The real fantasy
At the risk of over-personalizing what's fast becoming a blog of pure, fateful grandstanding, I've had a shitty week. The kind of week that makes you turn to the dreaded "buy it now" function on ebay and drink tons of coffee in hopes that marking the hours of your working day will make it seem like you've gotten something done.
There's been some talk over the last few weeks about the humanity (or lack thereof) of teams like the Spurs, the Pistons, or the Heat without either Wade or Shaq operating at full strength. For some, this might be comforting, or the kind of thing that makes the entire squad into a hyper-accessible fan favorite. Yet some among us demand more of our athletes than mere humanity; even "fan favorite," which is basically a euphemism for a tremendously limited, somewhat comial player that fans can both relate to and cut down to size, smacks of a need to see ourselves in athletes. On some level, most of us harbor some long-ago demolished dreams of a sporting excellence all our own. We invest so much energy, sweat and tears in fandom, it would be nothing less than fitting if athletes lived out our fantasies by proxy. Whether or not we all once dreamed of being MJ, Magic, or Bird is immaterial, since we're now most likely worse than average. As a result, we'd rather see players like ourselves taste victory, since it makes it that much easier to believe that our fandom is synonomous with the on-court (or on-field) effort.
(It doesn't take much of an imagination to see how this dynamic plays out along race lines in the modern Association, but I'll forego stating the obvious here.)
There are some among us, however, who see sports as the most heroic kind of escapism, full of folk heroes who make our humdrum lives worth living exactly because they're on a whole different level. They uplift us all not because they make us feel better about ourselves and who we've become, but because they hint at a greater, more fantastic world that we're lucky enough to see on this very drab earth for a few brief moments. If this sounds corny, that's because it is; long before the common man saw himself emboldened and encouraged through the accomplishments of those much like himself, he was forced to marvel at the exploits of gods and barbarians who at best served as an unattainable example. And while the sorrow that hangs over that sentence is the same feral bang that gave birth to Marxism, Protestantism, and a million other appeals to our oh-so common nature, in this day and age that die has cast itself far too many times to anything but petty opportunism. We don't need giants proportioned like humans (e.g. a President whose principle goal seems to be to convince us that he's no better than anyone else, when the POTUS should be exactly that); we need fire in the far-off sky that diverts our eyes and just maybe gives us the chance to inject the otherworldly into our daily lives.
Therein lays my problem with the Spurs and Pistons, and more specifically, with what's left of the 2005 post-season. I could really use some distraction, or inspiration, or encouragement to remake the world in a dramatic new image. Instead, I'm left only with decent people playing basketball the right way in hard-fought seriess that positively brim with mutual respect. It's a star-driven league, but this goes deeper than just wanting some thirty point games and last-second shots. I miss feeling that I am watching something truly beyond me, better than myself, and not afraid to make me deathly aware of this. It helps me in the short run and in the long run; it's the perfect cure to a bad stretch and the only way to believe that there might be more to life than television and sleep. If that sounds histrionic, it's because I wrote it to be so. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm not yet ready to resign myself to rooting for a down-to-earth team, since I'd still like to believe that misplaced realism is the worst kind of pandering.
I deserve better. America deserves better. Wade had better get healthy or we risk sliding into the muck of lowest-common affirmation. Shame on us. This is a league of stars, and even if we can't relate to them, we owe it to ourselves to bear witness to them, step into their world, and perhaps bring a sliver of it back down from the heavens with us.
THIS IS A LEAGUE OF STARS 2005!!!! HEED MY IRON ROAR!!!!!!