Three weeks ago, I was asked a very simple question: "Why the Bobcats?"
I had wandered over to SB Nation's Knicks site, Posting and Toasting, after I wrote the diss rap for that night's game. Someone had written a rap back and Seth Rosenthal gleefully linked me to it. While I was on break at work, I doffed my cap to their counter rhymes and chatted briefly with a couple friendly fans. The above question arose simply from the curiosity of one fan.
I answered it briefly, talking about how I grew up with the Hornets and, shortly afterwards, the Bobcats, and how I'm from Charlotte. But that's just the foundation and doesn't say very much about what it means to be a sports fan.
Really, outside of the local aspect, what sense does it make? Granted, proximity is a huge part of what makes any person a fan of their favorite team, but it's never the whole story. The Bobcats have been so consistently bad throughout their history that hipsters don't even claim to be fans of them, for crying out loud. So what gives?
Basically, I think it boils down to one main thing: the story.
As a writer and a human being, I like a good story. A good tale can suck me in and draw me away from whatever happens in the outside world. It can make me laugh. It can make me cry. It can move me to change my ideals. My visions of my own future could be changed by a good story.
And each city has its own story. The Lakers are facing new struggles to their assumed yearly dominance as their world seemingly crumbles around them because of injuries, coaching changes and almost anything you can think of. Sacramento is fighting tooth and nail to keep the team they love and to keep the young talent that can hopefully one day blossom into something way beyond what they are today. Toronto is trying to break through as a contender in the East with its young talent even after a misstep this year. The Celtics are tenuously holding onto one era in their rearview mirror and slightly looking ahead to a murky future for yet another year of playoff contention. From each of these stories, their fans derive a sense of pride.
And for us, the wee Bobcats fans? We proceed through the misery and we survive like cockroaches, for this is our story to carry on our backs.
Each year has its horror stories and yet many of us just keep plowing through them. The Bobcats had a decent first few years and then they went for broke to push for the playoffs. The ensuing moves achieved their goal but ultimately forced them to blow it up. With an aging roster and a low ceiling, there was no other logical choice but to wipe the chalkboard clean once more. For a short while, the seemingly incessant jokes stopped during these years, but the reprieve ended quickly. Oh yes, the derision resumed with a fury.
And frankly, I eat it up.
After all, why shouldn't I? It makes it all the sweeter when the Bobcats win. I'm not sure any other team is as often the butt of a joke as much as Charlotte. However, when the tables turn for that one moment, that one rare game, they will crap their pants and try to avoid eating their words. Yes, we're Bobcats fans and everyone makes fun of us, but I'm going to squeeze every bit of juice from someone who makes the assumption Charlotte has absolutely zero shot in pretty much every game and comes up wrong.
That's our story. People kick us when we're down -- and we're down a lot -- but if even for a moment, we'll get our punch in. Someday, the roles will be reversed and we can bring back memories of all those jokes made at our expense and shove it in everyone's faces even more often. Oh, how I can't wait to ask, "Why the Knicks?"
Everyone must derive pride from something, and for us, it's flying under the radar with patience for the day when the pieces fall together. It's taking years of basketball futility, living through it and everyone else's ridicule to come out on the other side watching a better team.
We've heard the other side, too. "If the Bobcats don't improve X much, I'm done" or some other vague threat. I'm sure it happens for a good many Bobcats fans. I've had those feelings at times, myself. Viewership and attendance numbers decline for a reason.
But for this contingent of fans, as long as there is a sliver of hope and the front office doesn't make an unequivocally stupid move like drafting a player that doesn't exist with a first round pick, we will be there.
Is it illogical? Is it nonsensical? Sure, for some it may be. For many, logic didn't enter the conversation when this bond was formed. You don't decide what to fall in love with.
Perhaps it just happened.
Maybe you saw Walter Herrmann drop 20 points, your brain clicked and you fell for the scrappy underdogs getting their best scoring from a 27-year-old rookie from Argentina with ridiculously large hands.
Maybe you saw Brevin Knight execute a beautiful pick and roll to Emeka Okafor for a dunk on Josh Boone and the New Jersey Nets.
Maybe you saw Gerald Wallace be Gerald Wallace.
Sometimes sports are best as a spectator when you shut down your noggin and let logic escape you.
I'm not saying we should take pride in awful front office decisions and blindly follow them. However, I think we should take pride in coming back year after year. No other NBA fans are asked "Why?" as much as Bobcats fans when they admit they are indeed Bobcats fans, calling our existence as fans into question with a single word uttered in disbelief to our face.
Yet we're still here.
It has been one year since the worst season in NBA history, and we are still here. The Bobcats started 7-5 and went 14-56 the rest of the way, and we are still here. Hakim Warrick started 14 games this season, and we are still here. DeSagana Diop fulfilled his whole contract, and we are still here.
Fellow Bobcats fans, thank you for sticking with me and everyone else here for another season. We may not have seen many wins, but we saw a lot of progress from key players and flashes of this team's future. And honestly, this was one of the most fun seasons in a while. That's not saying much, and maybe the complete lack of expectations helped, but for me it's definitely the truth.