Blog Post: It doesn’t matter who wins…

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For the first time, I don’t care who wins the nba final. I definitely care about the final – don’t get me wrong – but I don’t care who wins. I am not supporting one team over another. I love both teams and I’m looking forward to watching great basketball.

This lack of alliance struck me as a rare experience. I typically choose a side even when I am unfamiliar with the sport, and even when I join late in the game. I’ve reflected on this nationalistic phenomenon but concluded that it is simply due to a desire to engage in the contest as a fan – to experience the challenge more fully by immersing oneself in the race, test, or game vicariously.

Nationalism in sport has been attributed to a desire to identify with the sport or the way it is played, ‘we are good at hockey and we play it skillfully’, or that the sport represent our cultural values, ‘we are a hockey nation because we are resilient, fierce, and have ice in our veins’. However, as I experience this total lack of nationalistic commitment, I realize that I may just be experiencing sport at its best: sport as a true challenge within which each side is a collaborative partner in the pursuit of excellence.

What are the factors that helped me reach this state of carefree spectating and non identification?

Knowing the players and team dynamics on both sides has helped me to appreciate their qualities beyond the technical, appreciate the leadership on the bench and the floor, and most of all, appreciate the principles each team represents. Both are great teams but the reason I remain unbiased has less to do with their equality and more to do with those principles the teams represent. It is as though each team, equally, has taught us, their fans, the purpose of sport. They have taught us through their words, their style of play, their focus, and their commitment.

The media tries to herald one player over another pronouncing the playoffs to be a faceoff between superstars Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard; but those players continue to reject this characterization stating ‘we will all make mistakes, we need to be able to clean up after each other, carry on as a team, operate as a team.’ These two teams continually remind us of what sport is for: not winning, not dominance, not even peace, but excellence. They have reminded us that we are here to watch and cheer for excellence.

Both teams have won without their superstars (Durant and Kawhi have each sat out during playoffs) illustrating a deep seeded belief in their bench and in the breadth of skill across the team. Amidst injuries, players have filled gaps and remained confident prompting the media to absurdly question the relevance of certain stars and even ask ‘are the Warriors better without Durant?’ further illustrating the media’s role in fostering the antagonistic culture in sport.

I then wonder what it will take for the media to learn the purpose of sport?

Since I competed at the international level, underwhelmed by the nature and quality of sports reporting, I have questioned what it would take for sports journalists to be able to find a great story in examples of integrity? Rather than relying on drama (Lochte’s exploits), appearance (Eugenie’s outfit), or results alone, could a sports journalist capture the story of the game, the story of the team, the story of the player? Perhaps. I’m noticing stories about the ’32 things not on the stat sheet’ and the character of an athlete, more detail about the style of play and character of a match.

Personally, I find the discussion of Kawhi’s stone-faced lack of emotion to be intriguing because it seems to be forcing journalists to explore a deeper understanding of his personality and what he brings to his team and the game. We are seeing stories extending into the players’ upbringing, high school coaches, community and family. In general, it seems we are getting a fuller, richer perspective on the athletes as whole people in an attempt not just to bring human interest or tabloid details but to better understand them as athletes. The links between character and sport are emerging. Could it be that the lack of typical sensationalist material, the easy stories that conflict, immaturity disguised as passion, and arrogance disguised as dominance provide, is forcing reporters to strive to better understand a deeper purpose to sport and athletes?

And I believe it isn’t a fluke that two teams marked by humility, shared and servant leadership, collaboration, and excellence have risen to the top. What prompted these teams to follow a path of integrity? Has professional sport finally reached a point of saturation where money is so plentiful that it has lost meaning resulting in a return to or quest for greater purpose? Or is it the coaches – Nick Nurse and Steve Kerr – who have facilitated cultures of respect and excellence? Perhaps the arrival of these two coaches and these two teams can give us hope that the good will indeed rise and will find one another.

I’ve always believed in the power of sport to educate participants, spectators and the world by symbolizing all that is good in humanity and the world. Sport at its best, represents collaborative challenge in the pursuit of excellence. As Giulianotti and Robertson describe: ‘sports, being mostly very local, have national and even supranational bearings, and therefore are good examples of “glocalization”’ (Giulianotti, Richard, and Roland Robertson eds. 2007; Giulianotti, Richard, and Roland Robertson, 2009; Robertson 1995; Robertson & Roland, 1995). The purpose of the nba final is to achieve great basketball, not a trophy or win.

How terrible and serendipitous that in the third game of this playoffs that the story would break of a fan pushing and cursing Kyle Lowry, the Raptors point guard, as he dove into the stands to fight for a loose ball. The NBA respoded quickly by ejecting, and then fining and banning the fan who, it turns out, was Mark Stevens, co-owner of the Warriors. Yikes. And yay! I was pleased to see a typical display of misogynistic violence occur in such a public forum so that it would be undeniably called out, and even more pleased to see a professional organization responsibly address the abusive and violent behaviour. I then watched as Draymond Green, purportedly the most violent and in-your-face player on the Warriors team, applaud Lowry and the NBA for their professionalism.

So once again these two teams are teaching us the meaning and purpose of sport. Thank you. The Warriors and Raptors have both already won our respect and admiration and no matter who wins the series, you have both achieved excellence in all its forms.

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