JazzTank: Breaking The Fan Code of Ethics and Other Reflections

December 20th, 2012 | by Evan Hall

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, in part because we were hungry and in part because muted televisions relieve us of the experience of listening to Matt Harpring’s color commentary, Jackson and I went to JCW’s, a Provo burger joint, to watch the Jazz-Nets game. While I will spare those of you who did not watch the game my rendering of its¬†minutiae, I will say that the game was in Brooklyn, and the Jazz won. Yes, it was a road game, and yes, the Jazz won. We were shocked, as I’m sure you were, and frankly, as I’m sure you were not, we were a little disappointed. This is my turmoil.

Though as a fan, I typically spend most of my mental capital on considering my team and its place in the figurative world of basketball, I’ve recently encountered a new internal conflict that occupies at least as much if not more of my mental space reserved for sports. I find myself thinking more about how I am a fan of the Jazz than I do about how the Jazz are as a basketball team. This is not to say that I don’t also think about the Jazz as a basketball team–I only turn inward as a response to the confusion I find on the actual basketball court–but to say that for much of my experience as a fan of the Jazz (and more recently, as someone who writes about them), the Jazz as a real entity are the end of my thought train, rather than a launchpad into new depths of philosophical introspection, which is what they have become.

This is because it’s always the wins that leave me the most emotionally conflicted. Obviously, this doesn’t make any sense, because any consideration of sports fandom begins and ends with one quintessential law of response: wins make you happy and losses make you sad, or angry, or bitter, or withdrawn or any amalgamation of negative feelings. Not for me, not now. Now, wins leave me in a swirling mixture of bewilderment, self-loathing, and disappointment. Now might be the time where I should say something about the innate pessimism of human nature as an explanation for my atypical fan-behavior, but I think that’s too meta even for me. So my simpler explanation is that the losses vindicate me–after all, my frustration with the current Jazz is that I genuinely believe I know which factors on the court cause the losing, and that a failure by the team to rectify those factors will inevitably cause me emotional distress off the court. On the other hand, wins contradict my worldview, because as much as I know the reasons for the Jazz’s losing, when the Jazz win, it’s rarely because I see a correction of that which causes the losses. This makes me uncomfortable. So in other words, I feel that my perspective on the Jazz is justified when the Jazz lose, because they lose for all the reasons I thought they would, and I feel emotionally conflicted when they win, because they win for reasons I can’t quite understand, but that have very little logical connection with the reasons that they lose. That’s my simpler explanation, and simpler though it is, it disingenuously ignores the real explanation, which is that in a way, I kind of want the Jazz to lose.

Without going into the details about the ways I express myself when watching games–which I’m sure would make all of you hate me even more than you do after reading the preceding paragraph, and which would distract from the ideas I’m trying to explore–I will say that I do, occasionally, find myself hoping the Jazz will lose. This, of course, violates the Code of Ethics of Fandom, which I metaphorically signed the moment I told someone I rooted for the Jazz. By rooting against my own team, my very sports morality is called into question, and if in the moment you read that I wanted the Jazz to lose, you felt some sort of ethical revulsion toward me and my hedonistic sports ideologies, you are entirely justified. I deserve whatever righteous indignation you now harbor against me, and if that indignation takes the form of a few vociferously worded hate-comments at the end of this article, I can’t say that I blame you. But this does raise some more interesting questions.

After the Memphis loss–which, terrible though it was, was not quite as terrible as the fact that it brought me, a lifelong Jazz fan, some degree of happiness–Diana Allen and Andy Larsen had a thought-provoking exchange on Twitter, the gist of which was this: if your being a fan in a particular way makes me feel bad, don’t you have some interpersonal obligation to consider that fact before reacting to a win or a loss or a trade, especially in a public forum like Twitter, or a fansite, or the comment section of a blog post? This is an interesting debate and while I have an opinion on it, what actually impacted me was not the debate itself, but the conclusion it forced me to draw about fandom. There are some rules, and there is a prescribed behavior for fans, and though it is relative, debatable, and messy, it does exist, on some level, for every fan. But there’s something else: not only do fans function on an understanding of a governing Fan Code of Ethics, and not only does the understanding of that code differ for every fan, but we seem to accept that though sports are themselves manufactured by our perceptions of them and though sports are only artificially attached to the reality of our lives, our obedience to that Fan Code of Ethics does say something real about our moral character. This is why fans on Twitter feel obligated to point out the faulty responses of other fans. This is why my boss at Salt City published a well-written, persuasive piece on booing. And this is why I feel guilty for rooting against the Jazz.

