The Hypocrisy of NBA Fans

Where Does Our Loyalty Lie?

Robert Shapiro, Contributing Writer

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Ahh, the sounds of summer—there’s nothing quite like them. From the sputtering of lawnmowers to the boom of illegal fireworks, it is a glorious time of year, except for one inevitable thing: sports media reminding NBA fans that we’re hypocrites. It was late August, the bulk of free agency was over, and most player transactions had happened with relatively little drama—that is, until the trade. As reported on August 22nd and finalized on August 30th, the Boston Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and two draft picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. The sports world went what can only be described as “absolutely bananas.”

When Thomas was traded, there were widespread arguments between Celtics fans over whether it was the right move. Some felt that it was the right choice, saying that although it’s a shame I.T. got traded, the NBA is a business—a business that pays players millions of dollars and forces them to pack up their lives at a moment’s notice. Some argued it was not fair to Thomas. Sports media outlets like ESPN rushed to chastise fans for their hypocrisy. Calling us on our double standards isn’t wrong, but criticizing us for them is. The “it’s a business” cliche is one of the most hypocritical statements a fan can make. Most are fine with a player being traded away if the team can get someone good in return. But if that player leaves the team in a free agency, perhaps for a more lucrative contract, fans take it personally.

Basketball, like most sports, is undeniably emotional. The bond that players make with fans is profound. For instance, on April 16th, before a game between the Celtics and Bulls, there was a moment of silence for Isaiah Thomas’s sister Chyna, who had died in a car accident. This gesture clearly meant a lot to Thomas, who said in a Player Tribune article, “Honestly, it felt like the whole city of Boston was with me.” But this compassionate sentiment doesn’t carry over into free agency. We are not happy that players might have a better chance to advance their career or compete for a title. We feel entitled to their services for no reason other than the fact that they were drafted to or signed by the team at some point.

As fans, we love the players, but our loyalty lies more with our team.”

Some fans were more “loyal” to Thomas, arguing that after all he’d done for the city, trading him away would be betrayal. These fans are right that Isaiah has embraced and been embraced by Bostonians, but if the Celtics didn’t win the Eastern Conference this year, they would have been the first ones calling for Danny Ainge’s head.

Isaiah Thomas has a serious hip injury and will not be able to play for most of the season, making a conference title with Gordon Hayward as the leader unlikely and winning the championship impossible. The addition of Kyrie via the Thomas trade will give the Celtics a fighting chance that they would not have had otherwise. Fans that consider themselves “loyal” to the players are the hypocrites, demanding an omelette be made without having to crack any eggs. As fans, we love the players, but our loyalty lies more with our team. Who can blame us? Our elementary school gym teachers always told us the game was not about winning, it was about having fun. I can’t speak for you, but I can’t remember the last time I had fun losing. For many people, our teams are a symbol of city pride as well as a respite from whatever is going on in our lives. Sure we are hypocrites, but when it comes to our happiness, we can’t afford not to be. Is it the best trait? Absolutely not. It’s cruel, ugly, and selfish. It’s also who we are.

We can try to be better fans, but like a toddler trying to pour their own juice, we all know it is not going to end well. We will continue to be impatient during rebuildings. We will continue to roast Vlade Divac for practically giving Demarcus Cousins away. We will continue to chant “cupcake” whenever Kevin Durant is in Oklahoma City. The toddler will continue to spill Hawaiian Punch on the carpet. But it’s OK—it’s in our nature.

This piece also appears in our September print edition.