Maybe at some point in your life, you were not a sports fan. Perhaps there was a segment in your biological timeline which you spent curiously gazing into the bubble of the athletics world from the outside. Then your vision recalibrated, your focus shifted from the contents of the sphere to your own translucent reflection. As you noticed the glint in your eye, the urge to step through the permeable wall struck you. Bam! A punch in the gut. The accumulation of experiences and influences—real or imagined, visceral or peripheral—was finally enough to propel your feet forward until the gap between your nose and your doppelgänger’s was reduced to a mere inch.
But a question stopped you in your tracks: How do I pick a team?
The Filipino’s passion for basketball is so undeniably manifest that it feels inane to even point it out. (Water is wet. The sky is blue. EDSA is a parking lot.) This reality is not without its ironies and quirks, which, one could argue, make this truth much more compelling. And one peculiarity worth looking into is how to actually pick a team to root for.
You see, basketball fandom (well, sports fandom in general) is fascinating. Look no further than the comment threads of the sports publications you follow on Facebook. It’s a jungle out there. Some of the wildlife species include the overzealous (and uncritical) fans, their respective contrarians, fact-checkers, and of course, trolls. You can get lost in the chaos and unwittingly internalize the hate if you don’t check yourself.
It’s easy to understand the motivations of these keyboard rioters. All sports are competitive by nature and basketball is no exception. Like the teams they support, countless fans will say anything to one-up their adversaries. Thanks to the plethora of storylines the media churns out, sports fans have a bottomless well of material to draw jokes and jabs from. This digital feud is fueled by a form of tribalism, behavior derived from one’s loyalty to a group (or team). It could also stem from a desire to watch the world burn but that’s for a different article entirely.
Two of the words most commonly thrown around are “bandwagon” and “bandwagoner.*” Urban Dictionary defines the former as “when someone adopts a popular point of view for the primary purpose of recognition and/or acceptance by others.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “a popular party, faction, or cause that attracts growing support.” The difference between these two definitions is the qualifier that the Urban Dictionary definition has. This distinction is crucial.
The sentiment of the line “for the primary purpose of recognition and/or acceptance by others” is what draws the ire from so-called “true” sports fans, hence leading them to hurl insults like Internet thunderbolts from their smart devices. On the one hand, this outrage comes from a benevolent place; getting in on something popular for the primary purpose of recognition and/or acceptance by others reeks of pretentiousness and a lack of originality and conviction (aka spinelessness). To be fair, this kind of attitude is reviled not just in sports but in our society at large, where virtues like honesty and authenticity are supposedly valued.
On the other hand, there likely are several instances where the targets of such fury genuinely like the team or player that they are condemned for. An athlete or squad can be popular for several reasons, one of which is greatness; greatness attracts admiration and admiration begets fandom. What’s problematic is that the mob has no intention to discern the true reasons for why people like things.
This is the ugly side of the Internet. Here, the benefit of the doubt is frequently waved off like a fly; reactions are knee-jerk and the strokes are broad. In these cases, the hatred is unfounded. Those behind the outcry morph into the bullies. You think the Warriors are the best? You were probably a Heat fan not too long ago. You love the Star Hotshots? You’re just into them for 1. their Grand Slam championship and 2.a. James Yap, who is linked to 2.b. Kris Aquino.
Non-American and Canadian citizens who are fans of the NBA present a subtly interesting issue. Normally, you’d root for the team that represents your city in the league or at least the teams that have players from your country. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to cook up “acceptable” reasons in case your friends grill you with regard to your choice–that is, of course, if you give a damn. The hostility towards newcomers, indeed, is very real.
Equally absorbing is the prospect of choosing a team to root for in the PBA. Unlike in the NBA, PBA teams are named after products and companies rather than cities. This can potentially and understandably turn people off. Why would I rally behind a company or corporation I don’t care about?
The PBA can be somewhat puzzling, for instance, to those accustomed to supporting only their college squads (throw in as well the people who don’t have a PBA team to “inherit” from their parents, friends or relatives). The connection between the students and their team is immediate, thanks to their alma mater. Perhaps the equivalent of this in the PBA is when one is employed by the company being represented by the team and/or when one keeps track of individual athletes from one’s school well into their professional playing careers. It’s also worth pointing out that some team names appear to repulse more than attract (ie. Phoenix Fuel Masters, Rain or Shine Elastopainters, GlobalPort Batang Pier), which adds a wrinkle to the problem.
One possible way of easing the transition for newbies is seeing players from different teams come together to represent the country in international competitions. Prior to seeing the FIBA Asia Championship in 2013, the only basketball I cared about was the in the UAAP Men’s Senior Division. It was during this FIBA tournament that I discovered the likes of Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gary David, and Jeff Chan. Seeing them play beautiful basketball in jerseys with our country’s name in the front instantly hooked me in. Their quality of play and my emotional connection with the team ignited my interest in our local basketball scene. I traced the respective teams of the roster and learned more about the league from there.
But I digress. Let’s go back to the question and add to it: How does one pick a team? And how does one explain one’s choice? The truth is, you get to choose whichever damn team you want in any way you want, and you have no obligation to explain anything. If the mob is out to judge us all, then we might as well do as we please. So the next time someone calls you the B-word,* send them love and scroll on.