"The Mavs are ghetto trash. We’ve given these losers enough hope! Kill em now!"
"Dirk tried to flop. Seriously, what a fag."
"Dirk’s days are numbered starting now."
"I got a bat and a ski mask all I need is a ride and the coordinates of Dirk’s impending locations."
"Where is my pistol, bitches are gonna die tonight."
"Dirk, you’re going to get hit by a semi on the 35."
I know we’re all in the heat of the rivalry, and Mavs-hating is the order of the day, but what do you think when you read comments like these? Not cool, right? I mean, I know that we’re completely dedicated to our boys in black and silver and their campaign of domination over Dallas, but this is way, way over the line. I know, you know, everybody here knows that this kind of BS is shameful, a disgrace. Homophobic slurs? Fantasies of violence against opposing players? Our community wouldn't stand for such nonsense, and no self-respecting Spurs fan would write this kind of garbage.
Of course, no self-respecting Spurs fan did. These comments didn’t come from Spurs fans – they were written by Mavs fans (replace ‘Mavs’ with ‘Spurs’ and ‘Dirk’ with ‘Ginobili’ or ‘Parker’) at PtR’s sister-blog, Mavs Moneyball in an open thread during Game 3 of the Spurs/Mavs series. And these aren’t the worst; when Manu’s nose got broken, the response was immediate and loathsome:
"can someone break Duncan's next?"
"parkers legs are next!!!"
"Gifloppy to the locker room. What a LOSER"
"Yay for Dirk breaking Ginobili's nose"
"Someone needs to punch Ginobli and break his nose again"
"hope he ultra ruptures and contussion break his nose"
This isn’t news, of course. We’ve known it for years: while most fans for any team (Dallas included) are perfectly decent, and while any team is going to have some obnoxious fans, Mavs fans repeatedly sink to levels of abject suckitude that surpass any other fan base. The question is: why?
Let’s be clear: Spurs fans are not "better people" than Mavs fans. So why are Mavs fans so vastly more predisposed to hateful behavior? Given the geographic proximity of Dallas to San Antonio, it’s a fair bet that there’s practically no difference between your average Mavs fan and your average Spurs fan in terms of cultural context or social expectations of conduct. So what’s the explanation?
The difference has to be in the teams themselves then, right? Well, yes and no. It’s certainly not about teams’ records; the Spurs are historically the much better team, but the Lakers have a similar record of success and their fans are notorious. Sure, the Spurs have four championships and the Mavs have zero, but plenty of perennial dogs have extremely positive and well-behaved fans. This isn’t just about the W/L – after all, in recent years the Mavs have done better in that regard than the Spurs have.
Is it about team character, then? Do disciplined, well-behaved teams have disciplined, well-behaved fans? Certainly San Antonio is widely held up as a model team in this regard, but while the Mavs organization has its disciplinary problems (Mark Cuban, anybody?) they’re surely no worse than plenty of other teams with much "better" fan bases. Hell, at one point a substantial fraction of the Wizards roster was potentially facing felony charges, but I’ve cheered our boys loudly at Spurs-Wiz games and never even been heckled. It’s not about the record, and it’s not about team character. So what is it?
The answer must lie in what it’s like to be a fan of a particular team. Sure, there are some obvious things that suck about being a Mavs fan. It’s like being one of the women from Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ video, it’s like leading a bunch of hungry whitewater enthusiasts, it’s like being Gary Coleman when the cashier doesn’t notice that he wants to buy Doritos: you have no rings, your rafters are empty, and you’ve got no chips because you always come up short. But it’s not just about titles vs. lottery picks, it’s about the total fan experience. That’s an equation with a lot of variables.
What variables? Well, the team’s at the center of it, obviously. Then, beyond that Core there are the team’s Leaders – the superstars whose jerseys you shell out for. Beyond the concrete aspects of fandom, however, you’ve got the emotional components: the Anticipation surrounding a fresh new season or a playoff run. There’s how well your boys Perform against those expectations. And finally there’s the team’s history, the Storyline that you as a fan are part of. All these things can be rolled into a single formula with an incredibly contrived acronym. If you assign values to each component of the CLAPS fan-rating system, you should get a fair idea of how much fun it is to be a fan of any given team.
Let’s do it, shall we?
