Saturday, May 06, 2006

Fanboys, Trolls, and Other Mythical Creatures

It's popular nowadays to gripe about the declining attitude of your typical NBA player, and much of that griping seems well deserved. But it shouldn't escape our notice that, at least by circumstantial evidence, there have also been disturbing trends on the fan side of the fence, even in a community like Portland where fans are known for both reason and passion.

With public discourse in our society becoming more and more polarized, it's not surprising that fan discourse has followed the same trend. There's a certain segment of the population that apparently regards anything the team does as both necessary and sacrosanct. To suggest that something is out of whack is heresy and brings calls of being unfaithful and "not a true fan". On the other side of the spectrum are those who love to pile on, who criticize in order to make themselves seem smart and lift themselves above the unwashed masses. Judging by the amount of venom flying in most online discussions of the Blazers, both sides are alive and well.

One of the silver linings in the cloud that has surrounded the team the last few years is how current conditions point out the ridiculousness of both sides. With the amount of turmoil and controversy surrounding the team since 2001, I doubt that even the staunchest supporter could say they approved of every single thing that's happened in that six year span. Heck, if you think the Blazers are batting .500 you'd still be above most folks. On the other hand, the dwindling fanbase has considerably reduced the potential audience for self-important contrarians. In days of yore you could find multiple flame wars between Laker and Blazer fans in nearly every online venue. Now it's barely a trickle. It's a whole lot easier to be Jerk King of the Board nowadays, but what exactly are you king of? Yawns are far more likely than a spirited response.

Clearly only the most pathetic or desperate would find it rewarding to be a Blazer fanboy or troll nowadays. So maybe one of the unintended effects of the Blazer crisis is that it will eventually clear more room for the rest of the fans if and when conversation comes en vogue again. One can always hope.

I truly believe that most fans reside in neither camp, but simply want to enjoy the team, the game, and its effect on the community. I also believe that for the most part, this group has been a silent majority, which is part of the reason for the disconnect which has grown between Blazer management and the fan base. With most of the public discussion occurring on the fringes, I think some of the team's decision makers were blindsided by the overwhelming response of the more moderate fanbase who were far more likely to vote through ticket sales than public outcry--at least until things got too bad to ignore, and then it was too late. On the other hand, I also think the general public was truly shocked that Blazer management let things get that far and were so "out of touch" with the community, without realizing that the moderate community had not been particularly vocal, ceding the field to those with more self-interested agendas (which is the one thing both fanboys and trolls have in common).

If I were to speculate, I would guess that a significant part of the Portland fanbase would hold the following to be true:

--Winning is important, but we understand that it's not possible to win every season. We are willing to ride with the team as long as it looks like we're making honest progress towards getting better, not just signing guys to tread water or sell tickets with fancy dunks that don't lead to wins.
--Even if we don't have the talent to go all the way, we want to watch players play hard and have some level of respect for the game.
--If Portland isn't the players' first love, that's OK, but at least try not to tear down or embarrass the community in public ways.
--This isn't wrestling. We shouldn't have to suspend our disbelief to root for the team. We don't want to be sold a bill of goods about how things are better now character-wise if they aren't, or how the playoffs are just around the corner for us if they're miles away. We'd rather have TV and radio guys tell us honestly what's going on than try to sugar coat things. Give us something to root for, sure, but you don't need to do the rooting for us. We just want a couple of honest things to like about the team and then have those turn out to be true.
--Realistically, most people like the team, but relatively few live and die with it on a daily basis (unless we approach championship levels). You don't have to worry about that, though, if you give folks a place to go that's fun and exciting, where they don't have to worry about the kids (and their grandparents) hearing the "f" word multiple times on and off the court, where maybe they can slap a player's hands as he leaves the floor, and where they can leave at the end of the evening saying, "That was a fun time." Once upon a time it was like that around here. Would it be so hard to recapture?
(On a totally personal note...I like the music at the games, but does it have to be every timeout? Occasionally I'd like to talk to my friends about what's going on. I don't know if that's everyone or just me though.)

Should there be more things on this list? If so, comment in the "comments" section below or send them to If there is a different type of fan out there than those who usually hold the field, how will anyone know unless they speak?



Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:23 PM  

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