by Anthony Lima
Listen to Anthony on The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima, weekday mornings from 6 am-10 am
Without a diary to go on, it is extremely rare in life to pinpoint a specific time when you knew what a bad person sports had led you to become. Fortunately for me, I remember just about every moment of Ohio State’s 2002 national championship run, which means I can definitely recall the point in time when my irrational Buckeyes fervor sent my lack of humanity and common decency over the edge.
Just over three minutes into the fourth quarter of the BCS National Championship game between Miami and Ohio State, Willis McGahee caught a screen pass from former Browns clipboard holder Ken Dorsey (No. 10 on the iconic Browns QB jersey). As McGahee started to turn up field, Will Allen darted in like a missile to make the play, torpedoing into McGahee’s left knee. You knew instantly the gravity of the violent blow.
McGahee was finished. The consensus All-American was in agony on the field – so much so, that you knew his incredible college football career had instantly come to an end.
I smiled. I cheered as if I was a spectator in the Roman Coliseum watching a fight to the death. A round of high fives broke out in my Columbus apartment. It was a lack of compassion for a student athlete that was writhing in pain on the field after putting his life’s work on the line, and all it really meant for me and my friends was that my college team had a better chance to win a football game.
I didn’t care about Willis McGahee’s football future or for his long-term ability to provide for his family, or whether he’d ever even be able to walk to the same way again. My Buckeyes had a game to win. My fandom had reduced me and my friends to some sort of a primitive species, incapable of separating life and entertainment.
Which brings me to Kevin Durant’s injury last night.
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I would love to tell you I’ve evolved in the last 14 years. I’d love to tell you that I’ve gained a modicum of civility in that time. I’d love to tell you that my first thought was my hope that he was going to be OK.
Sadly, my fandom took over.
And yours probably did too.
The lead on the national shows and our local show was of course what this meant for the Cavs and the rest of the NBA. The degree to which this unfortunate freak accident had improved our city’s hopes of celebrating another parade so that I could intentionally inflate the attendance numbers as part of a larger radio gag was the order of the day. Callers bombarded our show with a sense of joy, knowing that a Durant injury increases the likelihood of another jubilant summer in Cleveland and another profitable t-shirt season.
None of those realities is to say that we are all bad people. We are fully capable of having nuanced thought and processing what things mean on a micro level, “that stinks for KD,” and a macro level, “now the West has opened up and the Cavs may be the odds-on favorite to the win the title.” But my guess is most of us reflexively thought about our self-interest first. We are human after all.
RELATED: Kevin Durant Will Miss At Least 4 Weeks
This type of provincial fandom doesn’t make us unique though. My guess is that nobody in the Bay Area was throwing a pity party for the Cavs when Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving went down with injuries two years ago. Did the Steelers feel bad in 2008 when they won the Super Bowl and Tom Brady was sidelined the entire season? Were there asterisks awarded for any of these titles? Heck, should the Rockets give back their two titles won when Michael Jordan mysteriously ended up playing minor league baseball?
Injuries stink, but half the time nobody even remembers them except the losing team. Yes the die-hard NBA fan in me does long for an unblemished match-up between the two titans ensnared in an arms race. This year would have been the stuff that can truly reshape or enhance legacies. Could LeBron win his fourth title? Could he dethrone the ‘Super Team’ that added the second best player in the game? Could he continue his assault on the history books and zero in on MJ’s G.O.A.T. status? Could Steph Curry erase the doubters and recover from last year’s Finals struggles? Could the Warriors etch their name in the books with two titles in three years?
That’s not to say that it still wouldn’t be a great series (ahem, last year’s Finals came down to the final minute of Game 7), but it’s still not exactly what the rest of the league signed up for. From day one of training camp, it was LeBron/Kyrie/Love vs Durant/Steph/Klay, and to some existent, the basketball world has been cheated if Durant isn’t at or near 100% — or even playing for that matter.
There’s also the sentiment out there…and we took the calls, that there’s a certain karma associated with Durant’s injury, that he deserves this for having the gall to join a contender in the off-season. It is a notion that requires you to forget about the guy that made joining or forming super teams “cool.”
No two situations are the exact same, but how quickly we forget that LeBron James left a contender to join forces with a top player that was already carving out a Hall of Fame career (Wade), while adding a substantial outside shooter and rebounder (Bosh) – and then recruiting ring chasers from all over the NBA.
Were you rooting for karma to rear its ugly head there?
OK — probably a bad question.
I wasn’t a good fan then. I’m probably not now.
At least I’m honest.