I'm not an athlete, though I did play the game on the playground when I was young. A good friend and I were the only girls on the court with a bunch of the neighborhood boys. I possessed a decent jump shot, was money from the foul line, and as a 5'7" ten year old, I was big enough to give the guys my age some trouble down low. But, as puberty hit, my love of sports changed from participant to observer. Maybe it was social pressure, but I'm not so sure. I think that it was the fact that there just wasn't much in the way of organized basketball for girls in those days. I bring this up just to show that my love for the game today doesn't come from playing it as much as it does from appreciating the beauty of the game from the stands.
Given that, my questioner wondered why I didn't follow college basketball as much as the NBA. Or, for that matter, why I don't follow the WNBA as much as the NBA. Her obvious point being that if I "truly loved" the game, I'd be just as interested in the collegians as I am in the pros. I'd watch the women as well as the men, if it was really "the game" that held my rapt attention, she argued. All good points. So, here's where she asserted that my passion for the pro game had more to do with living in a celebrity obsessed culture and being "sucked into" the manufactured drama that is today's "athlete as celebrity", and less to do with a genuine passion for the sport.
Now, I could wax poetic about the grace and artistry of the athlete in motion. It truly is a beautiful thing to watch. I could also argue that the pace and finesse of the men's pro game is far more exciting than the women's and the amateur's. The intensity and the competitive fire that is a part of every NBA game; the strategy of the coaches and the players' ability to both follow that strategy and freelance when it breaks down; the joy when my favorite team wins and the anguish I feel when they lose. All that is part of why I enjoy witnessing these young men try to throw that orange pebbled ball into that hole suspended ten feet in the air. But...
We're living in a period where entertainers are "celebrated" as much for their lifestyles as for the talents they use to entertain us. We're fascinated with the cars they drive, the "cribs" they live in, and the clothes and jewelry they wear. We fantasize about being like them (remember the "Be like Mike" Gatorade commercial?). Our sports heroes are "sold" to us through carefully crafted peeks into their personal lives and life styles, so as to make us believe we "know" them and can relate to them, and more importantly, so that we buy the products they endorse. When the question was asked of me, I was forced to examine my motivations and my attachment to this sport and to this particular aspect of the culture I live in.
I've worked hard in my adult years to try to rid myself of what I consider the negative aspects of western culture. Patriarchy, materialism, classism, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, sexism--all the "isms" that I think get embedded in our psyches from infancy--form the basis of the differential treatment of human life. It tells us implicitly which lives are more valuable than others. I've tried to make sure that I don't contribute to these "isms"; that I recognize when they are in effect in my day to day living, and I fight for my right to live free of them. That work continues and I've accepted the fact that it will probably never end. I recognize that I must constantly examine my belief systems to make sure that I relate to others in ways that reflect this work.
As uncomfortable as it is to admit, I recognize that some of my attraction to following all that is the NBA has to do with the celebrity aspect of the athletes that play the game. I'm fairly certain that that's not all of it; I really do love witnessing the competition and I know more about the game of basketball than a casual fan. For instance, I love watching the Spurs play the game. In my opinion, they are currently the best example of how the game of basketball should be played. And they are considered by most fans of the NBA as the most boring team because of their perceived lack of "personality". I know my passion for the game is real, and not just about a fascination with celebrity. But I also know that I have to "check myself" when I find that I am more interested in the players than the game.
I'm curious to hear what you think.