the latter matters even more: Millions upon millions of people were watching Game 6 of the Finals last year, but how many people watched Russell Westbrook put up a 49-15-10 and lead Oklahoma City to an overtime win on that random Wednesday night in March? The smaller the group gets, the more special those memories feel in retrospect. The more exclusive a group gets, the more significant it becomes to be included.

 

3

 

I like basketball more than I like most people. This is probably a strange sentiment relative to the interpersonal norms of society. In order to accept my premise as accurate, it means that either (a) I really, really, REALLY like basketball, (b) that I dislike most people, or (c) some combination of the two.

 

Do you remember that crappy movie “The Box,” with Frank Langella and Cameron Diaz? Probably not. But anyway, in the movie, there’s a magical box with a button. If Cameron Diaz decides to push the button, she will receive one million dollars. But once she pushes the button, someone, somewhere will die. It’s a lame premise and an even worse movie, but it got me thinking about my relationship with basketball.

 

Let’s say that in order to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals, someone I know will be mildly inconvenienced in an annoying way -- like, say, a co-worker that I’m friendly with gets stuck in traffic because of obnoxious construction, subsequently arriving late to a vaguely important meeting. Would I make that trade? My only reaction is “absolutely.” But what if the stakes were more drastic?

 

What if, in order to watch Cavs-Bulls game on opening night, that same co-worker has their credit card stolen. There aren’t any fraudulent purchases made, but they have to go through the tedious and stressful rigamarole of contacting their credit card company and/or bank in order to sort it out. Would I make that trade? As terrible as it sounds, I feel like I probably would.

 

It gets worse.

 

What if the proposition were as ridiculous as, say, in order to watch the Nuggets-Timberwolves game on January 6, that same co-worker - who, again, I am reasonably good friends with and we socialize outside of work occasionally - has their car substantially damaged when a snow-plow collides with it during overnight snow removal, and it takes weeks for the city and the insurance company to sort out the claim? Right now, I’m honestly not sure what my decision would be in the moment, which makes me think I’d probably end up watching the game and screwing over my acquaintance. And these examples are involving the few dozens of people I know. You can imagine what kind of trade-offs I’d be willing to accept in the case of the billions of people I don’t.

 

But possessing this level of self-awareness doesn’t exactly motivate me to change my attitudes. I know that I feel this way, and I know that the fact that I feel this way is a bad thing, but I’m not doing anything about it. Which, frankly, troubles me further, but I’ve come to accept it. Love can make you do fucked-up things.

 

4



If you ever listen to a comedian speak about their formative years, you’ll hear them talk about the first time they realized they were funny. It’s a seminal moment for them, as it should be; if life is the sum total of all of your experiences, the experience that informs your life’s work is perhaps the most significant. I am not a comedian, and writing about basketball is far from my life’s work. But I still remember the moment I recognized that my interest in basketball was far different from everyone around me.

 

I was a freshman at Boston University in the Fall of 2007. All the guys on my floor were sports fans. Being in Boston with two dozen sports fans just a few months after the Kevin Garnett trade, I assumed everyone else would want to talk hoops, also. But the only things my floor mates wanted to talk about were baseball and football. Even as the Celtics started 29-3, and the top of the Western Conference emerged as the most competitive top 8 or 9 in the history of basketball, basketball was no more than a passing interest for them. It was mind-blowing, as basketball had always been the mountaintop for me. I never conceived of a reality where none of my friends were as nutty as I was about the NBA.

 

College was the first time I ever had anyone ask me, “Why do you love basketball so much?” I had never been asked about it, and so I never thought about it. It was the first time it ever occurred to me that I loved something that had no knowledge and did not care that I existed at all. Granted, it was no different from my friends who loved baseball and football, but they didn’t exactly think about it, because they didn’t spend hours on end navigating existential and solipsistic labyrinths in their heads like I did. I couldn’t help it. I still can’t. That’s just what I do.

 

5

 

The realization that basketball is literally ignorant to my existence hasn’t really affected how much I enjoy having basketball as a part of my life. I continually ingratiate myself further despite the inescapable knowledge that basketball would continue on as always if I decided to stop watching or, more likely, drop dead. I watch basketball. I think about basketball. I think about how I feel about basketball. I write about basketball. Now, I suppose, I write about how I think about how I feel about basketball. I’m never going to give it up.

 

I’m never going to give it up because I’ve come to a new realization: Basketball doesn’t know that I exist, but what actually matters is that I don’t care that basketball doesn’t know that I exist. I am indifferent to basketball’s indifference. This was the missing piece to the puzzle, the final variable to the equation, and it didn’t occur to me until, well, right now.

 

Until now, I always knew that basketball didn’t know that I existed, but I pretended not to know. You can’t un-learn, but you can ignore, and so that’s what I did. This, among other things, makes me different from the 14 year-old semi loser I once was. When the girl doesn’t know you exist, and you’re 14, it’s impossible to ignore it. You fixate on it until your head hurts, because you can see that she exists, and that she is recognizing the existence of other people. She is rewarding other people with the attention you so desperately crave. But that yearning doesn’t exist with basketball. I don’t sit on my couch watching the Pelicans take on the Jazz and become jealous that basketball is paying greater attention to my roommate than to me. Basketball cannot do anything at my expense. It exists purely to entertain me, which is all that I want out of it.

 

Basketball doesn’t know that I exist, and can’t know that I exist, but that doesn’t matter. They say love is a two-way street, but it can’t be with basketball. It’s a one-sided love. I stopped worrying about it only when I realized it’s the only way to love it at all.


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