There are few occasions in our culture when it is permissable for grown men to openly cry.
One of those occasions is when they win a sports championship. (Actually, can anyone think of another?)
For the first time in over ten years I watched the NBA Finals last night. As I lay in bed–awake, and unable to fall asleep from the excitement of the whole thing (midway through the series E and S converted me into a Laker fan, I know)–I pictured the wet, exuberant faces of Pao Gasol and Derek Fisher as they accepted their trophy and wondered how much that kind of emotional display has to do with my love for the game.
It’s a love, as I mentioned, that has been long dormant.
Growing up, my dad and I were die-hard Knick fans. We had partial season tickets (I allowed him one call of “Defense” per quarter), and the rest of the games we watched religiously–and with uninhibited volume–from our family room in Brooklyn. The first and only fan letter I ever wrote was to Hubert Davis, the backup shooting guard always overshadowed (but rarely outplayed) by the scrappy John Starks. Hubie never wrote back.
But then the Knicks diminished in profound fashion: we’d grown accustomed to being fans of a team that could compete for a championship, even if they never actually got one. We abandoned them. The first time that I watched any basketball team since then was this past year, when E started taking me to Lobo games (UNM’s college team is actually quite good).
It’s been thrilling for me to rediscover my love for watching the sport. Honestly, it’s the only one I enjoy: baseball is too boring, football is too slow, I never played soccer and don’t know the rules. I’m sure I could get into any of them if I put my mind to it, but the nostalgia I have for basketball is something special.
So yeah, it’s nostalgia. And I love the energy and the skill of the game: the mixture of grit and grace. But when it comes to the playoffs, I am also a sucker for the emotion.
It’s not just the victory tears–though those are pretty damn moving.
It’s the affections the players display toward one another, too: the pats on the head and the back, even the routine hand taps they exchange between free thows, made or missed, get me. There’s something uniquely touching about men who make a career out of their hyper-masculinity casually defying that stereotype.
Except that, of course–for whatever reason–it’s allowed: it’s no thang for Pau Gasol to noogie Kobe Bryant at every given opportunity or Doc Rivers to tap the backends of each and every player as they sit down. And I suspect not limited to basketball: it seems like within sports, generally, men can exhibit a degree of affection and emotion that is not granted them outside it.
And I love that.
I can’t remember where this little gem of wisdom of came from, perhaps it was my DC therapist (PS did anyone catch Ron Artest thanking his psychiatrist last night? Right before hyping his next single? Amazing.), but someone somewhere once told me that it’s easy to mistake the male inability to display emotion with an inability to have them.
It’s since struck me as a quite brilliant observation: frequently women get frustrated with guys who don’t respond the way we’d like them to or emote as fully as we think appropriate. I think it’s often the case that they’re feeling things just as deeply as we are, if not more–they just aren’t sure how they’re supposed to show it.
And it’s true: in most situations, as we all know, men who openly display their emotions are seen as weak, soft, feminine. So they don’t.
Except when they win the NBA Finals. Which, I must admit, is one reason I love to watch.