Editor’s note: As a sports junkie in my first semester as the Assistant Sports Editor for the Sagebrush, this past year has been one of the biggest honors of my life. From my firsthand sports experiences as a kid, to my sister’s experience as a Buckeye, to the Wolf Pack Community’s experiences with this year’s historic basketball team, I take a crack at explaining what it means to be a fan in the style of Bill Simmons’ article of the same name.
On the morning of June 14, 2008, my parents, sister and I were sharing one last family lunch with our relatives, friends and neighbors at my grandmother’s house before we had to drive to the airport. My family and I were migrating to the United States that day in pursuit of a better education for my sister and me. While my father was concerned with saying goodbye to my grandmother, my mother busy triple-checking her packing list, and my older sister bawling her eyes out, twelve-year-old me was wondering, “How the heck am I going to catch the next Laker game on this 18-hour flight?”
Growing up in the Philippines, above most things except maybe a Manny Pacquiao fight, basketball has a way of bringing together a country in ways that no other spectacle can. At almost every street corner, one can find a pickup game with locals playing full speed in tattered flip-flops, while using a ball that has lost all its rubbery grip, and shooting at a makeshift rim with a backboard cut from plywood.
In my elementary school, during recess, after scarfing down my lunch, the rest of the time was spent playing a pickup game with my friends at one of the twelve overcrowded courts on the playground. For me, basketball was not just a schoolyard pastime but it was a passion that had stemmed from this nationwide enthusiasm for the game.
For most kids, Saturday mornings were slotted to watch their favorite cartoons. However, for as long as I can remember, with the NBA only being broadcasted once a week, Saturday mornings were reserved for watching the NBA Game of the Week.
With the early 2000s being dominated by Shaq, Kobe and company, my indoctrination into Laker Nation was probably shaped by the budgetary constraints of the broadcasting companies who had to selectively chosen to televise the popular team of the time.
At the ripe age of four, what sealed my fandom was the plethora of amazing moments that the 1999-2000 Championship Lakers team created. From Kobe’s iconic series-clinching alley-oop lob to Shaq to eliminate a Trailblazers team that was absolutely stacked with talent (some of the names include: Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, Scottie Pippen, Bonzi Wells, Jermaine O’Neal, Arvydas Sabonis), to young “Frobe’s” coming out party with his historic Game Four takeover in the Finals matchup against the Indiana Pacers to give the Lakers a commanding 3-1 series lead that eventually led to their first of three consecutive NBA titles, a jubilant four-year-old kid was able to experience his first taste of championship glory, a very rudimentary understanding of the breaks of the game.
Fast forward to June 17, 2008, with my parents off to Reno to move furniture brought over from the Philippines, my sister and I stayed behind in the Bay Area at my aunt’s house. The day before, I had spent almost an entire day on a plane, imagining all the different scenarios that could have played out in the previous game, a game that the Lakers won in a do-or-die situation with the Celtics holding a 3-1 lead in the series. With Game Six airing that night, for the life of me, I couldn’t bear another day waiting in nervous anticipation.
However, as nervous as I was, I had a complete confidence in this Lakers squad that almost bordered on overconfidence. Kobe Bryant, my childhood idol, was in his prime and was head and shoulders the best player in the league. That team boasted a solid supporting cast with twin towers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, an experienced veteran and member of the three-peat Lakers teams in Derek Fisher, and pre-cocaine Lamar Odom who I argue is the most versatile sixth man in league history. Young, naïve, and being spoiled with the success of the Lakers squads of the early decade, the prospect of losing never really occurred to me.
Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. The Celtics demolished the Lakers by a margin of 39 points, the most ever in a series-clinching game in the Finals. I couldn’t bear to face my uncle who was a die-hard Celtics fan. He watches the full-game replays after he gets home from work so I didn’t want to spoil his experience of winning a championship by showing any emotion. However, something about that game was too much of a gut-punch and for the first time in my fanhood, my emotions got the best of me and I started to cry when he arrived home. As good a guy and as empathetic as he was, I couldn’t stand seeing him enjoy his championship. That’s the sports fan in me.
In times of defeat, probably the worst thing to hear as a fan, even worse than the gloating of a rival fan, is when somebody makes a remark to the effect of, “It doesn’t even matter anyway. It’s just a bunch of guys throwing a ball into a hoop.”
