N(ot) B(ad) A(dvice): Work-Life Balance And What Is The Meaning Of True NBA Fandom

Welcome back to another dispatch of N(ot) B(ad) A(dvice), the advice column made to answer your deepest basketball queries and quandaries as much as affirm you are on the right track in life. Because everyone forgets life is A PROBLEM 😤 😤 😤.

This week, someone searching for meaning after no longer pursuing the path they thought they were on for life and what NBA player they can compare to for comfort. Plus, what does it mean to be an NBA fan and the moral dilemmas of dropping an accidental auto-draft pick in fantasy.

If you have NBA questions you want answered in the future, email them to annlandryfields@gmail.com.

2020 was quite a whirlwind. After all the pandemic wildness tossed things up into the air, I have settled in a new city, I’m married, and have a new career path.

The career I’d been on track with for all of my 20s has nearly completely faded from view, and while my new role carries over some of the same responsibilities and skills, I am going through a bit of an identity crisis as I am not sure if this is something I’m passionate about or will ever be good at. I’m 35 and suddenly in a role I never expected to pursue with no sense of driving purpose to anchor me and help push forward successfully. I know I am lucky in These Times to have any job at all, but there’s a struggle at play between mourning the path I loved that is now behind me and growing into the one I am now on.

My question to you is: which NBA player does my situation most resemble, and what advice do you have for me in terms of both finding myself and finding career success?

U-Don’t-Miss Haslem

Admittedly, U-Don’t-Miss, I have been thinking about your question all week, probably because it exists in the intersection of several themes in life most of us are obsessed with, even if we don’t want to be. The emphatic demand to find and do what you love, the instruction to keep at that thing for an unspecified amount of time/forever in order to find success, and the fear behind it all that if you deviate, you will fail, and only have yourself to blame. I am all for accountability, now more than ever, but Jesus, remember the book (and its subsequent movement) The Secret? Basically if you had an idle thought not full-throttle toward success, that was enough to topple your dreams.

I think the thing that gets forgotten in mantras like the power of positive thought is that negative thoughts are not inherently tied to failure, or lack of confidence, or self-sabotage, sometimes they just happen. If you live an examined life, you are going to feel bad about yourself during parts of it. That means you’re doing good!

Jobs are identity forming. There are obvious ties to capitalism there but beyond that I mean they are a place you go, or a thing you do, that you derive worth from. Maybe because of skill, or the full-body empty-head feeling of pouring yourself into something, finishing it, and the quiet reward of that. Maybe it’s just money. Some very fulfilled people I know have jobs that pay their bills and give them the life they want and that’s enough, it isn’t their passion, they love other things, and they are happy — full-disclosure I am not one of those people, perhaps neither are you.

The find what you love mantra comes with caveats. NBA players obviously love basketball, but I very much doubt running the same drill for hours, restrictive diets, restrictive time of their own, undergoing physiotherapy treatments after every practice and game, answering the same five questions from media every other day doesn’t get to feel like work. Even the relative freedom of a game, compared to all that, can sometimes be just brutal. When your whole life is geared toward a finite window of 5-7 career years, if you’re lucky, you certainly have to love something deeply to do it, but the work eclipses that love more often than not.

The find what you love mantra also always seems to work best at its opposite spectrum points. At one end, basketball players (or doctors, a palaeontologist, architects, teachers), people whose jobs are, by virtue of time, specificity, and obsession (also talent, access, opportunity), very much them. At the other end, the people good at finding one specific skillset in that universe of a job and clocking in and out of it to their real lives. The middle part of that spectrum is where most people sit. It’s where I’d place artists, writers, musicians, or the people who have left what they figured was their career for something else, plus people who work multiple jobs in order to live and support others and who haven’t been afforded the same opportunities due to circumstance or upheaval and still shoulder the same aspirational burdens because they’re human.

It’s clear in how we could digress all day that there’s a lot here, so to answer your “real” question I’ll apply that same spectrum to basketball.

There are players, like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, who exist at the extreme end. Who, in their brains, live in a permanent galaxy view of basketball, it’s every nuance and play unfolding at once, who have enough skill to historically adjust the trajectory of the sport. Then there are players, like Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, DeMar DeRozan, who have developed a specific skillset within that galaxy — passing, defense, scoring — that allows them to thrive, but clock in and out.

If you are in the middle for a while, that’s fine. Gobert had to regroup after he lovingly laid his hands upon all those microphones and recorders and Jokic regroups after every game, I’m sure, in probably a hot sauna with some weird euro techo blasting and he feels great about it. But when you want to edge toward the end where you can keep a handle on what you love, even if your job isn’t to be a lunatic about it anymore, zero in on one element. Is it a hobby? Could be. Is it a whole new other small job? Maybe. Is it helping people going through similar transitions? That might be nice. Anyway, go with DeRozan, who in that new Spurs change of scenery has started driving left where he used to only go right. He’s improving, he’s happy, he loves what he’s doing but at the end of the day he takes himself to heart.

I know it’s not popular to say in Raptors circles these days, but caring about the individual players on the team is a big part of why I watch every game, buy the Raptors merchandise, and have season seat tickets. Without the ability to watch games live, I joined Twitter to try and find some community around the Raptors.

