Who would have thought the victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals would call into play a bunch of ten-dollar words like aficionado, redemption, hubris, and schadenfreude?
Sports fans are aficionados, people with great knowledge and enthusiasm for an activity. But the fact that the term fan is derived from the word fanatic tells us a lot. To the fan, sports is not just the toy department of life, it is life with the volume turned high.
Sports fans derive an extraordinary amount of pleasure from both the glory of victory and the agony of defeat, from performances of people they probably don’t know and will never meet. Unlike other types of aficionados – connoisseurs of art or gourmets of cooking – sports fans not only enjoy excellent achievements, they also derive another breed of pleasure, criticizing and harshly judging athletes, especially their own champions*, when they fail.
The Mavericks team, their owner Mark Cuban, and their highest profile athlete Dirk Nowitski, now basking in adulation, suffered years of being mocked and ridiculed for never winning the Big One – the meanest and most fervent condemnations coming from their own fans. Well, in the excessive rhetoric of sports, they have achieved redemption, escaping the shackles of unfulfilled potential and creating a new legacy as winners. They will be celebrated in Dallas as conquering heroes.
It’s another story for the Miami Heat and their trilogy of stars – especially LeBron James. There will be no victory parade for them.
Millions of fans, probably far more than those who rejoiced at the Dallas victory, experienced schadenfreude, pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, as they reveled in the disappointment and defeat of a team and man who flaunted claims to greatness.
The schadenfreude relating to the failure of LeBron James to win the championship approached ecstasy for many alienated by hubris of legendary proportions. For those who think he humiliated the city of Cleveland by making a public spectacle of his decision to “take his talents to South Beach,” or those who were simply offended by the arrogance of his “King James” nickname and his decision to tattoo “The Chosen One” on his back and “gifted child” on his chest, this was nothing less than justice.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
* It’s significant that the term champion has alternative meanings. It not only refers to the victor, the person or team that defeats all others, it refers to a person who does battle for another’s rights or honor. Sports fans believe that their teams and favorite players play for the honor of their cities. And in this cruel world of winners and losers, failing to achieve the honor of victory results in dishonor for the champions and their cities.