Now I’m not rooting against my favorite professional sports team just because I’m a sadist, or just because I was searching for a sensationalist angle on the Jazz to break through my writer’s block. I’m rooting against them because, I genuinely believe that losing now is in the team’s best interests. My reasons for this are complicated and any explanation of them would likely turn out long-winded, but basically it boils down to draft picks, young player development, and a necessary reconsideration of the team’s identity from the front office. My reasons for rooting against my favorite team, however, are far less important to this discussion than that I’m doing it at all. After all, I was as appalled as anyone at Golden State’s seemingly shameless indulgence in tanking last season, and I’m just as appalled that it seems to be working out for them this season. They violated my Sports Code of Ethics, and now I expect some sort of retribution. It’s not coming, just like the karmic retribution someone might wish for my anti-Jazz-fandom is also not coming, but it does force me to address the hypocrisy of my own position. Here’s how I do that:

At some point, every fan of a small-market NBA team has to come to terms with the rules of the NBA game: players only come to a team through drafts, trades, and free agency. Salt Lake City will never be a hot destination for free agents and you can only trade for good players if you have good players (I am choosing to ignore, for the sake of my argument, that there are enough incompetent executives with NBA teams that sometimes, you can trade for good players even if all you have to give in return is bad players), which means, new talent can only come through drafts. Drafts are a crap shoot, so in order to be successful in them, small-market teams need to acquire tons of draft picks. Then they need to develop these drafted players, hope for more than a few lucky breaks in roster chemistry, player health, and league competition, and maybe, have a chance at winning a title. That’s the reality. Harsh as that reality is, and it is mercilessly harsh, that’s the situation for small-market NBA teams. Consequently, as a fan, I have a choice: either I forsake my hopes in the extremely slim possibility of my team winning a championship and I focus on enjoying the playoff chase with whatever good players my team might have and then maybe see a few playoff wins, or I say¬†screw it, all I want is a championship, and I end up cheering for my team to trade away or refuse to re-sign its quality veteran players and draft and develop its young players. I believe that unless the Jazz miss the playoffs, the front office will re-sign the team’s veterans and the Jazz will miss out on another draft pick, and unless the front office lets those veterans go and/or gets that draft pick, this team will continue to labor in first-round playoff hell. That’s what I believe, and the beauty of the Fan Code of Ethics is that regardless of the accuracy of my perspective, it says a lot more about me than it does about the Jazz.

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16 Comments

  1. James says:

    Great blog! I have bookmarked it and plan on sharing with my friends later :) Yahoo Fantasy Football Rankings

  2. Alex says:

    I agree with all of this — Utah missed a golden opportunity of blowing up their team and rebuilding from the ground up after the Sloan/Williams debate; instead of putting together elements to build a strong and competitive team, they opted to try to plug holes and be a middle of the road non-contender for the foreseeable future. Literally the only thing that doesn’t depress me about this team is Kanter and Favors. As individual players I think we’re much better off that we were last year; Mo’s a great guy, Foye’s a great guy, Millsap’s a great guy, all down the line. But this team isn’t going anywhere, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so little excitement surrounding the Jazz. Completely off topic, I think you should read some David Foster Wallace if you haven’t yet.

    • Evan Hall says:

      Actually, the only David Foster Wallace writing I’ve read was one of his essays on writing “The Nature of Fun.” I loved it. I really should get one of his essay collections.

      • Alex says:

        Your’s is the first sports article I’ve read that’s made me think about metaphysics, and had a bit of the tone that DFW mastered. I’m halfway through “Consider The Lobster” now, which has been great, but definitely check out “A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again” when you get a chance. He had such an amazing knack for deconstructing his complex thoughts for laymen, while being genuinely entertaining and engaging and utterly human.

  3. Mark says:

    I too share in this pain. I realize that this Jazz team is only as good as Jeffersons overall game. Which when weighed against his defense becomes mediocre.

    We can beat good teams, and we can have great wins and may even make a 6th seed this year, but still we are not a finals team. Not near one.

    I secretly hope this team starts to lose, and lose alot in January. Thus prompting the front office to move jefferson, Millsap, and even Foye.

    I want to see them moved for younger players, and draft picks.

    Then I would love to see a unit of Williams, Burk, Hayward, Favors, and Kanter. I realize that this year that is a lotto team, and thank goodness if it is.

    Maybe next year we make a 5 seed… then the year after we crack the top 4 and can actually compete.

