As sports fans, we tend to be a fickle bunch. For example, if given the option of watching your NBA team win in a blowout or on a last-second jumper, can you say with confidence which you’d prefer? The former option means rest for the starters, but the latter option means a lot more excitement. And while a back-and-forth contest might capture your intrigue a lot more than a lopsided victory, it might not be the best thing for your heart. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Being in Houston, I’m finding another dilemma that sports fans often find themselves matched up against. When speaking with athletes who are about to face their former team, do we want to hear the cliché “it’s just another game” answer, or do we want something more? Logically, we should hope that players feel that every game is as important as humanly possible, but following sports isn’t always logical. In fact, it sometimes involves face paint.
As much as I feel that I should want players to see each and every game as equal in terms of its relevance, I know as a Suns fan that I would cringe to hear players say that they feel the same way about facing the Lakers or Spurs that they do the Bucks or Jazz. After all, if it means more to me, shouldn’t it mean more to them too?
“You always want to play well against your former team, it’s kind of like an unwritten rule,” Wes Johnson explained with a smile.
Goran Dragic agreed, “When I was with the Rockets, I always wanted to play especially well against the Suns and now that I’m back with the Suns, I always want to play especially well against the Rockets. Any time you are playing against a former team and former teammates, you have the opportunity to show why they should miss you, and players want to do that.”
But as reactionary as it may seem to think, “You should always want to play especially well”, keep in mind that with Goran Dragic, we’re dealing with a player who in the past week handed out 16 assists against Sacramento and contributed four steals against the Nuggets – two teams to which he has no specific ties whatsoever. When a player wants to do especially well against a specific team, it doesn’t mean that he’s implying he wants to mail it in against everybody else.
As a student, would you be angry if your teacher said they needed extra time to grade your midterm essay because they wanted to be sure and comb through it more than usual? Are you upset when your birthday cake takes longer to prepare than a normal dessert because the preparer wants to be sure and get it “just right”?
Perhaps the reason I’m so fixated on this is because as a sports fan myself, I too am conflicted with how I’m supposed to feel. My brain is telling me that I think athletes should say every game is the Holy Grail of sports games, but at the same time, my gut wants them to admit that some games are more valuable than others. Like Goldmember dissecting the relationship between Dr. Evil and Mini Me, “It’s a power struggle.”
Being with the Suns for Wednesday’s game against the Rockets, however, appears to have given me the definitive answer to the question of whether or not these types of contests are indeed “just another game.” The correct answer is that it can’t be. If it were “just another game”, would Goran Dragic and Marcus Morris been comfortable joking around with the Rockets training staff like they were at Wednesday’s shootaround? If it were “just another game” for Luis Scola, would he have been watching a video tribute that was played for him following the game’s first quarter? When you’re back in a city you once called home, it’s obvious that you’re going to be speaking with more familiar faces than usual and returning to an arena that you already know like the back of your hand. There’s no way for it to be “just another game” no matter how hard you try.
Which brings me to what may be the correct answer to the age-old sports question, “Is tonight’s game more special or is it just another game?” The enlightened response came via Luis Scola, who offered up the most balanced answer I could have ever hoped to hear.
“It was a place where I spent a lot of time, and I’ll be happy to see some familiar faces,” the forward told me. “There are some emotions there when you’re playing your former team, but I’m just going to go out and try to make it as normal as possible.”
To know that one of the hardest workers in the NBA is putting the same effort into each and every ballgame is a pretty comforting thought. But to know that emotionally he is feeling differently about a game that pits him against his former team than he would most other games also makes Scola’s response pretty logical.
Although in a world of dunking bears and face paint, I guess it doesn’t have to be.