That was my sister right after the Lakers lost. Actually, without fail, win or lose, whenever I get overly emotional about a sporting event, she makes sure to bring it up. Unable to explain, why the game meant more, in a fit of rage I’d reply, “You just don’t get it.”
However, if anything were to describe the bottom-line of sports fanaticism, those five words perfectly capture its essence.
To the outsider, every game has its victors and losers but for every fan, the outcome is not the bottom line. Especially in college athletics, every school has their own unique set of rituals and traditions that enhance the experience, from Texas A&M’s Midnight Yell to Wisconsin’s Jump Around. Gamedays are about walking up the street through a sea of tailgaters, hi-fiving every random person who’s sporting a shirt from the same team and instead of exchanging pleasantries, you exchange a call and response rallying cry.
Each fanbase takes on the personality of its respective school and to a greater extent they take on the personality of every iteration of the teams they follow from year-to-year. As fans, we cheer our hearts out, tear our hair out, and boo every referee who blows a call. When done with a collection of thousands of other rabid faithful, the fan isn’t just a face in the crowd but a member of the “We Are”, a collective pride that forges bonds that transcend time and location.
This past New Year’s Eve, I joined my sister to watch Ohio State take on Clemson in the College Football Playoff Semifinals. My sister, who never was a big fan of the Buckeyes growing up, really drank Sloopy’s Kool-Aid, and then some this past year.
Living in Columbus where Ohio State Football was religion, she has learned to embrace the culture—the Buckeye Battle Cry, Script Ohio, the famous “O-H-“ chant. The atmosphere in the host city, Phoenix, for that weekend, turned into the Columbus of the west. With a sea of red flooding every street corner around the stadium, and with drunk and rowdy fans expecting championship-level excellence in this year’s Buckeyes, the “Ohio State way” was very much alive that weekend. For that season, and for the first time in her life, my sister really bought in and became invested in all things Ohio State.
Heading into the semi-final sports pundits were already slotting Ohio State to face off against Alabama in the final, overlooking the Tigers’ chances. It’s funny how things play out. Nine years ago, I endured the most gut-wrenching defeat in my sports life with the Lakers being blown out of the water in the NBA Finals. In the same eerie fashion, there was a sense of overconfidence among the Buckeye contingent that week, my sister included. As a neutral spectator, I knew this had to be a setup from the sports gods.
The rest was history. Clemson slaughtered any chance of a Buckeye victory, shutting them out 31-0, and going on to defeat Alabama for their first-ever National Championship in the College Football Playoff era. With a stadium that was 75 percent Ohio State fans, hearing the cheers from the Tiger faithful from across the field with every touchdown while sitting amongst a sea of dejected Buckeyes, I could empathize with the students and fans around me.
However, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity and so I turned to my sister who had a blank look on her face, smirked, and asked, “It doesn’t matter anyway, right?”
Welcome to fanhood. Welcome to heartbreak.
This past year, I’ve had the honor of covering one of the best Nevada Basketball teams in history. It has been really interesting to see growth and development of both the team and community as the team went from Arch Madness to March Madness.
With each passing victory, crowd sizes increased and fan enthusiasm grew. Fans were already in love with Eric Musselman’s fiery sideline antics to pump up the crowd. They were enamored with Cameron Oliver’s high-flying dunks and opponent stare downs. D. J. Fenner has always been a fan favorite. However, fans also grew to love the Steph Curry-esque shooting range of Marcus Marshall as well as Jordan Caroline’s relentless effort game in and game out.
If there was one characteristic that perfectly sums up this squad it would be its resilience, or maybe “Nevada Grit” as new football coach Jay Norvell would say. Having Michael Buffer introduce the team in its rivalry game against UNLV perfectly captured the essence of this team in the sense that other teams should come to expect a fight when they play the Wolf Pack. This personality of a blue-collar, never-say-die attitude resonated with the fan base. And while they perceive themselves as perpetual underdogs, they had a special feeling that this year’s team had a good chance.