  4. Paul says:

    I think I can relate to your Jazz love/hate dichotomy, but for different reasons. I don’t think I will ever root against the Jazz, but I won’t judge you or anyone else from doing so, either. I do, at times, find myself hoping that the Jazz will implode so that the flaws will be apparent to all and that they will be corrected. Those flaws include: 1) Tyrone Corbin’s inability to understand matchups; 2) the lack of a reward system for playing time; and 3) Gordon Hayward.

    Corbin’s inability to understand matchups is so clear to this armchair coach/GM, that it astonishes me that nobody else talks about this. I posted on a Tribune blog before last year even began that Corbin needed to start the “Big 3″, which did not happen, you will recall, until the season was winding down. Though he has used that rotation a few times this year, he only went with that lineup to start two or three games (I forget now) and used it mostly in the last half of the last quarter when it looked like things might not turn out well. Millsap is not a power forward and Favors needs more playing time. The end.

    Not rewarding players who are doing well with more playing time is more understandable–some are getting more $$$ than others and some may be in their final contract year, but stilll…. In my perfect world, the best players are on the court the most, which leads me to…

    Gordon Hayward. I don’t understand David Locke’s or anyone else’s man-crush on the Indiana kid. Yes, GH shows flashes of talent but those are often overshadowed by bad plays. We laud his ability to block from behind on the fast break but fail to mention that it was HIS turnover that led to the fast break in many, if not most of those situations. He is wildly inconsistent and is a terrible ball handler. He makes threes….in games that the Jazz have well in hand, but cannot make one when it matters. He can go to the basket when he has a clear path, but tends to mow stationary players over when he drives in traffic. He was not the reason that Butler reached the national championship game–they also did it the year after he left and they knocked off #1 Indiana this month. This guy drives me nuts. I want to like him, but I find myself yelling bad things about him more than I praise him.

    These are the things that make me hope that the Jazz fail, to some degree, in hopes that the coaches and GM see that they need to adjust who plays, how much and who should be on the team in the first place.

    There. I said it. I feel better.

    • Richie says:

      I agree with both the blogger and you for my reasons for wanting the Jazz to lose. Since the Jazz drafted Hayward over Paul George. I have been conflicted as a fan. I started to regain hope with the Favors deal. I quickly lost it again when KOC said he refused to start rebuilding. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t find myself even watching the games anymore. I’m glad I read this blog as I was beginning to give up hope as Jazz fan. Feeling alone in my views.

  5. The basis for these feelings is that the OKC Model invariably works to make a contender, a view popularized widely in Jazz internet-land. It’s frequently ignored that it fails far more often than it works. Ask Portland. Or the Kings, Warriors,Wizards, Bobcats and Hornets.

    • Evan Hall says:

      This easy response here is that the Warriors, Blazers and Hornets all might be better positioned for a long-term championship run than the Jazz. That said, I’m not sure about the other commenters, but I don’t actually believe the OKC model is a model, unless “draft the second best player in the world and one of the most gifted scorers in NBA history who also happens to love to play for your small market team so much that he’ll never leave for a bigger city” is a model. I’m not demanding the OKC model; I would be overjoyed with any model that would eventually lead to a title contender.

  6. Evan Hall says:

    This comment thread has been amazing. I love the “Jazz Support Group” role that it adopted.

  7. Kory Winter says:

    I live in Columbus, Ohio but have been a diehard Jazz fan my entire life. I watch around 70 games a year via NBA League Pass, but I’m isolated from Jazz fan banter save the Trib and a few blogs. It’s refreshing to hear there are Jazz fans who share the same beliefs as me. This is my least favorite Jazz team of the last twenty years. Signings and heavy minutes to stopgap pieces like Marvin Williams, Randy Foye, and even Mo Williams are frustrating as they resign the Jazz to a bottom three playoff seed, first round exit, poor draft choice, and lack of development for young players like Favors, Burks, Hayward, and Kanter. I can best describe my feeling after Jazz wins as annoyed as I know every win puts them farther and farther from being a legitimate title contender. I wish management had the balls to completely blow it up and punt a few seasons for the sake of becoming a legitimate contender. I agree when people say the Blazers and the Hornets of the league are closer to a title than the Jazz are. I am resigned to the fact that the Jazz are destined to be the Atlanta Hawks for the rest of my life. I can’t help but play “what if” this past year when the Jazz could have blown it up, played all the kids, traded Al Jeff and Millsap, been a bottom five team, draft Lillard and Barnes (the Jazz being bad would have knocked the Warriors out of the top 7) and fielding a rotation of Lillard, Burks, Hayward, Kanter, Favors, Barnes, etc.

