Seven. Fifty-Nine. One Hundred and Six. Twenty-Three. To most people, these numbers have no meaning, just random digits that could stand for anything – a weather report, bingo numbers, answers to a child’s math quiz. To those that can decipher these numbers, they create a more visceral reaction, as they stand for shame and humiliation, a permanent stain forever associated with part of their identity. Or, for those outside its sphere of relevance, as a source for ridicule, derision, and perhaps misguided feelings of superiority.
I don’t expect or seek any sympathy. In fact, I choose not to look at these numbers negatively. I can’t allow myself to. With the national media continuously hammering on the Charlotte Bobcats, and commentators in the social media universe having fun at our expense, it can take a toll, and may even force the less hardened and resilient among us to just walk away from the catastrophe.
But here is where I flip it on them – I’m taking ownership of the numbers. I look at those numbers as a source of pride, not because of any hidden accomplishment or a sudden adoption of a masochistic lifestyle. For me, they stand as an affirmation of my loyalty and devotion to the team, however blind it may seem to outsiders.
Because to me, it shows I am the definition of a true fan. I am here, standing tall at the rock bottom of irrelevance, the epicenter of disaster. I’ve endured all the air-balled free throws, the missed layups, the 30-point blowout losses to lottery teams. I’ve put up with all the ridiculous, tabloid attack articles on the team, like how Jordan steals food from starving orphans, or how our arena is built from the bones of kidnapped pets, or how the team should be contracted so that mankind can avoid the Mayan apocalypse.
Its easy to hop on a bandwagon like the Lakers and Heat, or the Yankees and Red Sox – it’s a part of human nature to seek the path of least resistance, to take shortcuts to glory while avoiding the pain of sacrifice and failure along the way. Maybe some people don’t have time for the journey, or the intestinal fortitude to handle all the stress of building a winner.
I could never understand this mindset though.
The journey is what makes everything worth it, the payoff that much sweeter. Can you just pick up “Star Wars” right where Luke Skywalker defeats Darth Vader, and go full out in your celebration of the Rebel triumph over the Empire? Or do you have to go through all of Luke’s inner doubts and struggles with his identity to truly appreciate how he overcame long odds to save the universe?
Can you just start watching Andy Dufresne from the “Shawshank Redemption” on a beach and feel the ultimate satisfaction for defeating the man and escaping wrongful imprisonment? Or do you have to experience with him the 40 years of brutal physical and mental torture in prison, without any hope for escape, to truly appreciate the sweet glory of freedom with him?
Being a Bobcat fan doesn’t require being a Jedi, and isn’t equal to being imprisoned for life – although some may argue that point – but it affords us the rare opportunity to be there from the beginning of this sports odyssey. The voyage is long and arduous, the task seeming downright impossible. They are definitely not a ready-made champion. And of course there will be bumps in the road and bruises along the way (or for us fans, more like Earth-altering Pangean rifts and multiple displaced open fractures).
But we are slowly building our sports character. True character as a fan isn’t gained by buying a Kobe Bryant jersey and watching a championship parade on TV from across the country, pretending to be a part of the golden NBA franchise. You gain it by living through all the trials and tribulations of a developing team, from the hiring and firing of incompetent and irrepressible, vagabond coaches, the lackadaisical play of a buxom, Segway-riding post player, and the multiple draft busts of the mustachioed, Gallic, or gluttonous kind.
Understanding these missteps and pitfalls, of knowing what these dark places feel like, will only help you appreciate and truly enjoy things as simple as a playoff run, an all-star berth, even just a sole appearance on national television. Nothing can be taken for granted if nothing was ever handed to you. Eventually, you can build that winning culture that people want to be a part of, like the San Antonio Spurs or the Green Bay Packers, teams that did it the right way.
Being a Bobcats fan is tough. We’re an oft-dismissed and battered group. We’ve long suffered the indignity of losing and bad decision-making, and the unapologetic contempt and disdain of the media. And to further dump mounds of salt into our open wounds, on May 30, 2012, the NBA lottery served us with the equivalent of a crushing Chuck Norris roundhouse to the gut, followed by a Metta World Peace elbow to the back of the head, finished by an Incredible Hulk style thrashing from “The Avengers.” But through it all, there remains a fierce and burgeoning pride among us, of knowing that it will turn around soon, and how we’ll show the rest of the league how serious we are to be taken. Now is not when we finally succumb to it all and run off in shame, but where we take the punches and ask, “is that all?”
So to all of you who endured the 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats season with me, through the 7 lonely (but oh so glorious) wins, the 59 excruciating and unbearable losses, the mind-numbingly pitiful .106 winning percentage, and the completely soul crushing and torturous 23 straight losses to end the season, I salute you. I’m not running from those numbers. Like Omar’s facial scar from “The Wire,” I’ll wear these numbers proudly as a badge of honor, to show that I’ve survived through the worst of times, and yet I’m still here stronger than ever. And when that day comes when we finally reach the sporting pinnacle, whether in 5 years or 50 (but hopefully before the Cubs drought is over), you’ll be able to find me there at the top, standing triumphantly with that knowing smile on my face that will never be wiped away.