Am I stupid?
It’s the question any sports fan should ask themselves.
Tonight is the ultimate showcase for the price you pay for being a fan; for being stupid, essentially.
We’ll define stupid in this context as anyone who freely – though expensively – invests in a particular person or organization and expects a handsome emotional return; that believes caring more means you’ll get more back.
In Ottawa you’ve got Senators fans angry at Dany Heatley for taking the money and then leaving town in such a way that, you could argue, has turned a former Stanley Cup contender into a team on the slow slide to the lottery.
It’s not all Heatley’s fault; there’s some blame to go around in Ottawa as watching Zdeno Chara play for Boston would demonstrate.
But Heatley made choices that served his career best and first, and Ottawa suffered.
So now he returns to Ottawa and fans hate him for being there, and for leaving.
In Cleveland you’ve got perhaps the fastest and most irreversible turn from saintly hero to dark villain outside of the WWE.
Don’t get me wrong. Heatley is a tough guy to get behind. The Senators took him in when he needed out of Atlanta after he killed his friend in his Ferrari; paid him well for his impressive performance and watched him bolt when he lost some time on Cory Clouston’s power-play, but not before taking $4-million of the fan's money as a parting gift. It’s hard to dress that up (and by the way, when Heatley says he's moved on, and it's just another game for him, that's one guy who probably means it, given his past).
But LeBron? Embarrassing yourself and your hometown on national television, that’s a new low.
Had he simply said hey: I’m 26-years-old; I got drafted to play for my hometown team when I was 18; I played my ass off but now it’s time for me to see the world but don't worrry! I’m keeping my house here, I might even come back and play here one one day -- well, he’d still have haters, but deep down people would get it. They'd be jealous, but they wouldn't begrudge him. People leave places like Cleveland to have their dreams come true somewhere else all the time.
The Decision, though, that made the derision easy.
As some working class types in this excellent essay by Wright Thompson on Cleveland, after the fall make clear: it wasn’t the leaving that was the problem, it was the way he left.
But then you get to this story in Esquire by Scott Raab, who shares an email he got from a Cavs fan who wore ‘Witness’ t-shirts to the births of his children.
The guy is mad; hurt and let down. He’s organizing an email campaign to keep LeBron out of the all-star game.
And you feel for the guy. And you feel for Senators fans who look at Heatley as a mercenary who came and left – him richer, the team poorer.
But at some point fans have to think for themselves don’t they? Get wrapped up in the team; ascribe the cartoon-like character traits to the players to flesh out the narrative (so-and-so’s the funny one; so-and-so is the brave one etc.) if you must.
But if you’re wearing LeBron James t-shirts to witness your children’s birth; if you’re a faltering rust belt city that has built not one, not two, but three major sports arenas/stadiums, whose fault is it that your collective civic pride is hurt?
And how stupid are you for laying that kind of bet on sports, on a flesh-and-blood person?
People let people down; most of us know it. But as sports fans we won’t admit it to ourselves, and how smart is that?