Last time, I wrote about the Psychology of a Jazz fan, and how the science behind fandom can contribute to our behaviors and our (sports) loves. Maybe it was arrogance, maybe it was naiveté, but I genuinely thought—when I wrote that a couple weeks ago—that the Jazz would make it into the playoffs. The Mavericks were slumping, the Jazz were streaking1, and the Rockets were just kind of meh. In my mind, that 8th spot was ours.
Until it wasn’t.
Losing the April 11 game to the Mavericks was a serious buzzkill, and not just because it was my birthday2 and I wanted the present of a win and a trip to the playoffs rather than a loss. That heartbreaking game to the Mavs meant a lot of things had to go right two days later in order for the Jazz to make the playoffs.
And then we know what happened. Kobe’s last hurrah before Mamba out. It was painful.
Like the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve felt as a Jazz fan during this season, I’ve gone through a condensed spectrum of emotions in the last week since the loss against the Mavericks. It’s been a bit of a grieving process. I’m not a mental health professional, nor am I intending to make light of true grief in the loss of a loved one, health, a job, etc., but I wanted to look at the stages of grief from the perspective of Jazz fans. My intention is for this to be light, interesting, and hopefully a little funny. I hope that’s a sufficient disclaimer for the topic.
Stage 1: Denial
After the initial shock of the Mavs’ loss wore off, some of the thoughts turned to, “No way. The Jazz wouldn’t play such a poor game when their entire season was on the line!” Or “There’s no way the last game of Kobe’s career is going to be the nail in the coffin of the Jazz’s playoff hopes . . .” This is the epitome of denial. Sadly, reality has been somewhat cruel to Jazz fans in recent history (or forever history? You choose)
Stage 2: Anger
After the initial denial phase, I saw some comments in Jazz fan-dom along the lines of “WHAT?! We let Kobe, he who has been one of the worst players in the league all year3 score SIXTY on us?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” There were quite a few choice words for the refs who really let the game go and seemingly helped Kobe to get his 60 points. And then there was the anger directed at Dennis Lindsey, placing the blame squarely on his shoulders for the team not having a bench this year and possibly costing the team the handful of wins it needed to qualify for the second season. To his credit, he deftly diffused some of the anger (frustration?) directed at him by accepting blame during locker room cleanout, showing a good deal of emotional—and job—security. Impressive.4
Stage 3: Bargaining
This one has been a fun stage for me. “Okay, since we didn’t make the playoffs, how about if we get a top 3 pick dropped into our lap even though we have only a teeny, tiny chance of NOT owning the #12 pick in the 2016 draft? That seems like fair karma.” Or the other angle: “What if we’re able to re-visit the trades that Dennis Lindsey mentioned almost happened at the trade deadline, and those are able to give us the veteran presence and experience we need to get over the hump? That happens all the time, right? Seems like a worthy tradeoff for missing the playoffs yet again . . .”
What bargaining have you done as you’ve gone through your stages of grief with the Jazz’s season? I’d be curious as to the deals everyone’s making . . .
Stage 4: Depression
Watching other teams go through the playoffs can be depressing when your team isn’t in it. It’s all too easy to play the “what-if” game; what if that foul on Jeff Withey were called? What if that last-second shot by Hood went in? etc. And then, after all that wondering and questioning, you’re still left with the same result: the lottery. And most likely, not even a great lottery pick, though Dennis Lindsey’s track record overall can assuage some of that apathy at picking #12.
But then the questions seep in: are we destined for continued playoffs and first-round exits without a superstar? Can the team overcome mediocrity? Will internal development be enough, or are there reasonable trades that will make a difference?
Stage 5: Acceptance
Our team missed the playoffs. We can hopefully accept that soon enough. At least our guys played hard, right? We love watching scrappy, tough-nosed players. We love watching our guys play defense. We love seeing improvement from these guys who’ve grown up in front of us5. We had a hard year. We had injuries. It was an emotional rollercoaster. But it happened.
And now we can look forward to something a little more hopeful. The NBA draft is coming up. Free agency. Summer League. Olympic teams6 And then, hopefully, a better year next year.