March Madness is upon us. NCAA basketball is taking over the national sporting world (in the U.S.) for the next few weeks. Tune into ESPN or sports radio and all you’ll likely hear is hoops. Even the U.S. President fills out a bracket on national television.
I have a confession to make. I just don’t care. Basketball doesn’t hold my interest anymore. I don’t fill out any brackets. I don’t watch the games. I consciously avoid ESPN during the tourney.
So what? There are so many different kinds of sport, one can hardly be a fan of all them. One has to pick and choose how to spend their fandom-focus.
Nevertheless, this puzzles me. I used to be a basketball fan. What happened?
Growing up, basketball was one of my top sports to watch. One of my more memorable birthdays was a Celtics’ game at the old Bahston Gahden. In college, a group of us went to Vegas for Spring Break primarily to watch the NCAA Tourney. But ever since, my interest has waned.
One explanation is for this decline is that the Celtics just haven’t really been worth watching since the 80s. When I was a kid, the Celtics were the dominant Boston team. This was the era of Larry Bird. The Sox were hardly ever competitive and the Patriots were the “Patsies”: barely on the sport radar. The Bruins were competitive with Bourque and Neely, but in the era before HD TV, hockey just wasn’t as big.
But after the Legend retired, the Celtics descended into a period of heart break and tragedy off the court and irrelevancy on the court. The notable exception was 2008-10 when the Celtics briefly returned to relevance in the NBA.
So, one explanation is that without the Celtics being competitive, my interest in the NBA evaporated. And that is partly true. In the Celtics’ Finals runs in 2008 and 2010, I was watching games with interest. But even then, it was just about the Celtics. I couldn’t get into the other playoff series. And now with the Celtics back to being gawd-awful, I am out again.
And this partly explains apathy towards March Madness. I don’t have team for which I root or to which I have any connection. College sports in Boston are eclipsed by the professional teams, so I didn’t grow up a fan of any particular schools. Tufts had a good team, but that’s Division III. ASU was a good option, but graduate school absorb most of my focus and I never got into them (I am sure the fact that they weren’t very good during that period didn’t help).
Even so, I used to get more into the tourney, make out brackets, etc. So this lack of partisan connection doesn’t fully explain my recent apathy. And to my surprise, I realized I am not alone. When sharing my apathy towards basketball, others acknowledged similar feelings. This suggests to me that this is something more than just my own deal with basketball.
A common refrain I hear often as an explanation is that “the game has changed.” I am not entirely sure what this means and I suspect it is a kind of catch all. The game in terms of its rules has not substantial changed. So maybe it is more a style of play thing. This is philosophically interesting to me as a kind of aesthetic response to sport. Pinning this down is hard, however, but there does seem to be something there.
Another way to take “the game has changed” is that the stars are different today. That is, instead of Magic and Bird, we have James and Durant. James and Durant are fantastic basketball players, as were Magic and Bird. But James and Durant, at least to me, are far less appealing as ‘stars’. James, in particularly, is too manufactured and insincere seeming for my liking. There is a lack of authentic personality to connect to (either as someone to root for or to root against). And in college basketball, it is hard to connect to any team through the stars, since so many of them are ‘one and done’ and off to the NBA.
One last reason I suspect, at least for me, is that my interest and appetite in other sports has grown and just left basketball behind. Sports such as hockey and soccer seem to have more tension, more team play, and more strategic scheming. The first 40 or so minutes of a basketball game are far too often meaningless preamble to the last 8 minutes. You can’t lose a game in the first quarter (and yet you can lose early in soccer, hockey, and football). And if the game is close, the last minute or so becomes a diminished game of intentional fouls and free throws. There is of course strategy and designed plays in basketball, but they seem to play a less important role to just the sheer athleticism of the best players. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it makes it more a performance than a contest.
So to sum up the reasons for my basketball apathy:
1. My personal lack of partisan fandom.
2. The style/aesthetics of basketball have changed and become, for some, less appealing.
3. The big stars are not as interesting or authentic as they used to be.
4. The game is more performance than a strategic, team contest.
I’d love to hear from others who have lost interest in basketball—particularly if they have other reasons. Please share in the comments.