As the team has struggled this season, the toxicity has only gotten worse. I find myself watching each game with dread hoping that these players, trying to navigate what is probably the most difficult situation of their playing careers, can appease this fanbase that has largely taken them for granted after winning them a championship.

Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but after being there live to see Fred and Pascal win a G League Championship, it meant so much more when they both excelled on the biggest stage in the NBA Finals. Now the popular take of the day is to trade Pascal and Fred for whatever star player would get us closer to a championship… For whatever reason, it is not seen as a credible basketball opinion or counter to the point of being a fan.

So, what is the point of being a fan? I was there the night Pascal Siakam was drafted. I was there for his first game against the Pistons. I was there when he and Fred won a G League Championship and went back for the home opener the next season to get the replica ring. I was there all throughout the bench mob season and for Pascal’s ascendancy to starter and MIP in year 3. I was there to see him have one of the best NBA Finals debuts in league history. I was there when they raised a championship banner and Pascal and Fred continued their growth into star players. And it’s people like me or anyone else who cares deeply about this team that aren’t the fans?

I don’t get it. What is the point of being a fan of a basketball team if not rooting for the players on the team?

Beat Down in Greektown

I can’t really think of anything else as ingrained, intractable and inarguable as one’s own sports fandom. Even in politics, probably the closest second, you can at least argue with someone with a different leaning about, like, policy, and stand to have a conversation where one of you might shift toward the other.

So first, Beat Down, you make an excellent point. The Toronto Raptors are going through a difficult start in what has been a strange season for the team thus far, and it’s fair to say that difficult has been absorbed by the fanbase. It’s frustrating to watch a team you love struggle any time, and there have been various unique problems to polarize people’s perspective on the team further. Terence Davis, after allegations of violent domestic assault, remains with the team and has gone from discreetly sitting to playing meaningful minutes without comment from the front office. This has removed a lot of the joy and effervescence around the team experience for many, many women, who view the silence as complicity, if not an outright condoning of Davis’s behaviour. There’s the feeling of what are Toronto’s future plans, now that the Giannis Antetokounmpo sweepstakes are over and there is, of course, the losing record.

The difference between you and fans who clamored for a James Harden trade, any trade, is, well, hardly anything. Your fandom is rooted in a passionate support for growth and process, for the long game, in loyalty and renewal and yes, sentimentality. Trade supporters, or anybody very vocal about ditching Pascal Siakam, are more concerned with competitiveness, with the team’s immediate trajectory, with winning. But it’s all still rooted in the very nonsensical and psychologically unhinged passion of fandom. I say that in the best way.

Fandom is essentially loving something. And like in life, there are better and less toxic ways to go about loving things. Do I think some of the most toxic people in any fanbase are probably 15 year olds with a Twitter account? Sure. But what I’ve also learned is that it is essentially pointless to try and argue fandom.

The point of being a fan is up to you. You decide your own terms. Those terms can also include not engaging with fans so far away from your understanding of the experience that interacting with them is like speaking another language underwater.

I made a gaffe in an 8 team fantasy league and accidentally autopicked Hassan Whiteside midway through the draft. I’m still kicking myself for having highlighted him at all (he was in my ‘DO NOT DRAFT’ column in my spreadsheet). Bigs like Thomas Bryant and Lauri Markkanen were still on the board and those studs can routinely go 30 mins per night. After 3 nights of action with my guy Hassan, he’s barely been upright for 15.

It’s a points league, so I’m not desperate to cover hard-to-come-by categories like blocks, even though they are weighted heavily (same weight as a 3 pointer in this league). And my league has some smart cookies in it; I can’t see myself coercing someone into falling for a backup Center in Sacramento, and giving me anything worthwhile.

Because this is only an 8 team league, I’m tempted to dump his ass for the waiver wire. Starters like Evan Fournier are just sitting there. Fournier is playing twice as many minutes and can routinely bring in more fantasy points per night simply because he plays.

The only thing that’s keeping me from pushing the button is a faint hope for more minutes, and the realization that at a 92% rostered rate on Yahoo, he’d be the most-owned name to enter our waiver wire by about 10%.

Would cutting him be a smart, basketball hipster move? Or would I be unloading my big guy prematurely? Is there any hope for my autodraft blunder?


Salty About Sac-Town

Full disclosure: You have potentially already dropped Whiteside because his rostered rate is now at 62% however, he did just post 11 points, eight rebounds and two assists in a season-high 24 minute performance.

I have one friend who has a secret spreadsheet full of genius mathematical algorithms of their own making and who deploys it year after year to clean up in highly competitive fantasy leagues, and another who drafted a team for the first time based on smiles and won. And once I half auto-drafted during a Cat Power concert and came away with, probably during the song ‘Ruin’, Kelly Olynyk. What I mean is what you already know, Salty, that fantasy can be a crapshoot.

You’re in a small league so I say if you still have Whiteside you don’t have to feel bad about dropping him. Someone will probably pick him up for a few games because that is one of the thrills of the fantasy experience, but they will probably drop him, so you’ll be able to get him back eventually if your heart still pines for him. As for other bigs, if you want to stay in Sac-Town, Richaun Holmes, probable to return, has been putting up consistent numbers a little more reliable than Whiteside’s Hale-Bopping, and Montrezl Harrell, if he’s free to pick up because he had a bad start, is beginning to even out.