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The Bobcats, The Departed, and The Matrix

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The other day, I finally got around to watching The Departed. (I'll try not to give away too much for those of you who haven't seen it.) As Roger Ebert succinctly observed, the film is a crime thriller about living a public life that's completely at odds with inner reality. I think I had a particularly odd reaction to it, though, because when it was over my first thought was about Chuck Klosterman and his essay about The Matrix, and by extension, fans' relationships to the Bobcats.

Bear with me on this one.

One of the funniest books I've read is Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, excerpts of which are available on Google Books. The thirteenth essay in the book is a discussion about a few modern films and their examinations of how reality works. The Matrix is probably the most popular of the movies Klosterman addresses.

In short, Klosterman's main point is that when Neo chooses the red pill, we're supposed to believe that he's made some kind of noble choice to live in the "true" world, but according to the conditions of the matrix that we eventually discover, taking the red pill is actually an equal, if not superior, choice. None of us wants to live a lie, but if literally no one in your existence conceives of your life as a lie, then, by definition, it can't be a lie because there will be no mechanism for exposing your ignorance. (Not only that, but... Why use people for energy? Why wouldn't the machines use, say, cows, which provide more energy since they're bigger, wouldn't require a complicated matrix to keep their brains occupied, and would present zero possibility of consciousness and, therefore, escape?)

In The Departed, two characters live a lie. One is a criminal pretending to be a cop, the other is a cop pretending to be a criminal, and they navigate moral hazards accordingly. They're not perfect men. Even in context, the cop does plenty of horrible stuff, and the criminal has an essential loyalty and devotion that's usually celebrated. What made me think of The Matrix was how fluid their identities are and how each man is constantly fighting the perception battle. Just as John Proctor cried out that the only thing he had was his name, the cop and the criminal cling tenaciously to their core identities and come unhinged when those core identities are threatened. The climax of the movie comes when each man is faced with losing both his constructed identity and his core identity for good. It's a battle over what constitutes objective truth.

We're at a crossroads for the Bobcats. The team's core identity is in flux. Whether Larry Brown's influence on the franchise inspires love, hate, or something in between, I think we can all concede that turning over four fifths of the roster in just over a year is a dramatic change for an NBA team. If Raymond Felton gets pushed out the door, that leaves Gerald Wallace the only player in the rotation who's endured the entire Larry Brown Era in Charlotte. Throw in Robert Johnson's giant For Sale sign posted on the franchise, and I think it's safe to say our team is unsettled.

What I'm getting at is that we don't get to choose a red pill or a blue pill, but we do have influence on how the team exists, and we fans are in a unique position to fight that battle. Whether it's on Rufus on Fire, or anywhere else we go, we contribute to defining reality. Whenever we choose to rock the Bobcats cap in public, or proselytize the NBA in Charlotte, or just mention the Bobcats to friends without irony, we're shaping the team's legitimacy as a major league franchise.

Maybe that's a little hyperbolic, but to a smaller market team, each individual fan matters more.