I opened up my mailbox this morning to a wonderful surprise. A friend who recently passed through Boston sent me a souvenir, the jersey of one of my favourite basketball players, Jae Crowder. But as I figure out how, whether and where I should mount this new treasure, I’ve been thinking about why Crowder captured my attention, why I bother watching basketball at all.
Taking a step back, I can’t help but wonder why I have such an interest in sports. Despite its prevalence in our societies – especially Australia – it just feels like an odd thing to do. I have no skin in the game here. These aren’t fights over grand principle or with that much of importance at stake – despite the incredible legacy building going on. I play basketball only occasionally, and have no hope of achieving the level of skill, athleticism or team-play of my heroes. Further, most professional sports are very Groundhog Daysian – the same players and teams, competing in the same venues. Year after year.
So, on the surface, it’s not like I’m learning much. At least other tv spectacles have a tenuous claim that they expand my horizons.
But if I take a closer look at Crowder, why he can count me as a fan, something else emerges. He’s not the flashiest player. Even on his own team. Although the numbers he puts up are nothing to snort at, they don’t place him even close to the league’s upper echelons. And while there have been some fantastic moments in his short career, that isn’t it either. The reason Celtics home games are filled with Crowder jerseys is about more than easily referenced stats or highlights.
Crowder is one of those players that you love when he’s on your team, hate when he’s not. His style of play is characterised by hustle. He isn’t necessarily the most talented or skilled, but there’s no one that outworks him on the court. You see him everywhere. Chasing everything. Guarding everyone.
It’s grit. Crowder equals grit. And it’s something I admire and want to emulate as much as possible.
I’ll give you a more concrete example. Until he was traded to the Celtics a year and a half ago, Crowder was languishing on the bench. The same guy. The same grit. Completely under-appreciated. He wasn’t getting much playing time, wasn’t contributing anything spectacular. But a new team, a system that works with and appreciates him, and he has blossomed.
It’s these human stories that really make sports for me. It’s Adam Gilchrist in the 2007 World Cup Final. Mark Webber winning the 2009 German Grand Prix. These are stories of talented, determined guys rising to the occasion when given a real opportunity. I know I’ve felt like Crowder before. Many times in fact. Stuck on the bench. On the wrong team. Crowder gives me hope I can make my mark. I just have to keep plugging til that time comes.
This is why you watch sport.