All year long, from players and coaches to the average Nevada fan, the expectation was to make the NCAA Tournament. While the Wolf Pack had its fair share of struggles, ultimately, they punched their ticket to the Big Dance after beating a gauntlet of teams in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament had been uncharted territory for the Wolf Pack in recent years but what makes the Big Dance special is the unpredictability of the Cinderella. Each team begins to believe in their ability to make some noise in the Tournament. Especially for the Wolf Pack, who became the sexy pick by analysts like Seth Davis to advance to as far as the Sweet 16, that little seed of hope was planted into the hearts of each Nevada fan.
Over the course of the year, Wolf Pack fans rekindled their fanhood for this program. Long gone are the days of a Lawlor Events Center that barely filled 3000 people and was quieter than a funeral. Instead, this season, people cheered and rallied behind their team, turning Lawlor into one of the louder arenas in the Mountain West. Rather than groaning whenever the opposing team put forth a deflating run, countless times the Wolf Pack faithful would rise to their feet and try to inject some energy into their team. This is part of the reason why the Nevada team was a second-half team this past season. The relationship between fan and team grew, feeding off the energy of one another during crunch time.
Come tournament time in Milwaukee, the Wolf Pack contingent was essentially indistinguishable from the blue-blood fanbases who have been in the tournament year in and year out in terms of passion and enthusiasm for their team.
Surveying the sold-out Nevada section of the crowd who made the cross-country trip to Milwaukee, from famous personalities like Governor Sandoval and President Johnson, to families of players, to the general fan, they were all equally invested in this Nevada team, there to support their team, whatever the outcome.
The game itself was a perfect microcosm of the spectrum of fanhood. With Iowa State jumping out to an early lead, the fans felt the same gut-wrenching feelings that come about when the prospect of losing arises. Then, much like in countless other games that the Wolf Pack played, when the inevitable comeback rally came, the fans hearts began to flutter and their rejuvenated cheers were heard throughout the BMO Bradley Center among the 90 percent pro-Cyclones crowd. And while the national media and Iowa State crowd may not have expected the second-half surge, Wolf Pack fans had no doubt in their minds that the Wolf Pack would stay on the prowl and strike. Finally, when the game seemed to be out of reach, D.J. Fenner’s emotions, shown on national television, captured the heartbreak that every fan who invested in this team this season experienced.
However, with the roller coaster of emotions that the Wolf Pack fans endured throughout the game and the season, the bottom line was not the eventual first-round Tournament exit.
When Nevada fans reflect on this team, they will remember the memories forged throughout the year. They remember the players, the coaches, the people who sat next to them for most of the season, but most of all, they will remember the raw emotions from the peaks and valleys of the historic season they put forth.
Then come October, they’ll come back to Lawlor Events Center ready for it all again—the games, the rivalries, the band, the cheers, the triumphs, the defeat, and the nachos. All of it.
Today, I had to bid farewell to the graduating seniors from a group that holds a special place in my heart: The Business Student Council. In this club, we collaborate on planning several different events geared towards the business-minded student. The Council itself is a collection of highly motivated individuals who are (Jedi) masters in their never-ending juggling act of all the different responsibilities that they have whether it be full-time employment, multiple clubs, Greek life, community service, or all these combined. To give context as to how busy these future businessmen and businesswomen are, at semester’s end, we hold a special meeting just to schedule the next semester’s meeting time!
With another whirlwind of a year coming to an end, rarely do I ever get to just stop, take a step back, and reflect. This past year has been one of the most transformative years of my life, a large part due to the opportunity to work within this wonderful organization. Today was a bittersweet day as we held our year-end barbecue to celebrate all of our work and to send off our seniors to the real world. While it was meant to be a year-end celebration, there was a certain unspoken sadness in the air as we all knew that this iteration of the BSC will never be together again. And as I looked around at all of the beautiful faces who constantly inspire me to become a better professional and a better person, I thought to myself, “This is special.”
Sports are reflective of our experiences we have in life and serve as a reminder of why we do the things we do. Yes, the outcomes for sports can be very black-and-white. You win and you lose. However, fanhood is a whole different beast. It’s not all about the end result. The breaks of the game are what make sports so interesting. That’s the good stuff. As we become fans of a team, that’s when you begin to realize what it’s all about. We cheer, we smile, we laugh, we cry —we do all these things because the bottom line is that we care.