Tips on Fandom: How to Be a Semi-Enlightened NBA Fan (Or How to Navigate the NBA Media Swamp)


1. Stop watching ESPN’s daily programming. When you watch actual NBA games on ESPN or TNT, feel free to use the mute button when commentators start to discuss “juicy” gossip or spread controversy.

2. Read Jonathan Abrams, Tom Ziller, Paul Flannery, Bethlehem Shoals, Zach Lowe, Steve McPherson, Ian Levy, and Lee Jenkins as well as several independent NBA blog-writers.

3. Whenever you read a headline that says, “Player [x] says [x] about Player [x]” or “Player [x] says he’s the best [x],” remind yourself that it’s not news and that it’s designed to make you click. This is called “click-bait.” Avoid clicking.

4. Realize that the majority of the opinions you read about NBA players or NBA teams is a product of group-think. Forming your own opinions about players takes more time, more reading, and actual observation of the players in the actual games.

5. Limit the amount of time you spend considering the salary-cap, free-agency and trades. Everything you read about the salary-cap over the last few years loses all meaning as soon as the NBA’s league office determines how high the cap will jump over the next few years, due to the enormous television deal the NBA signed with Disney (ESPN/ABC) and Turner (TNT). Every long-term contract a player signs will make them overpaid, and the vast majority of the NBA owners will continue to swim about in their wealth, so stop worrying about contract negotiations.

6. Possible trades are not actual trades. Endless, usually uninformed, speculation is cheap writing and cheap reading. Guesses about where players may go, who might be unhappy, and who is going to demand a max contract are all wastes of your time. They are not the game you love and they should not dictate how you follow a sport.

7. Speculation shapes a player’s reputation and group-think allows casual fans to believe they know what kind of person each player is. Don’t bother pretending you know if a player is a good guy or a bad guy. We all have positive and negative characteristics and most of us change.

8. Allow yourself to consider that each professional athlete is capable of changing, both in how they behave off the court, and how they perform over the course of his or her career. Neuroscience shows us that the male brain develops full executive functioning at age 25. Instead of agreeing with the commentary, “Player [x] is a knucklehead,” consider how old Player [x] is. When you read that “Player [x] can’t shoot, but is working on improving his shot,” consider the career arc of Bruce Bowen, whose defense kept him in the league, but whose corner-three-point abilities, combined with his elite perimeter defense, made him a key role player on three NBA championship-winning Spurs teams.

9. Think about what kind of fan you currently are and what kind of fan you want to be. Don’t let the bullshit get in the way.

10. Often when you read about an NBA player, you will see them referred to as an “alpha dog,” a “beast,” a “complementary piece,” or an “expiring contract.” These are simple categories with which to refer to the role or the impact of each player. They are not necessarily meant as negative terms. But consider what it means to refer to athletes this way. Either they are animals or commodities. Are you watching games as if you are following the stock market? Is this how you want to watch the game, watching different size dollar signs $$$ matching up vs. $$? Are you simply a commodity at your job? Is that how you’d prefer to be analyzed? How do you measure your own worth? If it’s by any number, you might need to re-examine what’s important in your life.

11. When you see another headline that ranks players in some list, remember that constantly worrying about a top-10 or top-20 category is somewhat arbitrary and mostly meaningless. These lists are exist because they make for simple debates and are easy to argue over. Remember this around mid-season when the All-Star game nears.

12. Enjoy the games for the teamwork that they display, the sacrifice involved, the actual drama of the moment, and the improvised artistry and athleticism of the game of basketball.

13. Enjoy the analysis of the game that examines the numbers, the efficiency, the coaching, and the strategies employed.

14. Appreciate the stories of each player who has the opportunity to play in the best basketball league in the world. Writers like Abrams and Jenkins are writing in-depth about how some of these players made it and why we should cheer for them.

15. Stop hating just to hate. If you hate one player, maybe its the narrative that you really hate, which means you probably haven’t questioned the narrative. Hating a team is okay, if that team is the rival of the team you genuinely love.

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2 thoughts on “Tips on Fandom: How to Be a Semi-Enlightened NBA Fan (Or How to Navigate the NBA Media Swamp)

  1. ddarqwon says:

    Great write up.
    The only thing I’d add is to remember that defense is a skill and a skill that matters greatly.
    It doesn’t grab many headlines and is frequently overlooked in media discussions but it directly affects games and even more so it impacts championships.

    • jonahph says:

      Great point. Defense is always under-appreciated, in part because it’s been hard to quantify in the past (steals and blocks don’t tell most of the story). Hopefully, within a few years, the percentage metrics get more widespread attention as well as stats like deflections get

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