  8. Dave says:

    Great blog post, and the comment thread has been just as good. As depressing as this read is for an optimistic Jazz fan like myself, I agree with it. I can’t help but wonder if the Jazz organization refuses to rebuild and cash in some bad seasons for the sake of long term success in order to have semi-winning seasons and to keep asses in the seats on some short-lived excitement.

    The conclusion I have come to since being in SLC and living in the center of Jazz culture for all the years of my life (or at least as far back as I can recall being aware of who the Jazz were) is that Jazz fans are loyal, rabid, and prideful. We want to win as an organization, and if the magic solution is sucking up some bad seasons, I’m all for it. I guess what I’m getting at is that I agree that the front office needs to bite the bullet, buckle down and see through some dark seasons for the greater good. Not keep churning out these semi-winning seasons and early playoff beatings just to make a profit at the end of the year. Fans will support, and fans will come to games, even through losing season. Anyone who is a knowledgable Jazz fan knows this, and has faith in the fanbase. All the reason and convincing they need is contained here in this blog post and comment thread.

    Someone posted about the lost opportunity to nab Barnes and Lillard… which just twisted the knife of depression… but it’s true. What could’ve been, I guess.

    To end this, I am helpless and will continue supporting and cheering for my Jazz because that’s the fan I am. Hell, after reading this, I might hope for some losses too because now I see that doing so isn’t so bad. With the right justification, cheering for a loss could be beneficial. In the long run. Doing what it takes to achieve long-term success. I’m all for it, but how long until Utah’s front office is?

  9. Chase Adams says:

    I’m not going to sit here and act like I know a ton about the NBA, basketball basics, or anything for that matter. With the exception of some names, some history, and some general stats, I know very little. What I do know is that I am a lifelong Jazz fan, simply because it runs in the family, it’s exciting to watch, and I am proud of where I come from and the teams that represent me. I love it when we win and I hate it when we lose, and I let smarter people like you dissect why we won or why we lost; I don’t take it any further than that. Would I love to see the Jazz win a championship? Of course. Do I know exactly what steps need to be taken to make that dream a reality? No. If people like you, people whose opinion I trust, say a few losing seasons are what is required for a future championship, so be it. But I’ll never ba able to say that those losing seasons will be easy to watch, or that seeing them lose will make me happy. While wiser fans will smile at each loss with the hope of a better day, us laymen will feel the sting of the here and now.

    I only decided to comment because I wanted to tell you that you are the only other person I’ve ever met besides myself that has used the word “amalgamation” in speech or writing. It’s one of my favorite little gems. It was only when I got to the comment box that I decided to share a Jazz opinion as well.

  10. Evan Hall says:

    Thanks for the comment, Chase. Admittedly, last night’s loss to the Clipper’s hurt as much as any others. And I think we would all do well to use “amalgamation” more often.

  11. CJ Samms says:

    Personally, I don’t want to see the Jazz take the Bobcats approach and start tanking. I like that the Jazz and the Rockets try stick to their winning culture even at the expense of higher draft picks.

    I agree that they should move most of their veterans like Jefferson, Mo Williams, and Foye. But if you’re going to turn the team over to the youngsters, then you need to keep certain veterans to remind them that work ethic, defense, ball movement, and glue guys do matter. Along those lines, Millsap is a keeper. Maybe Marvin Williams too — despite his critics. They’re both Jazz type players.

    You can still unload Millsap down the road when your young core is ready to take over. Because guys like him will always have trade value, even when they’re past their prime. Look at Allen, Battier, and Miller on the Heat team. And people keep scratching their heads over why Derek Fisher keeps getting signed by contenders. Also, notice how Tyson Chandler is the only one of the Big 3 7-ft phenoms from his draft class to make any difference? Because playing the right way matters.

    You don’t want your kids to end up like the Wizards. They even had to blow things up again getting rid of some of their young core AFTER already getting rid of their veteran core. Look at the Kings. They’re still rebuilding without any sense of purpose. All that talent. All that immaturity. All that knuckleheadedness. All that waste. Is that want you want the Jazz to look like 3-4 years down the road when their young core should be contending?

    Not me.

  12. Casey says:

    I would rather have knuckle heads, knowing I took the chance to rebuild the team, than to mire in mediocrity for years and years. If you want to win a title, you need a top 5 draft pick. Show me a team in the last 20 years who has won one without. Hasn’t happened. The Jazz need a superstar and the only way to do that for our small market team can acquire one is through the draft. Its time to blow up the Jazz.

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