That Winning Feeling: The Investment of Being a Sports Fan

Being a fan of a team is an investment. The transaction of money may not be involved, but being a fan of a sports team is one of our biggest investments.

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to focus on college basketball, yet any sports can be applied to this.

The way you become a fan varies. For some, you're born and bred on a certain team. Whether your parents went to school there or being a fan runs in your genes, you bleed a certain color from the time you're born. Others are fans based on where they went to school. You become apart of that legacy, your name forever being associated with that program. The same goes for fans who were born in the area and have found their spot in the community by rooting for the home team. And for some, you've just hopped on the bandwagon at some point along the way. There's no shame, just as long as you don't jump off when things get tough.

Once your investment has been made, it's not easy to withdraw. You're in for life. Or, again, you're one of those bandwagon people jumping from investment to investment. Don't be one of those people. You'll lose a lot of money along the way.

Your heart and soul goes into your team. You'll probably never step foot on the court and play, but you feel as if you have some deep connection to what's happening. You may not be able to have any control what-so-ever on the outcome of the game (unless you work at Buffalo Wild Wings), but that winning feeling is indescribable, just as the losing feeling is devastating, as if you were right there on the court when it happened. The later was certainly the case for UNC fans last year when, he-who-shall-not-be-named, nailed that shot we try not to think about.

Being a fan doesn't stop at rooting for your team. If your team isn't playing, you're rooting for the next best thing: the team playing your rival. Duke fans suddenly became Gonzaga's biggest fans last Monday night. That's how in works. If you're a Duke fan, you root for anyone playing UNC, and vice versa. If you're a Duke or UNC fan, you root for anyone playing Kentucky, unless it's your tobacco road rival, then you hope somehow both teams lose. Kentucky fans root against anyone playing Louisville, Purdue against Indiana, the list goes on. Whatever the case, your investment is still there, and you want your enemy's stock to drop.

The emotional connection we have for our team is funny when you think about it. Most of us have never met any of the players before, or probably never will. We know what we know about them through what we've read and what we've seen on the court. We don't know what their lives are like when they take off that uniform. They have no idea who we are, yet we feel like those players are our family, our brothers, our children, our boys. We go through the highs and the lows with them, and we share pain and joy. We watch them grow along the years (hopefully), the connection between us growing deeper and deeper. 

On Monday night, I found myself, along with others I'm sure, praying for a win, praying for that championship. We weren't asking for ourselves. We aren't the ones who get the trophies. We were praying for our guys on the court. We were asking God to give them this one. 

Typically, I wouldn't ask God for something such as a basketball win. It's petty, if you think about it, and a little messed up. We weren't praying for a win. We were praying that our boys get their redemption that they so desperately wanted, that they not feel that same feeling of agonizing defeat, that they not come up short yet again, that their hearts not break into a million pieces, that they finally have their moment they've worked so hard for all year. We were praying for more than a championship.

We won more than a championship.

A lot can change in a year.

For those who aren't die-hard fans, you'll never understand. You think we're crazy, I know. "It's just a game!" You couldn't be more wrong.

We all remember a year ago. That moment when the shot went through, confetti hitting our boys, confetti that wasn't falling for them. Sure, there's no way we felt the same pain they did, but it was damn near close. We saw the pictures, that famous one of Theo Pinson with the towel over his head. We saw the post-game interviews along side the celebration from the other team. We saw the tear stains that coated the players cheeks, the quiver in their voices. As fans, tears fell for us too, but not because we had lost. Because our boys had lost. Because they were in pain.

There's a big difference in those photos. One of Clemson, the other UNC. I watched a video the other day. The redemption video. Hicks buried his head in the shoulder of his teammate, Kennedy Meeks took Justin Jackson in an embrace as he cried, Theo Pinson joined them, forming a circle around each other as they shared the same disbelief and pride. Roy Williams put the net around Hick's net, the same guy who blamed himself for last year's loss. I swallowed back my own tears as I watched. My boys...they did it.

I look back on this year, on my team. My investment is UNC, and that stock has been up and down. The 2016-2017 season was the year we dominated in Maui, having people call us the best team in the nation. This was the year Theo Pinson got hurt again, missing half of the season, only to trade places with Kenny Williams at almost the exact same time. This was the year we played the best basketball game of the year against Kentucky, only to be over shadowed by their win. We lost to Georgia Tech on the opening of the regular season, then stomped NC State by 51. We barely escaped Clemson, then went on to beat the powerhouses that were Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Virginia. We lost to Duke at Cameron Indoor, only to win at home where the ceiling was the roof.

There was doubt for this team, fans included. Duke was scary preseason, and the worst possible scenario out there was 2015: Duke won, 2016: UNC Lost, 2017: Duke won. The hope was always there - the hope that we'd return to that night. That was always the goal. There was doubt, but one thing was forgotten: our bags were different.

Some say this year's team wasn't as good as last years. You may be right. No one can ever fill the spots Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson left. In 2016, we blew past everyone in the tournament by at least 16-points. Our ride was fairly easy. We lost. In 2017, we played the toughest competition we could have played. Our ride was a challenge, and was possibly the hardest. Yes, it was ugly wins, but the tournament is survive and advance, and survive we did. We won.

If you're not a sports fan, you don't get it, and you never will. The emotional connection we have for a team is one that can't be put into words. That winning feeling can't be explained. Neither can that losing one. When we make the investment of being a fan, we're joining a community, a culture. Turning on the game takes away from all of the other worries. We cheer for them, we lecture them through the television screen. This is our team, our investment. It's a part of our lives.

I'll never forget that night UNC redeemed themself and won the championship. I'll watch that video over and over again. It'll go down in history as one of the best redemption stories ever told. Not because we lost the year before and then won, but because of the way we lost, and because of the way we won.

That emotional connection is deep, for all fans. Duke fans were a little salty the next day, and they made goals to crush us next season. NC State fans were equally salty, but remained hopeful with their new coach entering the program. Kentucky recycled some of their players to the NBA, only to reload next year as potentially the number one over all team. Their teams didn't win, but they felt a type of emotion too on Monday night because of who they're fans of. It was just a much different emotion from ours.

We saw the video of Kentucky players bawling after their buzzer beater loss against UNC in the Elite Eight. We saw the video of Kentucky fans, cheering one minute, to falling on the floor as the win was swept out from under them.

When you make the investment of being a fan, you're signing up for more than just a team to root for. You're joining a community of people. You're signing up for an emotional adventure full of highs and lows. You're becoming a part of the family. Whether you're Clemson football fans, Golden State fans, Carolina Panther fans, or UNC fans, you've made your investment. The stakes are made. This makes that winning feeling all the more indescribable. 

My investment of being a UNC fan paid off Monday night.

Redemption is sweet.