First off, let’s define the parameters:
This is your team as a whole. From your star starters to the end of the bench you need players you can love – maybe not every single one, but most of them for at least the most part. To have fun rooting for a team, you need both consistency and novelty: i.e., you need tenured guys who have a history with the squad, and rookies on the rise for fans to get excited about. You get a point for each.
Basketball, more than any other sport, revolves around those few key difference-makers. Even an NFL quarterback can’t represent the true spirit of the franchise the way an NBA star can. To really appreciate a team, you have to appreciate its leaders – both as players and as people. In this category you get a point if your top guys are true stars, and a point if you can be truly proud of the fact.
This part is simple: it’s a sport, and the games are played to be won. The higher your hopes, the greater your joy; take a point if your team expects to be playoff-bound, and another if you’ve got a non-crazy hope of winning it all.
Performance vs. Expectations
Hope has to meet reality eventually – but the trick to fan-tertainment isn’t just winning games, it’s outperforming expectations. Sure, until recently everybody expected LA to kill off OKC pretty quick, but whose fans were having more fun? The curse of high expectations is that there’s no room to beat them; teams get a point if they can meet their fans’ expectations, and two if they can exceed them.
Being a fan of a certain team means something bigger than just this year, just this squad, just this present moment. History matters. Tradition matters, and there are three types of history a team can have: pathetic, unremarkable, and exceptional. One point for the second, two points for the third.
That’s five categories in which a team can score 0, 1 or 2 points – add ‘em up and voila, a 0-10 rating system. So, let’s put the teams to the test. Looking at the eight playoff teams coming out of the Western Conference, how much fun would you expect the fans to be having?
- Lakers – 1 – It’s a solid team that’s stuck together for years, but there’s no real youth in the mix – Bynum’s been around too long (albeit in a limited role) to really call him an up-and-coming rookie.
- Mavs – 1 – Dallas is a team in transition. Less than half their minutes are being played by guys who were on the roster two years ago, and two of their major role players have only been around for half a season. Beaubois seems to be worth getting excited about, though, and all the midseason acquisitions give fans something to hope for.
- Suns – 2 – Solid on both counts; the core has been around forever, but newbies Lopez and Dragic are coming on strong.
- Nuggs – 1 – A reasonably consistent core, with no major up-and-comers.
- Jazz – 1 – The core’s been around for ages; the newcomers are nothing to write home about.
- Blazers – 1 – This core hasn’t been around for long enough to really write a history for itself, and the newbs aren’t really rookies, but the team has had and overcome so much drama together that it gets honorary recognition.
- Spurs – 2 – It’s still the same ol’ Spurs – but Blair and Hill inspire plenty of fan-love/man-love.
- Thunder – 2 – The core IS up-and-comers; got to be a fun group to root for.
- Lakers – 1* – Kobe is a legit superstar in every way – offense, defense, team leadership. I just despise him so utterly as a person that I could never enjoy rooting for him. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind cheering on human scum, he’s the best you could ask for.
- Mavs – 1 – Dirk puts up great numbers, but he’s never really been a complete package. He’s lousy on D, he’s petulant and whiny, and there’s just way too much to make fun of him for.
- Suns – 2 – Nash is lousy on D, but you know what? He makes a team work the way few can, or ever have.
- Nuggs – 1 – Carmelo is always very, very good, but never quite great (except in FIBA play). Billups? Same deal.
- Jazz – 2 – I would love to be able to root for Deron Williams. He doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but he’s legit across the board.
- Blazers – 2 – Roy’s the real deal – and when you factor in the injury woes he’s overcome (his own and others) it’s just that much easier to cheer for him.
- Spurs – 2 – Only one man currently in the league can claim to definitively own the title of "greatest to ever play his position" … and he plays for San Antonio.
- Thunder – 2 – Durant is a great player with a great trajectory. Good times.
- Lakers – 2 – Expect to win it all. Might not do it, but that’s the expectation for fans of defending champs.
- Mavs – 1 – A tough out, but not serious contenders to win it all.
- Suns – 1 – Kinda delusional to see them as more than a tough out in the first couple of rounds.
- Nuggs – 2 – Not the favorites, but a contender.
- Jazz – 1 – Were always grossly underrated as title contenders. Then Okur got hurt. They had a great season, but no real trophy-hopes.
- Blazers – 1 – They got this far on pure guts. Sadly, this is as far as they’ll get.
- Spurs – 2 – Never count out the silver-and-black.
