I'm a fan of the North Carolina Tar Heels.
[Note: I swear this is going to eventually relate to the Kings. But rather than waste space on the front page, the majority of this post is after the jump.]
I grew up a fan of the Kings, the 49ers, and the A's. I knew other sports and leagues were out there, but I just didn't care. It was never a big deal, because none of my friends cared either. I don't recall ever talking about college basketball or college football or hockey. It had no opinions on the sports. At the start of high school I moved to Colorado, and that all changed. The news friends that I made all loved the NBA, NFL and MLB, but they also cared a lot about college basketball and football, and they cared about the NHL. I found myself being forced to pay attention to these sports in order to keep up with daily conversations. And I realized I needed teams.
For hockey and college football, I fell in with my friends' preferences. It was easier that way. But college basketball was a little different. Basketball had always been my favorite sport, but I knew I wasn't going to have an immediate love of it. I wanted a team that would be competitive with some sense of regularity, and that would be easy to follow. And I knew I hated Duke. North Carolina was an easy choice. The tradition of success, the prestigious alumni, the national awareness. I became a Tarheels fan.
What I didn't realize is that I had just become the very thing I'd always hated. Picking North Carolina was like becoming a bandwagon Yankees fan, or a bandwagon Lakers fan (I'm going to use the Lakers today, but the same could be said about bandwagon fans of the Celtics, Knicks, Heat, etc), or a bandwagon Cowboys fan.
To this day, I've stuck with that choice. My college was Division II, and I've never had a family member attend anywhere with a DI basketball program. There's never been a reason to stray, so I stuck with my choice. And every time I've had to defend that choice in a bar, I hear myself saying the things I've heard so many Lakers fans say. It is truly an experience in how the other half of sports fans live.
I'm somewhat aware of what is going on in Chapel Hills, but I'm not devoted. I hope the Tarheels do well, but I don't really care when they lose. I didn't watch yesterday's loss. I didn't even consider it. When the Tarheels won the National Championship in 2005 and 2009, I didn't care much then either. I guess that's one way I'm still better than a bandwagon Lakers fan, I don't get undeservedly excited about the championships. I don't care. I don't care because I haven't put anything into the relationship.
I did watch some basketball this weekend. I watched the stinker of a game between the Kings and the Warriors. I cared more about that game, in yet another losing season of Kings basketball, than I have ever cared about any game for my adopted college basketball team.
When the Kings return to the playoffs, I'll live and die with each twist and turn of each game. I'll care far more than is healthy about every game. And when the Kings win the NBA Championship, I'll cry tears of joy. Those wins will mean something because of these games right now. Every game of Theus and Natt and Westphal will have been worth it because they have deepened my love for this team, and my desire to see it succeed.
There are North Carolina fans out there who cared deeply yesterday. Being a bandwagon fan of the team, it was far easier for me to brush off the loss and continue on with my day. And we all know those Lakers fans. The ones who only pay attention during the playoffs. The ones that like to rub it in our faces whenever the Lakers beat the Kings, but who only know it happened because it was on that night's local news. But know this, I've seen the other side, and the joke is on them.
It hurts us to watch these Kings lose. Especially when we've seen what this team is capable of on a good night. But I will accept the hurt, because I would rather hurt than experience a hollow victory. When the Kings win, it means something to me. And I wouldn't trade that for all the Championships in the world.