I love my mother, but. . .
I love my husband, but. . .
I love our fans, but. . .
Perhaps reconciliation lies in parallel structure. When you look at some of the other critiques that take the form of Danny Green’s criticisms of the 76ers fanbase, are they really worth raging or stewing or whimpering about? All of us love people. And all of those people do things that drive us crazy. They leave towels on the floor. They put the little forks with the big forks. A friend of a friend once confided that she could not stand when her husband blew his nose in the shower. Sometimes, the foibles are small and superficial. Sometimes, they are deep and systemic. Rarely is the proper and constructive reaction to throw a tantrum or tell the critic to go jump in a dirty pond.
I always end up feeling like a therapist whenever guys like Green say things like he said in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark earlier this week. The relationship between this city’s fans and athletes is one that can make even the most tumultuous romantic pairings look like bliss. One side takes a passive-aggressive swipe at the other. The other side lashes out. As is often the case in these situations, both sides are at least partially guilty of the things that the other side accuses them of. They are both also way too sensitive to criticism.
“It has an effect on everybody,” Green said while appearing on the Takeoff with John Clark podcast. “And I think that’s something that needs to change in the city. I love our fans, but when things aren’t going well, they can turn on you. That’s the one thing I would disagree with or dislike. Some guys use it as motivation. Some guys have a chip on their shoulder. But I think that needs to change. They need to be riding with us regardless of how things are going.”
Green is right, and he is wrong. The fans and media personalities who have lambasted him are right, and they are wrong. As usual, the disconnect lies in a lack of understanding, an inability to put oneself in the other side’s shoes. Take the critics, for example. One phenomenon you’ll notice in these situations is that the harshest critiques tend to come from those who are furthest removed from the players. They come from sports talk radio hosts, and columnists, and talking heads, and fans themselves. The more time you actually spend interacting with athletes, watching and listening to them up close as they ply their trade, the more you see them as craftsmen and less as entertainers. You see the pride they take in their performance. You see the insane single-mindedness with which they approach their preparation. You see them rejoice, and you see them hurt. Green, Rhys Hoskins, Carson Wentz – if you see them mostly as people who are paid very well to provide entertainment, it’s easy to think they should be seen and not heard. But if you see them mostly as people doing a job, their feelings become like any other person’s: worthy of consideration and reflection.
On the flip side, we have the fans, and the basic misconception betrayed by players when they gripe about this city’s penchant for voicing its displeasure. Green might love the fans, but he does not understand them any better than they understand him. The thing that he does not understand is that it is impossible to separate the thing that he loves about the fans from the thing that he hates. The noise in the arena, the intensity of the cheers, the Kings of the City sensation that success earns an athlete comes from the same place as the boos, and the jeers, and the critical headlines. They come from passion, from investment, from a belief that every player on the court or the field is an extension of the city itself. Fans aren’t very different from players in at least one regard. When they lose, they hurt, and the level of hurt that they feel is one that cannot healthily go unexpressed. Take away the boos and you take away the cheers. It’s why so many fan bases seem so much flatter than places like Philly or Boston or New York City. They are flatter. They just don’t care as much.
It’s one of life’s eternal truths, isn’t it? Passion is a double-edged sword that can’t be dulled on one side. Green’s observations are mostly valid. There are few worse places to underperform than Philadelphia. There are few places less suited to someone who does not have an ego made of steel and a fortress of a filter around it. That can’t help but have a compounding effect when things are going poorly. Is it a coincidence that the city of Tampa has won five pro sports titles since the dawn of the Internet Age, while the city of Philadelphia has won two? Probably. But it does make you wonder whether there is some benefit to playing outside the spotlight.
At the same time, anybody who would eliminate the bad at the cost of the good hasn’t spent enough time here. Are there casualties? Sure. Can we overlook the fact that the three most celebrated draft picks of the last five years have suffered previously unimaginable crises of confidence during their brief stints here? No, we can’t. But athletes’ personalities are their personalities, and the same goes for collections of fans. In the end, it’s like any relationship. You bask in the good and tolerate the bad, or you go find some other shower to blow your nose.