Over the years, I have been asked countless times by many people, what my motivation was to make a mid-life career change and become a radio sports reporter in 1995. I have always responded that the answer is quite simple; I have been obsessed with pro sports, particularly the NBA since I was a toddler and what better way to earn a paycheck could there be than doing something you love? How more fortunate could a person be than to go to an NBA game for free, watch the contest in the Press Box and then interview players after the game is finished; and to get paid for it? I have always considered myself to be truly blessed to have covered some incredible events and to meet the people who I have over the years; and realize that there are millions of “boys of all ages” in this nation that wish they have had the opportunities that I have been privileged to experience.
The reason that I bring this up, is that in all the baseball, basketball and football games that I have attended over the years; there is still a phenomenon that I have seen all too often, that frankly has always left me puzzled. Why would a person that considers themselves a fan of a certain team pay for a ticket for one of the club’s games and spend the entire event incessantly booing either the entire squad, or a particular player?
What kind of pleasure could a fan derive from this type of behavior? Is it a cathartic experience; a sort of offshoot of Primal Scream Therapy? Do they feel better about their own existence by deriding a club or a player that is going through tough times? Certainly they don’t think that it could motivate a player or team to improve by insulting them, could they? How could anyone in any profession possibly succeed if they were insulted the moment they got to their job, and to be subjected to it until the moment they walk out the door?
The Washington Wizards are in the throes of an abysmal campaign as they have a record of 8-29 as of Tuesday after losing to the Golden State Warriors Monday night 120-100 at the Verizon Center. The team dismissed former head coach Flip Saunders early in the season after a terrible start and the team has not shown any improvement under interim coach Randy Wittman. Needless to say, it has been an extremely frustrating time for both the club and their fans.
One player who has become the fans favorite whipping boy, is 25-year-old power forward Andray Blatche, now in his seventh season in the Association, all with Washington since they selected him as a second round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Blatche is subjected to the wrath of Wizards fans each time he steps out on the hardwood and the boos are almost deafening when he so much as touches the ball.
At the completion of Monday night’s contest, “Bullets Forever” asked the Wizards big man just how tough it is to perform with the constant vitriol flowing from the stands each time he goes on the court. Blatche responded “It’s tough when you’re at home and people that are supposed to have your back don’t have your back. Instead of encouraging you to get better, they actually push you down and make you worse. In the long run, it’s not only hurting me, it’s hurting my teammates. That’s what I feel most upset about because I can’t help out and perform for my teammates, because I’m letting the crowd get into my head and making me second-guess, not let me be the player that I am. It’s very frustrating. Hopefully, I’m just trying to fight to overcome it.”
Teammate and fellow big man Trevor Booker, now in his second year in the NBA, told the website that not only was the treatment that Blatche was receiving from the fans unfair, it was also hurting the entire team. Booker said “The fans need to realize he’s a part of the team. If he’s out there on the court, he’s trying to help us win, so they should cheer him on instead of booing him. Booing him, it’s hard for him to concentrate and play his game.”
This is by no means a unique experience, as I sat through that kind of reaction while covering the Cleveland Cavaliers in the last couple of seasons before the team turned around its fortunes by drafting LeBron James with the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. There were many nights when I truly believed that the fans who were in the stands were there only for the possibility of winning a free Chalupa if the Cavaliers scored 100 or more points in the game.
Fans spend their hard-earned dollars to go to a pro game and as long as their comments are not racially motivated. or talking about a player’s family, they have the right to express their displeasure by booing or insulting a player’s performance. That being said, I can not understand the rationale for paying a hefty sum to go to a game to boo, when you can do it much more economically by sitting at home in your living room and booing the TV screen. Perhaps someone can explain that particular mindset to me, for it truly eludes my grasp.