by Keith Aksel
As a fan, how often do you actually want to win?
On the face of it, the answer to the question seems obvious. We all want our teams to win championships. For most of us, we aren’t shy about desiring that our team win more than one title in our lifetimes. After all, isn’t success the reason we root for sports teams to begin with?
But, at a certain point, is there a law of diminishing returns at play in fandom? Do we actually value championship seasons appropriately after our teams have won a bunch in a small length of time? Let’s use the Boston Celtics as our real-world example.
From the late-1950s through the 1960s, the Celtics dominated the NBA by winning eleven titles, at one point claiming eight in a row. With all-time greats like center Bill Russell on their roster, it is clear that Boston ruled the basketball world during that time. The franchise obviously benefited from a stunted number of competitors (there were only 8 teams in the NBA at the beginning of Boston’s run), but winning those championships mattered a lot to the city of Boston and its fans.
After that run of success, did Boston fans actually value those titles appropriately? Or, more generally, can any fan base absorb that amount of success without losing perspective? How do you know?
Certainly Boston fans would respond with some variation of “each one of my babies is special in their own way,” but questions like this are worth asking. Boston had definitely asserted itself as the era’s dominant power by title number five or six, yet the Celtics were merely halfway done driving the NBA crazy by then. Would winning fewer championships change the legacy of that Celtics team? Would Boston fans actually miss title number 9, 10, or 11?
Perhaps they would. Maybe there is deep fan significance in long runs of domination like the Celtics or UCLA Bruins had in the 1960s and 70s. These questions are meant to stimulate a kind of introspection in fans about whether winning championships at any point changes the significance of previous or future triumphs. Do we actually want our teams to dominate, or does domination make us appreciate the season less? Do we want specific memorable seasons to stand out in our memories, or would we rather get lost in the euphoria of almost-constant triumph?
For some fan bases, less success makes it easier to lift up specific great seasons above others. At the University of Colorado, any discussion about “greatest-ever” teams begins and ends with the 1990 National Champion football team. Colorado fans’ heroes are probably more limited in number than some fan bases, but those memories from 1990 are perhaps held more closely than fans of other teams who have a hard time choosing which titles really mattered among a wealth of championship seasons.
I’m mainly just spit-balling here; I want to press fans to think about the effects of winning and how they change a fan base’s outlook on the sports they watch. Maybe the focus on the championship itself is misplaced, and sports fandom needs to be about something else more holistic, or less goal-oriented. In any case, sports fandom draws on our thoughts, time, money, and feelings probably more regularly than any other single endeavor. Isn’t it time to think about it more critically?