“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ’nostalgia’ literally means ’the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards … it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
Don Draper may have been talking about a slide projector as he made an advertising pitch to Kodak in the AMC drama Mad Men, but the description can be also be used for the way we view sports, and in particular the Phoenix Suns.
As a lifelong fan first and a writer second, I can understand the frustration that many can have during a transitional season like this one. The team and uniforms (current or the retro Hardwood Classics) remind us of what made us fall in love with the franchise in the first place. Coming to US Airways Center conjures up images of Suns teams past and memories shared with 18,000 of our closest friends. Hearing Al McCoy’s familiar tones emanating from the car radio takes us back 40 years in time and back again.
It all pulls at the heartstrings, reminding us of past successes and failures that the fans have been a part of. It’s more powerful than simple memories. It’s like a friend or family member who has been there during the good and bad times in our lives. It’s a constant. It’s a passion. It’s about pride.
That’s why I find it frustrating when fans (or media) make the suggestion that a team, any team, should lose on purpose to improve its draft position. If being a sports fan is about having passion and pride, shouldn’t we expect that from the athletes we root for every time they step on the court? Sure, they might not win every time out, or not even a majority of the time, but should we ever expect anything less?
Losing on purpose isn’t good for the game, for business or for the fans, even if they want to think it is. Every night, in every arena around the league, there are kids attending their first game ever and some people attending the last game they’ll ever get a chance to see for numerous socio-economic reasons. Should they get any less of an effort or performance for their hard earned money based solely on record? The answer is simply, no.
Don’t take my word for it. Take it from the guys whose livelihoods are directly dependent on the team’s performance.
“Tomorrow is not promised to any of us,” Coach Lindsey Hunter said when presented with the notion of tanking. “We have to give everything we have. Every day we come out here between these lines we’re going to work and get better. We’re going to strive for perfection. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
Hunter also poses an interesting question to anyone making the assertion.
“That’s like telling someone to perform poorly at their job,” he passionately proclaimed. “Would they go perform poorly at their job? No! I don’t think they would. It’s the same thing for us. We want to compete. We want to win as many games as possible. We want to get better.”
It’s a solid point. Would any average person perform poorly on purpose with no guarantee of future success because of it? Not if they wanted to stay gainfully employed or had any real pride in their work.
One player who takes his job seriously is swingman Jared Dudley who echoes the sentiment of his coach.
“For us it’s a job. If you try to do bad you can be out of the NBA,” he said with a conviction. “For us, it’s trying to finish up personally on a good note and as team on a good note. Usually when you’re reaching your goals that means you’re winning. When you’re losing that means something is wrong. Guys have pride and want to finish well. Whatever draft pick or lottery pick you have you usually don’t worry about until June comes.”
As a fan can you really be upset with players wanting to give their all every night regardless of the odds or records? Isn’t a memory of a great game attended or a buzzer beater what we watch sports for in the first place? Isn’t the drama on the court more important than the drama of ping pong balls?
Dudley isn’t alone either, his outspoken teammate, Marcin Gortat, shares his feelings about playing hard and always trying to win.
“Screw that, no,” he said with a fire in his voice about losing on purpose. “Even though that’s for the team, we are not going to lose. It’s all about winning. We want to win basketball games. It’s not fun to put in work every day and try to get better, go to the game and lose on purpose. I can tell you, hell no.”
Isn’t that the passion you want from your favorite players on and off the court?
Their dedication to improving has shown in more than just their quotes. It’s also appeared on the court as well since the All-Star break. Point guard Goran Dragic is putting up career numbers having posted double-digit assist totals in five of the team’s seven games and is averaging over two steals a game. Center Jermaine O’Neal is starting to look like his old self since the break averaging 12.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks and playing key minutes. Swingman Wes Johnson has gone on a tear playing his best basketball of his NBA career and hitting big shots. All of this has equated to a 4-4 record that included a three-game win streak including wins over the playoff bound Spurs in San Antonio and against the Hawks at home.
As fans, and the organization as well, we ache to go to a place again where Phoenix is at the top of the west and we’re nostalgic about things that have passed. But that nostalgia is just the pain from past wounds. Losing on purpose doesn’t fix that. Only hard work and dedication will.
Luckily for us fans, history and nature has proven, the Suns always rise and it happens after things are their darkest.