- Thunder – 1 – There will be plenty of years of legit title contention, but even if this should somehow turn out to be one of them it’s certainly not what Thunder fans expected.
Performance vs. Expectations
- Lakers – 0 – It seems unfair, but really, the Lakeshow expected to dominate this year and they haven’t. They wound up with the best record out west, but they’ve been limping lately; there’s little shame in failing to live up to the loftiest possible expectations, but that doesn’t change the fact that they haven’t.
- Mavs – 1 – Good season, won the conference; a workmanlike showing, about what you’d figure.
- Suns – 2 – After being counted out early, came charging back strong.
- Nuggs – 1 – Everybody figured they’d be pretty damn good. They are.
- Jazz – 2 – Who saw them coming?
- Blazers – 2 – The point system won’t let me give them a 3. This squad has been the definition of overcoming adversity.
- Spurs – 1 – Started out softer than expected, finished stronger. Which, if you’ve followed the squad, is exactly what you should have expected all along.
- Thunder – 2 – Did anybody see them making the playoffs this year? Well, here they are.
- Lakers – 2 – One of the most legendary NBA franchises, both recently and historically.
- Mavs – 0 – One of the most legendary-for-choking NBA franchises.
- Suns – 1 – Despite never winning a ring, they’ve been around forever and have built a new kind of basketball that made the NBA fun again (for casual fans who don’t appreciate solid fundamentals or championships).
- Nuggs – 1 – Never even taken a Conference title, but the Coach Karl story gives an edge of human interest to both their successes and their struggles.
- Jazz – 0 – Since Stockton and Malone, Utah has been the perennial bridesmaid. It’s been more than thirty years, and still no ring.
- Blazers – 1 – It’s been a while, but the franchise has been all the way to the top (and has successfully put the Jail-blazer era in the past).
- Spurs – 2 – The winningest team in professional sports in recent history.
- Thunder – 2 – This is a special case. OKC doesn’t have a history – they’re writing it right now. Which is fun.
So, where does that leave us? Let’s rank the teams by tally, with ties going to the smallest media market to make allowance for the obnoxious-bandwagon-fan effect. We would expect the happiest – and therefore most tolerable – fan bases to be:
- Thunder – 9
- Spurs – 9
- Suns – 8
- Blazers – 7
- Jazz – 6
- Nuggs – 6
- Lakers – 6
- Mavs – 4
You know what? The numbers don’t lie. Thunder fans have been blowing the roof off their Oklahoma City stadium since the franchise came to town – they’ve seen ultralousy seasons and totally unexpected success, and I’ve never witnessed, read, or heard about a single incident of ugliness coming from a Thunderhead (is that what they call themselves? If not, why not?). The Blazers have had every tough break you could possibly imagine this season, but there’s no bitterness over at Blazers Edge; even coming off a blowout loss to the Suns, their fans are keeping it civil and cheering their hearts out.
Speaking of the Suns, that’s an interesting case of fan-rehab. We all remember a few years back, when the team kept coming up empty (especially vs. the Spurs) how intolerably whiny the PHX fans got. Back then it was all conspiracy theories about David Stern and threats to cripple Robert Horry – cut to 2010, you’ve turned underperformance into overperformance and added some exciting rookies to a veteran cast. Check out Bright Side of the Sun now. Perfect gentlemen, all.
What about the lower end of the spectrum? It’s tougher to judge, because the Mavs are a substantial outlier. However, we’d expect Lakers and Nuggets fans to be pretty dispirited, and sure enough – if you check out the comments at their respective SBN blogs you’ll see a lot of disparagement of their teams, particularly during their recent losses. Both teams still have great chances to win their first-round match-ups and head on towards their title dreams, but you still see fans talking about "being done with this team" or saying that they "just don’t care" about the team anymore. Spurs fans don’t say those things.
Even at that 6-out-of-10 rating, however, you don’t see the kind of ugliness that Mavs fans bring. Homophobic slurs, fantasies of violence against opposing players – of all the Western playoff teams, I’ve only seen that nonsense coming out of Dallas, and there it’s incessant. And, apparently, to be expected. That’s just what being a Mavs fan does to you. So no matter how the rest of this series goes, remember the CLAPS fan-rating system when you interact with Mavs fans. Remember that, while there may be no excuse for some of their behavior, there is at least an explanation. Be grateful for your Spurs, Spurs fans. There, but for the grace of them, go we.