In Part 1 of my quest to find the right NBA team (you can read Part I here), I discussed how it's important to me, throughout this whole process, to avoid being considered a filthy, no-good, ugly, cowardly, sniveling little weasel of a bandwagon jumper.
There is nothing more ignominious (yes, I said it! Ignominious!) than only liking a team because they win.
It smacks of superficiality. It feels disrespectful to the sport and to the integrity of all the fans who put in the time.
As I'm using the rules of fandom by the famed Bill Simmons (now celebrating their 20th anniversary) as an outline, I too believe bandwagon jumpers ought to be cast aside into the lake of sports fire.
For my part, I have long suffered from the Scarlet Letter B as a lifelong Pats fan who grew up far outside of New England, even with a legitimate claim to fandom... so, I decided to nix any NBA team that's won a championship in the past 5 years. Just so I don't have to deal with that B.S. across two sports.
That effort cut four teams — The Lakers, Warriors, Raptors, and Bucks — from my search.
As we make our way into Part 2: I'm still left with 25 squads I've got to axe on my way to a true fandom of one. (Sports polygamy bad! says Simmons).
So while I would love to sit here and act like a saint and pick the worst team in the NBA as my #1, I also want to make the case that that is stupid, unreasonable, and no fun.
Now let's talk about pain
Pain is, of course, a healthy part of a sports fan's diet.
Like the sensation of discomfort in the body, which often has the useful function of saying "Hey idiot, stop doing that," sports pain tells you that you're really actually emotionally invested in your team.
When your loser team wins, it's somehow even better.
As the famous Emily Dickinson put it:
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
(Bet you didn't think you would be reading 19th-century verse today, eh?)
Or, to put it in a way that won't get me beat up on the playground: Sticking through the losses with your team is what makes their victories that much better.
Anyway, I passingly mentioned in my first article that I love basketball — the NCAA variety — and that my team of choice is my alma mater: West Virginia University.
And this year, WVU stinks. Let's get that out of the way. We're terrible.
We're at the very bottom of the Big 12 — yes, the same conference that fields a TCU basketball team — and we're not getting any better. (Aside: playing in the B12 when it makes no damn geographic sense, after years in an amazing Big East conference is another heartache, but that one's for another day).
We're almost so bad I'm worried our Hall of Fame coach, Bob Huggins, will hang up his ugly gold suit for good and retire out of frustration.
And that won't be just a major hit to the world of basketball, but to the world of fashion.
But here's the thing: Three years ago, this team had all the potential to make a deep run in the tourney — for at least a few seasons. Hell, some experts were picking us in their Final Four. We had one of the top scorers in the B12, two dominant big men (one of which I'll get to in a minute), and a few utility guys who were always making great plays with that Huggins-style hustle.
Today of all days, Joe Lunardi has officially tossed us off the bubble.
Poof. We're out.
Short of winning the Big 12 tournament — hahahhaha, sorry — we won't be dancing this year.
And to think, two years ago, we lost now Player of the Year candidate Oscar Tshiebwe to Kentucky. Complete with an awful backstory too.... the poor kid cried while he was at WVU every day (say what you want about that, but I personally find it both gut-wrenching and horrific).
That's the real discomfort of being a WVU basketball fan: There's no freakin' consistency. One year we're getting bounced by a no-name team on Day One of tournament, the next year we're winning the NIT, the next year we're in the third weekend of March Madness after beating the hell out of a blue blood with the perfectly hashtagged trend of #PressVirginia.
And it's that up-and-down nature that really gives you just the worst kind of pain as a fan: You just don't know what to expect.
It's like going to the doctor and she asks you "So what's the problem?" And you say "Sometimes it's my ear is ringing. And other times... my foot has the shimmies. And then my kidneys hurt. Also, my spine seems to have left my body."
Oh and it also doesn't help that my very competitive wife is a fan of one of the most consistently great teams in college basketball — Duke.
Then there's my MLB team: The Baltimore Orioles
Yeah. O's fans already know where I'm going.
As a kid, The Birds from B'more were an easy pick for me: My mom's cousin (my second-cousin) was a base coach, even worked his way up to manager for three seasons in the 00s before he was booted. I got autographs from all the big-name 90s Orioles guys: Cal, Brady Anderson, Roberto, Raf, Mike Mussina. Plus Camden Yards? Only one of the best ballparks in all of the MLB!
But then, talk about a team that ripped out your heart, tenderized it with a crab mallet and was sprinkled liberally with delicious Old Bay seasoning. The late 90s Orioles never materialized into a World Series team and then years after that, were just terrible again.
Oh wait, a bright spot!
The 2014 Orioles!
Are we finally back? I wondered.
They earned a decisive First Place in the AL East (yes, they actually did) all under the strength of the deep ball (I mean they were jacking homers all year... Chris Davis, Manny, Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz)... Ripped through the Tigers in the ALDS. And then... Nothing. An ugly 4-game sweep in the ALCS to the Royals.
Four years later and the O's couldn't scrape together 50 wins and ended with one of the worst records in the modern baseball era. Literally the third-worst in the past 50 years.
Now, they're the bottom feeders of the AL, with absolutely no hope for the future.
This all to say:
I can't take much more pain, you guys.
So when I'm looking for this NBA team, I just can't pick a team that's perennially terrible. I just can't. I'm all for taking on a little misery year to year, but to wait 20 or 30 years to see my team win a playoff game? No thanks! I already have too many hats from my other powerhouses of losing to buy another one that I have to turn around when I take Zoom calls.
So it's time to be fair about this.
How would I define "a powerhouse of losing" in the NBA? After consulting my friends who love the sport, they reasonably agreed that a record under .450 during the most recent ten-year stretch would constitute as pretty chronically bad.
Apparently, that only nixes five teams:
The Knicks: No tears shed here. I have no affiliation with New York in any way. Though I do like their style of cheesecake?
The 76ers: I liked Allen Iverson as a kid but otherwise meh.
The Nets: A team named after some stitched rope? I guess I'll survive.
The Timberwolves: Actually kinda bummed about this one. Kevin Garnett. Kevin Love. Cool logo. Cool team name. Hard to say goodbye, but them's the breaks.
The Kings: Honestly, I forgot they were even a team. So... yeah.
Note: I realize that even though three of these teams may be good now, I personally can't risk it.
Let's check the board:
That leaves 9 down, with 20 more X's to go.
I suspect by our next two articles — geographic location and team culture — we'll be down to the final few and that's when I'll need the most input.
But for now, I need an Advil. And a tall glass of moonshine. And a perfectly tailored gold suit.
Yours in intolerable pain,
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