Discover more from Red Nation Hoops: A Houston Rockets Newsletter
On my Rockets fandom
For those interested
This is a newsletter about the Houston Rockets, not my personal life. However, the subject of my fandom has been of curiosity to some, so I thought I’d finally address it in long-form. Readers also have a right to know if I have an emotional attachment to the team.
It’s complicated, but in short, I do.
From childhood until 2018, I was a diehard Rockets fan. I watched every game on television and was fortunate enough to attend a lot of them (including some awesome playoff environments). On the walls of my childhood bedroom, there were posters of players, foam fingers, and the regular season game schedule for whatever year it was. Before I created a Twitter account ten years ago, I read aggregated rumors/reports nightly on RealGM and HoopsHype (God bless dial-up internet). To feed my hunger for analysis, I tuned into stations like 610 and 790 on the off chance they were taking a 30-second break from the Texans to talk about the Rockets. I would even read other fans speculate or analyze the team on ClutchFans.net (shouts to Dave Hardisty).
The whole nine yards. I was hooked. I started writing about the team for two reasons:
I grew frustrated by the lack of objective Rockets coverage. There was hardly anyone who cared to talk about the team on a national level when they weren’t playing on national TV. On the local level, the coverage was still suboptimal. In addition to scarcity (relative to the Texans), the coverage was seldom nuanced or granular enough for the true diehards. It’s why ClutchFans was/is so successful.
I’d been around basketball my whole life (father was a coach) and it was devastating to walk away from the sport when it was clear that everyone around me had advanced past me on a talent level. My father, noticing this struggle, suggested writing and coaching as a way to stay involved.
So I wrote and podcasted about the team as a hobby for several years before the opportunity to pursue it as a career became a reality in 2018. I took the money and became a beat reporter. It was beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined doing. But the moment I entered the locker room with that credential around my neck, something changed.
It’s really hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been in that situation, but I’ll try my best. Every year, fans around the NBA become beat reporters for their favorite team. Initially, it’s exhilarating. You’re tasked with interviewing some of the same players and coaches you saw on TV for years. But your job is to provide objective coverage for fans reading and/or listening at home. What do you then do with those feelings of fandom?
There’s two schools of thought:
Bury them. You’re there to cover the team and good coverage will often require hard questions to the interview subjects, not softballs. If you wanted to be a fan, you could’ve stayed at home. Fandom could also be a hindrance to objective analysis if you’re not careful.
Stay true to who you’ve always been. You were a fan before and you’re a fan now. There shouldn’t be any reason for fandom to get in the way of asking hard questions or objective analysis if you staying diligent. Who says fans can’t look at their the teams objectively?
I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. However, you might’ve been able to guess that I chose the first option. It’s what was always modeled for me by the reporters I most respected. Also, I value my objectivity above all else and I feared that my fandom could get in the way of that while entrenched with the team.
It became apparent that I couldn’t handle covering the team on an emotional level if I stayed a fan once I was forced to remain in the Toyota Center after a hard loss for the first time. You know how hard it is to stay in the arena long after every other fan has left and having to ask pissed off players and coaches what went wrong after a loss?
So I kind of turned the fandom off. It was a necessity as much as it was a choice.
I’ve long admired those who have been able to keep their fandom intact while being in the locker room. Point-blank, neutrality is easier. I think this is why most beat reporters find themselves picking that approach. As we often find on the national level, it’s certainly not because they all aspire to be as objective as possible. That coldness is simply helpful to do the job day-in and day-out.
I also didn’t think fans would care about my non-fandom. But as I later found out, they did and they certainly let me hear about it.
Side note: This was on my birthday. It was probably the worst I’ve ever felt after seven years on social media. It was a gut punch to see so many people despise me all at once. It was one of three incidents that completely changed the way I use Twitter.
I should’ve explained why I wasn’t a fan at the time. And I had a feeling the question would come up again when I tweeted this:
So here’s my long-winded answer:
When I stepped away from on-the-ground reporting on the Rockets last year, it took a while for me to lose that stoicism. Part of that was because I foolishly believed it to be an asset. I thought neutrality was a requirement for objectivity. It dawned on me a few months ago that if I thought neutrality was a stupid position to take in political journalism, it’s equally dumb in sports.
Just because you support an institution, doesn’t mean you can’t credibly point out it’s shortcomings. If you have a track record of being able to do so, you should have solid ground to stand on.
And that’s why - in addition to a win total bet I took with Adam Spolane this year - I’ve slowly found myself becoming a fan of the Rockets again. The wager and distance from the team have aided my fandom immensely. If I ever find myself needing to be in a locker room again (some offers have presented themselves), I may go back to that neutrality out of necessity. Hopefully this clears things up. This is a question that’s long dogged me, so it’s nice to have something to reference back to in the future.
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