I want to say a few words about my new favorite sports fan, a kid who can teach us all an important lesson about these silly games we care so much about.
In case you missed it, the Heat lost last night to the Celtics at home, giving Boston a 3-2 lead headed back to The Garden. To understand the ramifications of a Heat loss in Game 6, or even a potential loss in Game 7, just read Adrian Wojnarowski’s column today. He lays it all out there and provides the context, most of which you surely understand already.
That context – the foundation for which was laid two summers ago when LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh started counting out championships on a stage – is why such a pall was cast over AmericanAirlines Arena last night after Boston secured the W.
These Heat, the predestined champions, were once again on the brink of failure. And make no mistake, even with what I’m about to say, the Heat not winning a championship would be a failure.
Not if the actual definitions of words mean anything.
Here is what failure means:
- Lack of success.
- An unsuccessful person, enterprise, or thing.
Yes, the Heat will fall short of expectations if they do not win it all. Yes, this Heat season will be a big disappointment if they do not capture a ring. And yes, you could semantically spin it to say that the Heat set themselves up so that the only measure of success is a championship, thus fitting a result short of that into the first definition. But that seems silly.
And this is where “Good Job, Good Effort” kid comes in, because his refusal to cower beneath the storm clouds that gathered over Miami last night was as inspiring an act of fan support as I’ve seen from a losing sports fan in a long time.
Because this kid understands the big picture. He’s not caught up in the myopia that defines today’s sports world, suffocates it, and leads to the continuous replacement of opportunities for joy and celebration with instances of derision and mockery.
By simply telling the dejected Heat players “good job, good effort” as they walked off the floor, he did something that more sports fans should do: appreciate the game and the effort of their teams, win or lose.
We demand that our athletes never quit, that they bring “100%” to the arena every single time, and that they win every game we expect them to win. We justify this cutthroat attitude by citing their salaries and making empty proclamations like, “I’d play for free!”
Where is the reciprocity of expectation?
If we expect our athletes to bring their “A game” every time, shouldn’t fans also? And if we don’t, are we not hypocrites?
“Good Job, Good Effort” Kid brought his A game last night. He was a superstar fan, in the NBA sense of the word “superstar.” We expect superstars to rise to every occasion and lift their team when it needs them, to breathe life into otherwise lifeless moments. That’s what “Good Job, Good Effort” Kid tried to do last night.
I don’t know whether the Heat players heard him or cared, but damnit the kid tried, in the face of overwhelming negativity around him; and I love it when fans remember that sports are a journey, not a destination. We get so caught up in winning and losing and championships — and while wins and losses are of course important, they should not define the experience of sports.
LeBron James and the Heat are easy to criticize. Very easy. And rightfully so in many ways, because they brought the expectations on themselves with foolish pride and absentee humility.
But are they a “failure” if they lose to Boston in Game 6? I don’t think so. They’ve provided Heat fans with two years of spectacular highlights over probably 100-some home games. They made Miami relevant for basketball. They have offered up one of the best and most scintillating two-year basketball experiences, in total, that any city has ever experienced in the NBA. That’s what happens when the sport’s most naturally gifted player ever and the city’s favorite basketball player ever team up.
Can we not appreciate this, even if the team ultimately falls short of the goal? We should be able to. They aren’t heart surgeons who either safe a life or don’t. Despite how we sometimes feel in the moment, winning or losing a basketball game isn’t nearly that consequential.
“Good Job, Good Effort” Kid understands this, at least he did last night. And that’s why he was able to unabashedly let his sports heroes know that, hey, the final score didn’t end up how we wanted it to, but thanks for playing hard and giving me 48 minutes of entertainment.
I think sometimes we need to be reminded that whether it be a rec league game, a high school game, a college game, or even a professional game where the participants are making millions, it’s okay to have criteria for success beyond just the final score. And it’s okay to appreciate efforts that fall short of that ultimate goal.
Of course the Heat want to hear more than “good job, good effort” when they walk off their home floor. They want music blaring, fans cheering, and an exaltation of not just their effort, but their winning effort. That didn’t happen last night. It may not happen again this season. Shoot, it may not even happen ever again with this core group of Heat players if they lose Game 6 and the team ends up somehow being dismantled.
If that’s the case though, the positive, optimistic, perspective-laden words of this inspiring young fan will have been the last words this collection of Heat players heard collectively as they walked off their court. And they would be fitting words, indicative of both the successes and the disappointments that have defined the last two years of basketball for the Heat; but ultimately the words are appreciative, as they should be.
And in this is a lesson for all of us as fans, at least I think so. Win or lose, we should appreciate the game and appreciate the journey like “Good Job, Good Effort” Kid so clearly does.
To that spritely young fan, I say great job and great effort. Keep setting the example the rest of us should follow.