As I have gotten older, I have realized how important the issues of hatred and spite are to being a sports fan. As a kid, I wanted to see everyone do well -- I wanted to see a good clean game played by heroes that I looked up to and aspired to be. Well, I'm grown up now and I sure as shit am not them. Thus: hatred. Sports are virtually the only outlet in life where we can let our pure, unabashed hatred fester and no one, except fans of opposing teams, has a problem with it. People actually enjoy the idea of hating when it comes to sports. My sports related conversations now revolve more around who I hate and why rather than who I cheer for. I believe this is a wonderful thing -- sports have become one of our only bastions for letting our hate out in healthy ways. If it wasn't for sports, I'm pretty sure that 96 percent of Americans would join the Tea Party because we would have nowhere else to spew our misguided, irrational hatred.
The German word Schadenfreude means to take pleasure in the misfortune of others. Schadenfreude by itself is a very negative concept. However, in certain situation I believe Schadenfreude to be one of the most entertaining and motivating human emotions and most specifically, it is what makes sports so much fun to follow. Taking pleasure in the misfortune of an elderly woman falling down the stairs makes you a horrible human being but taking pleasure in the misfortune of superstar athletes is necessary to make one a true sports fan.
This current NBA Finals isn't compelling just because it's Durant vs. LeBron and because it is two of the NBA's most exciting, fast-paced teams playing against each other for the title. It is also extremely compelling due to the sheer amount of people hoping to see the misfortune of others. The level of hatred against LeBron and the Heat has not tapered off at all post-Decision. People hate the way he left Cleveland, people hate how he boasted of winning seven championships before he had won even one, people hate that the best basketball player on earth has a receding hairline and people who are smart like me mostly hate on the Heat because Dwayne Wade flops and complains more than almost anyone in basketball. There are also a lot of people (3.5 million in the greater Seattle area to be exact) who hate the Thunder because they were stolen from one large, basketball crazy city and moved in a series of shady backroom maneuvers to Oklahoma City. Although OKC has likable players and great fans, it is still difficult to watch that city and that dirt bag Clay Bennett enjoy all this success that is completely undeserved. Millions of Seattle-ites will find great joy in the misfortune of the Thunder losing. Millions more Americans aren't so much cheering for the Thunder as they are cheering for misfortune to befall the hated Miami Heat. Schadenfreude is a powerful motivator.
One of the players I have come to hate the most as a basketball fan is Manu Ginobili. I have also come to despise the team he plays for: the San Antonio Spurs. I was thrilled to see them lose four games in a row and get knocked out of the playoffs by the Thunder a week ago. I felt nearly as good as if my team had won something. I felt waves of joy while watching Ginobili sulk out of the arena and I yelled at my TV as Tim Duncan complained about the unfair officiating in his post-game interview. I reveled in their failure.
However, it takes a huge cognitive dissonance to call that a failure. Ginobili and Duncan were the second and third leading scorers on one of the four best teams in all of basketball. They both have millions and millions of dollars and championship rings and I assume attractive foreign wives who do yoga poses as they cook world-class meals in the nude (has to be true). They are, without a doubt, experiencing phenomenal success in life and yet for one night seeing them beaten and fall short of their ultimate goals brought me so much joy. They have met every single one of their goals in life before the age of 40, while I at 25 have failed to accomplish all of my childhood dreams except for my dream of being able to sleep through the night without wetting the bed. But that night I cracked open a cheap domestic beer, put my feet on up the table I picked up off the street when my neighbors moved out, and smiled happily as I toasted another season of the Spurs not being the champions. Schadenfreude, meet Cognitive Dissonance.
With hockey over, football far away and basketball winding down I am now running out of things to hate. I love sports for the action and the drama but I'm beginning to realize that the Schadenfreude of sports is one of the best things about them. This summer I will have no healthy outlet for my hatred and spite and that upsets me greatly. What will I spend all summer hating? Sure I'll hate all those damn kids who are on summer break without a care in the world, but shockingly few people want to join in on a conversation with you about how much they hate the sound of children's laughter. I don't much care for Burger King but once again, that's a really uncongenial topic of conversation. So I urge you all to enjoy these NBA Finals for the breath-taking feats of athletic prowess, and the high intensity and beauty of the sport of basketball. Most importantly however, I urge you to embrace whatever petty hatred and biases you have against any of these teams and players and to enjoy sports the way they were meant to be enjoyed, by reveling in the failures of others.