Did you follow the NBA championship series? Lebron James and the Miami Heat nabbed their second national championship last week after a spectacular and emotionally draining series against the San Antonio Spurs.  I was lucky (blessed?) to pick up the series on game 6, where the Miami Heat orchestrated a major last-minute comeback against the San Antonio Spurs, tying up the game with seconds on the clock and eventually winning in overtime. The pundits and the commentators have done nothing but gush since the series ended- they’re stretching back decades to think of match-ups and championships that have rivaled the pure fun and athleticism that this game and series produced, proclaiming with near universal accord that “this is what pro basketball should be about.” And with the amount of talent on display (and the fact that this is the first time I’ve been interested in watching NBA games since MJ grade school days!), I’m inclined to believe they’re not over exaggerating.

But you know who missed this buzzer beater game 6, this historic display of professional athletic talent? The fans who left the game five minutes early. And by the blogosphere’s reaction, “fans” may no longer be the correct parlance.

Chris Bosh, Miami’s power-forward and one of their “big-three” all-stars, had harsh things to say about fans leaving the game early, which was echoed with amens throughout the fan community. From the LA Times:

“You never give up,” Bosh said. “People gave up on us, and they can stay where they are and watch the game at home.”

Even those who tried to get back in to the arena?

“Yeah, you can’t get let back in after you leave,” he said. “I know that. I’ve been to games. You can’t leave a game and then come back. It doesn’t make any sense. You left. It’s not punishment; that’s protocol.”

Chrisboshyawn_originalChris Bosh needs a nap during game 7.

The “law of fandom” can be a truly crushing weight upon the shoulders of sports fans. Never mind that fans are expected at work the next morning. Never mind the parents who are trying to beat the rush out of the arena so they can take their kids to school the next day. Never mind that previous NBA championship game celebrations have crossed the line from joyous rabble to violent riot. Never mind that you payed quadruple-digits and more for the tickets. You stay till the end of the game, or you turn in your fan card.

There are all sorts of rules that govern your fandom.  Take this list from Bill Simmons of ESPN:

18. If you live in a city that has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to root for that team. None of this, “The Bengals weren’t very good when I was growing up in Cincy, so I became a Cowboys fan” crap. Also, you can’t start rooting for a team, back off when they’re in a down cycle, then renew the relationship once the team starts winning again. All those Cowboys fans who jumped off the bandwagon in the late-’80s, jumped back on during the Emmitt/Aikman Era, then jumped back off in the late-’90s … you know who you are. You shouldn’t even be allowed out in public.


So when the LA Times published this sports commentary from Bill Plaschke, I was shocked at the perspective, grace, and sympathy he had for the fans leaving Tuesdays game early:

In the interest of ensuring your family’s safety and calm, you walk out of the sports event before it is finished, climb in your car, and listen to the final moments on the radio as you drive unimpeded back to realities of a late night that has already impacted early-morning work and school.

This is wrong? This is embarrassing? You should be ashamed? Of course not. Yet that is the way Miami Heat fans are apparently supposed to feel after being caught on camera walking out of their team’s eventual overtime comeback victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Tuesday’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

They were ripped by the media. They were chided by the players. In fact, the Heat’s Chris Bosh actually requested that those fans who left early not bother showing up for tonight’s Game 7.

First, given his shaky history with the Heat, there are no guarantees that the overpaid Bosh himself will show up for Game 7. And second, how dare he?

I know this is going to sound like pandering from a guy who has spent his columnist career watching Los Angeles fans arrive late and leave early, but there is often zero correlation between a fan’s faith in his team and his decision to leave a game early. Fans aren’t giving up on the players, they’re simply giving up on spending any more of their evening with the players when job and family and sleep responsibilities beckon.

I really like that phrase “zero correlation” (and right on Plaschke for calling out Bosh for Game 7! 0 points? Really?). As long as there is law, there will always be the self-righteousness of those attempting to attain it and the shame of those who cannot, and fandom is no exception. It’s similar to the recent conversations regarding Radical Christianity, where the adjective “really” gets thrown around a lot. If you were “really” a fan, and if you “really” loved your team, you wouldn’t dream of leaving when you did. But when you talk about “zero correlation,” you remove the scale from the equation, acknowledging that life is complex and there are realities more immediate than the game. When life calls, it’s honorable to cease being a rabid fan and attend to things of longer lasting importance.


All this to say: Christianity and sports fandom operate on different dimensions. Jesus doesn’t tell you to stay home if you leave the game early. Your ranking as a Christian isn’t based on your depth of bible knowledge or the size of your charitable gift tax deduction. There is “zero correlation” between your “failure” as a Christian and your identity as a Christian. There’s no trash talk or one-upping with obscure stats, and you don’t have to drop hundreds of dollars on new jerseys every few years as the team’s stars rotate. Heck, you don’t even have to give the all-star a Coke.