As everyone with half an eye or an ear on the sports world right now knows, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers were swept out of the second round of the NBA Playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks. As I listened to WFAN midday co-host Evan Roberts gloat triumphantly about the Lakers' loss this past Monday (you can listen to the segment here if you wish), some sort of chord was struck inside of me. And before you simply say that it's just a reaction to the Andrew Bynum's deplorably dirty elbow late in Game 4, let the record show that Roberts had been equally cheerful on his show the day after the Mavs went up 3-0. Now, let's get it out of the way that Roberts is regarded by many to be a cliché-spewing clown who (and this a fact) happens to score baseball games while watching them on TV. But his inordinate level of joy taken out of the Lakers' demise is what really got me thinking. As sports fans, we naturally tend to revel in the defeat of teams that we hate. But when are we really entitled to do so, and, more importantly, when are we not entitled to do so?
Of course, I get why any given NBA fan (or sports fan in general) may be happy to see the Lakers go - they're a high profile team with tremendous history and currently sport a collection of some of the biggest, as well as the most polarizing, personalities in the game. But to be up in arms with happiness that they've been eliminated? That's a bit much, unless of course you're a Dallas Mavericks fan, or even a fan of one of the Lakers' chief rivals (i.e. Boston, San Antonio, Houston). I'd even understand it if you happen to be a fan of one of the other remaining playoff teams and you believe your team's road to the championship got easier with the Lakers gone. The problem with a guy like Evan Roberts basking in the Lakers' defeat? He's a New Jersey Nets fan. The Nets are not only from a different conference and the extreme opposite side of the country as the Lakers, but the two teams are on completely different levels. The Nets haven't been in the playoffs since 2007, while the Lakers had been in three straight NBA Finals until this year. I just can't see any logical way for a Nets fan to be able to legitimately take joy in a Lakers elimination.
Here's the deal. You're allowed to bask in a rival's loss if they're exactly that - a rival. If it's a division rival or often-clashing conference rival (i.e. the '90s Cowboys and 49ers, as well as the Colts and Patriots of the past decade), it's fair game. Even then, your level of enjoyment from said rival's loss shall depend largely on how successful your own team is. For instance, you can bet your bottom dollar that I was happy to see the Eagles get bounced by the Packers in the playoffs last year, but since the Cowboys were 6-10 themselves, I wasn't about to head for the rooftops to talk smack either.
The same goes for rivalries that are geographic and little more, i.e. Yankees/Mets - does anyone really think a fan of the fourth-place Mets would have had a leg to stand on if he tried talking trash about the Yankees losing the ALCS last year? And while we're on the topic, I understand the cross-pollination of geographic rivalries (i.e. I'm a Yankee fan who despises the Red Sox and therefore feels inclined to root against all Boston teams), but that line needs to be tread carefully. For example (and forgive my overuse of East Coast cities), if you're a Mets fan, you're allowed to hate the Phillies, but if you're a Jets fan on top of it, then you're not really entitled to hate the Eagles wholeheartedly just because of the New York/Philly dynamic. Since the Eagles and Jets only meet once every four years, there's really very little basis for anything there. You can quietly root against an entire city if you want, but you are not entitled to apply nearly the same intensity as if you were rooting against your own teams' actual rivals. The same goes for a team that has ripped your heart out in the past. Root against them, but if they're not an actual rival, keep it mellow.
My issue in general is with the blanket hatred of the teams that everyone is apparently "supposed to hate" - i.e. the Yankees, Cowboys, Lakers, Celtics, Notre Dame, USC, etc. The successful teams grow to be hated; that's just the way it goes. But one of my favorite truisms of life is that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. I root for possibly the two most hated teams in all of sports, so I have a bit of experience from which to speak. From elementary school up through college, I'd take crap from marginal-quality fans of marginal-quality teams whenever the Cowboys or Yankees would lose or be eliminated (especially in 2004, if you catch my drift). My response would usually be some form of "thank you." Thanks for caring about what happens to my team despite me not giving much of a rat's ass what happens to yours. It's good to know they're on your mind. If the teams you hate truly "sucked," then you'd pay them no mind. So, oddly enough, saying a team sucks or taking undue glory in their defeat at the hands a team that isn't yours is really payment of an indirect compliment. It's a matter of having your priorities and perspective in line more than anything else. For the sake of a more intelligent sports-watching America, remember that objective #1 is seeing your own team win - something for which there is no substitute.