Why I Watch

It was Game Five of the NBA Finals. The series was tied at two games a piece, and the Lakers were making a run. Then, this play.

It was the single greatest play I’ve seen during these playoffs, and I was convinced that, with momentum, the Celtics had just cinched up a championship.

Two days later, it all came crashing down.

At some point during the Celtics’ demoralizing Game Six defeat this past Tuesday – around the time I had stopped watching in order to wash the dishes, run to the store for a frozen pizza, and drink a beer in smoldering frustration, my confidence crashing and doubt setting in after only two quarters of play – Kerrie asked me a simple question.

“Why do you watch sports?”

My answer: “I don’t know.”

The real answer, of course, is that we’re entertained by sports. We watch people do things we’re not able to do, performing on the highest level possible. And if we subscribe to the notion of home-town success, we probably claim allegiance to certain sports teams by proximity alone; when they win, the city wins.

The draw, though, becomes more than just entertainment – especially when you develop a fanatical connection to a team. I say “fanatical” because that’s what being a fan means. I say “fantatical” also, not because it’s negative, but because it’s totally enveloping – it turns the process of watching sports into a process of being part of the team.

Sports fans are no different than those who refuse to miss a favorite television show, who buy an author’s books the second they come out, or who spend over $50 on a concert ticket. They find solace in someone else’s success, and take personally their failures.

We root because we care. We care because we’re human.

This time around, it’s different for me. The Celtics are playing on borrowed time. They weren’t supposed to make it past the Cavaliers. Or the Magic. And they certainly weren’t supposed to be a game away from winning it all. They were left for dead, too old to compete, too banged up to make a splash, a shadow of their 2008 season.

But they did it. They beat the Cavs in six. They beat the Magic in six. And now, despite a monster setback in Tuesday’s game, they still sit just one game away from being champions.

For those of us who followed them from the beginning of the playoffs, each round has been an improbable lesson in faith and hard work, and though we all know that this last round is as improbable as any, we’ll still feel the sting if the C’s go down.

No matter what, tonight is the last day of the NBA season. No matter what, one team is going to walk out of the Staples Center a champion.

No matter what, this is it. Game Seven, NBA Finals, featuring the two biggest franchises – and the biggest rivalry – in the history of the league.

And, no matter what, I’ll be filled with emotion: the exact emotion, though, may not be understood until after the game is finished, be it frustration and disbelief or joy and pride.

I can’t help it. It’s why I watch sports.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 17th, 2010