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LeBron for President

by on June 22, 2016 6:00 AM

The knock on California sports fans has always been that they lack passion.

Dodgers fans famously come late and leave early. 49ers fans can’t shake their reputation as “wine-sipping, quiche-eating snobs.” And so on.

Many Californians cheerfully plead guilty to these charges. The weather is so splendid here, they say, and the outdoor recreation opportunities so plenteous, that they would rather sail/surf/ski/hike/cycle, etc., than watch other people pitch/pass/catch/shoot/hit, etc.

Rabid sports fandom, according to this line of reasoning, is a function of living in places where there isn’t much else to do.

The alternative explanation for Californians’ supposed lackluster support for their teams is that so many of them moved here from someplace else and brought their old allegiances with them.  

Who knows if any of this stuff is true? (In fairness, I must recall the panda hats that were all the rage when Pablo Sandoval was the Giants’ third baseman, and the false black beards that one saw at the ballpark when Brian Wilson was the Giants’ closer.  I also know some pretty fanatical Cal Bears fans.)

Still, I thought of the knock on California sports fans during the past week while watching the NBA Finals in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Before I got here, I had only watched one half of one NBA game all season. In fact, I haven’t been much of a hoops fan since the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era.

Part of the reason is that I’m a New York Knicks fan – no further explanation needed. Mostly, though, I’m with those who say the problem with basketball is that it’s too easy to score (just as the problem with soccer is that it’s too hard to score): Therefore, none of the baskets matter until the end of the game. An old joke about the NBA is that you might as well spot both teams 100 points and have them play the last three minutes.

A corollary problem with the pro game is that spectacular drives, dunks and long-range shots occur so routinely that they become, well, routine.

All of which is to say that I knew that the Warriors collectively and Steph Curry individually had had this amazing season, but I hadn’t really seen them play. In Northern California, though, interest in the playoffs was keen, if not feverish, so I started watching the Finals with friends and, as will happen with sports, once you start paying attention you become emotionally invested in the outcomes.

I watched most of the games at people’s houses; my impression of Warriors fan behavior is limited to the two games I watched in restaurants. Neither was a sports bar per se, though both had multiple screens. Both were in Sonoma County, which, while part of the Bay Area, is a world away from Oakland, where the Warriors play, and where one might expect the fans to be more rabid.

All that said, for a home crowd watching the NBA Finals, the response seemed pretty tepid. Yes, everyone kept an eye on the game, but the bursts of enthusiasm were few, short-lived and confined to a hardcore handful at the bar.

I strongly suspect things were livelier in Cleveland.

Again, I’m not knocking the laid-back attitude of these California sports fans, if that’s indeed what I was seeing. On the contrary. As a sports fan who thinks too many of us care too much about sports, I find the mindset healthier here.

After the Cavaliers, led by the indomitable LeBron James, snatched the crown from the defending champs’ heads, I went out for a burrito, because there is always a good burrito within walking distance of wherever you are in California. If the people in the Warriors T-shirts I saw on the street and at the taqueria were grieving, they hid it well.

The mood, if I read it correctly, was: The Warriors had a great run, the Cavs were worthy successors and King James had to be given his due. A fun game, all in all, and my, it’s a beautiful evening with the full moon rising, the sea breeze blowing and the setting sun kissing the hills goodnight.   

Of course there were extenuating circumstances: The Warriors were the defending champs and for all the talk about repeats, to say nothing of “threepeats,” the first championship is always the most thrilling.

The Cavs, meanwhile, had never won, and as we heard over and over, the city of Cleveland hadn’t celebrated a major sports championship of any kind in more than half a century. Who could begrudge them this night of triumph, especially since, when the glow of victory wears off, Cavs fans will still be living in frikkin’ Cleveland, soon to be the scene of Donald Trump’s coronation as the Republican presidential nominee. Already, the Mistake on the Lake jokes are flying.

Cleveland gets a bad rap, just like California sports fans get a bad rap. The obvious solution: Forget Trump. Forget the lightweights who lost to Trump.

The Republicans should nominate LeBron James.

A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled ÔÇťAmong the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," was published this fall by the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place in the Commentary-Non Daily category of the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter 2017 Spotlight contest. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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