Are You Not Entertained?

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

I am a Detroit Pistons fan. It should be said that I am an incredibly casual Detroit Pistons fan, and while I followed the team closely during its glory years in the ’00s, these days I rarely go more in-depth than watching their (exceedingly rare) national broadcasts, checking scores and reading Andre Drummond features that occasionally cross my Twitter feed.

This is only to say that I am explicitly not someone to offer any sort of depth or nuance in my opinion of the modern NBA. I watch the later playoff rounds, and generally know which players are exceedingly good or outright trash, but any sort of in-depth knowledge I have on the league predates Steph Curry’s time in the league. When it comes to watching pro basketball, I am all feeling and no head these days.

Which is why I love Detroit’s trade for Blake Griffin. I really love it. Blake Griffin is a good basketball dude who does fun basketball stuff, and is now going to do that fun basketball stuff for my team. That’s something I will enjoy, regardless of any long-term consequences. Ultimately, sports are the circuses part of the equation in keeping the populace happy, and I’m pretty hyped for my circus to have better entertainers.

Because it’s seemingly the only thing written anymore, most of the reaction to the trade has centered on its long-term impact on the franchise, questioning how the large salaries of Griffin and Drummond could hamstring the team moving forward. I understand the temptation to play armchair GM, and I’ve been guilty of it myself in my fandom. I get it. It can make fans feel more invested and bring some semblance of meaning to the shittier aspects of caring about a bunch of dudes throwing a ball through the basketball ring. When your team sucks, it can be comforting to ritualize it as some sort of cleansing or renewal.

This takes us further and further from the core value of watching sports, though, which is to be entertained. The reason we pay to watch professionals, instead of heading down to the rec center to watch city league chumps for free, is that they are capable of doing cool and interesting things. There is an expectation that perhaps we’ll see something we haven’t before, or at least the game be played at a high level. In that vein, the worst thing that a team can do is to cease being entertaining – to perform at some level that is less worthy of our limited time and treasure.

Early in the wilderness journey that the Pistons have taken for the last decade, I myself succumbed to the temptation to hope they might lose. As the product loses its entertainment value, consuming it becomes less joyful and more like work. I justified the work in hoping it would have a payoff in the form of some superstar atop the draft. But as the process played out, my fandom became poor. It was the high that comes from pulling the slot machine handle, rather than the sublime feeling that an excellent sporting performance can deliver. And as that high became harder to recreate through years of losing, I found other outlets.

Thus, fandom that was once rabid became exceedingly casual, to the point where I knew less what actual results were than what they might seem to be. “I think they’ve lost a bunch lately,” I’d tell my dad when he’d ask how they were doing. “Pretty sure they beat someone decent last week,” I’d think, rather than take the 20 seconds to look up recent results.

All of this is to be incredibly long-winded in saying that I am fucking hyped that my favorite team might actually matter. They may be good, and they may not. They might have a bunch of old ass dudes who cannot do any good basketball things come 2021. I don’t care about 2021, because for the first time in ages I care about now. The Detroit Pistons are not a rag-tag collection of assets built up by dealing mid-first rounders who haven’t panned out to be much for moderately useful players. They have two All-Star caliber big dudes who may or may not complement each other. They have no room to improve upon All-League In His Own Mind point guard Reggie Jackson, who is noteworthy only insomuch as he is somehow more arrogant than the actual Reggie Jackson. Doesn’t matter.

The last time anything about the Pistons was noteworthy, George W. Bush hadn’t conned people into thinking he was a just a cute old dude who liked to paint, most of us were rocking flip phones and NBA stars weren’t showing up at Fashion Week en masse. It’s been a long time since this team could do anything worth caring about. I am fucking ready to be entertained.

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