They Can't All Be Winners, Part 26: Orlando Magic

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It’s not exactly suffering, to endure several seasons of loss-pocked rebuilding. More than anything, it feels like your senses have gone dead. That comforting rhythm of watching games two or three games per week, setting aside the day’s aggravations and worries to sink into the couch and lose yourself in a couple hours of basketball, is persistent, but it becomes a heartbeat that pushes less blood with each puh-puhmp. At the season’s outset, you are sure the team will be a little better than last year, and then over the coming months discover that you were wrong in one of two ways: the team hasn’t actually improved at all, or they’ve improved so little that it doesn’t particularly matter. The margin between 22 wins and 27 doesn’t move the needle much, pleasure-wise. And so you continue to watch against your better judgment, because the games are there and your team is your team and you’re a creature of little imagination. This spectacle that ostensibly exists to thrill you becomes a faint dream of a thrill. It’s methadone basketball.

I have wondered—I am a Cavs fan; I have had ample occasion to wonder—if this slog is worth anything, if it’s edifying in certain ways, or has merit, or builds character. I am pretty sure it’s a waste of time, and not in the way sports are a waste of time because they have no broader importance, but in the way idly flipping through a magazine without reading anything is a waste of time, in the way staring into the middle distance and thinking of nothing is a waste of time. Watching your 15-and-31 team lose by double-digits on a midwinter Wednesday night is a thing that happens, and then it’s over, and you’ve gained very little from it. This is a strange thing to choose, or maybe it’s not strange, since lots of people do.

How many once-committed Orlando Magic fans have checked out on the team since Dwight Howard left, made a conscious decision to keep half an eye on the franchise’s trendline while spending their evenings among friends at a restaurant or in the living room with a book instead of straining to enjoy Nik Vucevic’s empty statsheet stuffing? I stopped following the Cavs sometime in the middle of their fourth post-LeBron season. It might have been January, when I decided the Kyrie Irving-Dion Waiters backcourt was too dysfunctional to put up with, and that Anthony Bennett made me sad. I let them play out the rest of the year on their own. And then LeBron came back, and so did I.

I would have returned to the Cavs in 2014-15 anyway. I wasn’t quitting them; I just needed a break. But there’s definitely a point at which they could suck for so long that I would stop paying attention to them for good, go full enlightened fan and watch the league generally, rooting for individual players and adopting teams for a year or two at a time. Maybe this is what more people are doing—or should do—as more franchises strip themselves to the bone while insisting—just one more lottery season, we promise!—that they’re on the path to greatness. It seems the only logical alternative to not watching basketball at all. Because when your team is in the midst of a five-year plan, there isn’t much reason to go through it with them.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets | Philadelphia 76ers | Houston Rockets | Los Angeles Lakers | Dallas Mavericks Indiana Pacers | Oklahoma City Thunder | Memphis Grizzlies | Chicago Bulls | Washington Wizards Cleveland Cavaliers Brooklyn Nets New York Knicks Denver Nuggets Miami Heat Los Angeles Clippers Atlanta Hawks Utah Jazz Sacramento Kings Milwaukee Bucks Toronto Raptors Detroit Pistons New Orleans Pelicans Phoenix Suns | Boston Celtics

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