This has been the week of unhappy returns in the NBA.
On Tuesday, Dwight Howard played in Orlando for the first time as a Laker, torching his former team for 39 points. On Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony played in Denver for the first time as a Knick, turning in one of his worst games of the season (nine points, 3-for-12 field goals) before leaving with a sore knee. And this Sunday, Chris Bosh will play in Toronto for the fourth time since he left the Raptors to sign with the Heat in 2010.
While there’s no telling today how Bosh will perform against his former team (although in his first three return trips to T-Dot he’s averaged 27.6 points), I can guarantee right now that he will encounter the same reception ‘Melo was met with in Denver and Howard heard in Orlando: Insults, taunts and boos that cover the spread from mildly bitter to threateningly hostile.
Bosh will be the next in a long line of athletes to be convicted and executed in effigy by a disloyal fan base on the charges of… being disloyal.
It’s an ugly side of sports that I cannot understand or justify.
Now here’s where I do like the big-time writers and use my favorite TV show to make a sports analogy: On the flawless FX series Justified, the collective criminal element of Harlan County is constantly at odds with Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, himself born and raised in Harlan County. But who do those outlaws hate even more than Raylan? The “carpet-baggers,” a.k.a. the criminals who roll into east Kentucky from places like Detroit and Miami trying to make money off the self-proclaimed hillbillies.
Although Raylan essentially turned on his own people by becoming a lawman (even his father was a career crook), the seedy-underbelly types give him much more respect than they give the carpet-baggers and other cops. Why? Because Raylan is one of their own. Whatever honor exists among thieves might even extend to the law if you were bred to be loyal.
Sports fans, whether they reside in the hills of east Kentucky or The Hills of Southern California, operate under a different set of values.
Sports fans will eat their young. They will love an athlete to death one day, then wish him dead the next; hometown discounts be damned. They will root against the bad guys, but reserve a stronger, special kind of venom if the bad guy used to be one of their good guys.