“Human suffering is irrelevant to me!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
I took my family to the game last night. My wife and daughter sat on either side of me, as we watched from the cheap seats (the proof via Instagram). We had a good time, each in our own way.
My wife quietly observes the game. She doesn’t get pre-occupied with the trivia, the history, or the box score like I do, but she always has a good sense for the flow and momentum of a game. She disapproves of me booing the opponent during their foul shots and is annoyed by fans who yell the same thing during every play. For instance, several games last season, we sat next to “Set it up!” guy in section 328. We were tired of “Set it up!” and privately cherished those moments when “Set it up!” would leave for prolonged smoking and drinking breaks during the middle of the game. This is not to suggest that my wife prefers a civil sporting contest. When I commented on J.J. Barea flopping, my wife had a more direct way of describing it: “Barea needs to stop playing like a little [expletive deleted].” I love my wife.
My daughter is concerned mostly about getting on the jumbotron and snagging one of the t-shirts being shot into the crowd. I try to explain that the odds are unlikely for fans in the 300s, but she remains hopeful. She loves the half-time entertainment, the crazy antics of the mascot Champ (also his cousin, Inflatable Champ), and the contests during timeouts. She loudly participates in the chants. “De-fense! De-fense!” She likes to dance and to yell. She protests and pouts until she can have a soft pretzel. My daughter is happy when the Mavs win, apathetic when they don’t.
I mutter to myself while watching the game. I clap my paper fan noisemaker to signal that the Mavs are playing well. I sigh and groan at bad calls, usually punctuated with a “Come on!” If the three-pointer is open, I urge them on (“Take it!”). A fast break culminating in a slam dunk almost always elicits an “Oh yeah!” and/or “That’s it!” from me. Sometimes I forget to breathe if the Mavs haven’t scored in a while. I lean forward in my seat, hand to face, during close games.
Of course, the Mavs won last night, as they beat Minnesota, 113 to 98. It was the perfect game to watch, because the Mavs had control throughout and yet the Timberwolves had a few opportunities to sneak back in. The Hopkins family scoffed at those fans who left the game early. Our family stays to the final buzzer, thankyouverymuch.
The game was particularly satisfying, because I’m worn out on the Mavs getting blown out. Last night’s game reminded me how accustomed Dallas fans are to winning. In the Nowitzki era, fans expect the playoffs. They expect a 50+ win season. They expect to be in the conversation. This season, much of that has been stripped away from the Mavericks. The pundits, journalists, bloggers, and expert commenters (in other words, us) have already abandoned this season to discuss wild trades, lottery picks, free agency, and hopes for next season. And it’s not even the All-Star break yet.
In our obsession to play GM, to fix the season, to make the playoffs and chase championships (or, alternatively, to blow up the team and start again), have we forgotten the simple pleasure of just watching the freakin’ game?
I know this may sound like “loser talk,” but hear me out. You wouldn’t be reading this column if you didn’t experience the same chills when you see Ricky Rubio make a pin-point pass behind his back or secretly envy the longevity of Tim Duncan this season. You have felt the shudder of unholy dread from a LeBron James fast break. And I know you smiled when Nowitzki made the most ridiculous off balance fade away last night. Basketball is still basketball. Even with the Mavs at 16-23 for the season, I’ll take it.
To achieve fan enlightenment, to find meaning in this season, there are four noble truths. May they guide you to greater wisdom and peace.
“Suffering is inherent, because players are impermanent and constantly changing.”
The first truth is that players get old and retire. They get traded. They also get injured and need surgery. You will never find peace until you can acknowledge this truth. Your favorite Mavericks will leave the team and join the Knicks. Dirk Nowitzki will one day hang up his jersey. That young promising athlete will bear the curse of being “injury prone.” So, what’s a fan to do? Enjoy the moment. Take that single jump shot and savor it as universal bliss. Because on the next play, Dwyane Wade might knee him in the groin (the proof via animated gif).
“Suffering exists, because teams crave greatness as a single entity.”
Teamwork is an odd thing. You can tell when a team has it. You can tell when a team doesn’t have it. But you can’t always diagnose how to get it or what it should look like. Is teamwork passing? Sure, that’s part of it, but not all. Is teamwork being able to operate within a system? Yes, sometimes. Is teamwork getting the best out of all your players? Yes, but that might be too idealistic.
This season, many of the Mavs’ wins have resulted from a collection of great individual performances—but rarely have we seen them truly work as a team. It’s hard to find fault in Monday night’s win (they had a season-high 33 assists against Minnesota), but the successes of O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, and Elton Brand seemed to come at the expense of a Dirk Nowitzki who couldn’t always find his shot, made some ugly three-point attempts, and appeared to be a few steps behind everyone else. Nowitzki’s assist totals and his modest 10 points show that he found a way to stay relevant, but the Mavs are still searching for their identity. What’s a fan to do? Take the win and be glad. Don’t try to “style point” it.
“Cessation of desire, embracing the spectacle, is the way to contentment.”
As fans, I know we’re all doing the math to calculate how well they need to play to have a chance at the playoffs. I’ll give you a hint: it’s highly unlikely. What’s a fan to do? Be thankful the American Airlines Center serves beer and hot dogs. Enjoy them. Watch the Mavs Dancers and ManiAACs. Allow yourself to be entertained by the funny videos they show on the jumbotron and the half-time entertainment of the guy playing drums on a bucket. In other words, sometimes to survive as a fan, you need to approach the games the way my daughter does. Embrace the spectacle. Be happy if they win, apathetic if they don’t. It may sound like I’m raising the white flag, but if you can’t shrug off a tough season, you will die of stress-induced heart failure before the Mavs ever return to the Finals.
“To achieve cessation of desire, you must accept the path that the Mavs front office has laid before us.”
Trade talks fascinate me too. I could listen to the ins-and-outs of Dwight Howard for Dirk Nowitzki all day. (Quick aside: It would never happen, and I could never part with Nowitzki. I have a deep psychological need for Nowitzki to retire as a Maverick.) I get tempted by free agent daydreams. I feel a sadistic glee at the possibility of “blowing up” the team in the name of draft picks and a brighter tomorrow. We can play “what if” until the end of time, as such exercises are, after all, the meat and potatoes of sports writing. But sometimes we need to set all that aside, trust the management to do whatever crazy thing they are going to do, and enjoy the ride.
After the game, my wife, my daughter, and I walked back to our car. It was a little too cold for the long trek. On the way home, my daughter fell asleep in the back seat. My wife disappeared within her iPhone — checking Facebook and updating Pinterest. I drove in silence. For once, I left the radio off and did not listen to the post-game wrap up on ESPN 103.3 FM. It was the perfect ending to a good evening.
And the Mavs won, too.
David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He thinks “jumbotron” is a funny word. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins