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To Boo, or Not to Boo?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had multiple conversations with friends about booing. These conversations culminated with a discussion about Cleveland fans’ decision to boo LeBron James and the lousy Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Simply put, I’m all for booing if the situation is right.

Allow me to explain why with a few examples from the 2010 NBA and NHL Playoffs.

Obviously (as noted in my Alexander the Goat article a few weeks back), I believed the Washington Capitals deserved to be serenaded with boos. I would have even tolerated litter on the ice. Yes, throwing trash onto the ice is childish, illegal, and dangerous, but all three adjectives describe how most professional athletes behave in society anyway, so have at it. (Just kidding…about tolerating things being thrown onto the ice, not how athletes behave.) The Capitals deserved their fans’ disgust. Instead, they received a round of applause. Shame on you, Capital fans.

Yes, losing happens; it’s a part of sports. However, losing isn’t what requires booing, it’s the frequency and severity of losing that makes booing necessary. The Capitals have shriveled up and died in the playoffs for three straight years. When that happens, you boo…loudly, and you don’t stop until you’ve chased them off the ice. I even booed the Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin from my couch…and I’m a Flyers fan. The same formula should be applied to the New Jersey Devils. Another example of a regular season bully that goes M.I.A. come playoff time.

In the NBA playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks come to mind. No one expected the Hawks to beat the Orlando Magic in round two. However, Atlanta fans (and all basketball fans) were appalled at the lack of effort and intensity demonstrated by the Hawks. After being blown out by more than 40 points in the series opener, Atlanta responded by getting trounced in their next three outings and was swept from the playoffs. Sweeps happen. Getting beaten by a better team happens. Even getting blown out by a superior opponent is understandable, but to exert no effort and zero intensity is unacceptable, especially in the playoffs. The Hawks don’t really have a fan base, but the few fans they do have should still be booing.

As for the Cavaliers being booed by their own fans in what could have been LeBron’s final home game? I loved it. LeBron has held those fans hostage for the last two years. They’re scared to death about whether he’ll leave or stay. On Tuesday night, LeBron and the Cavaliers were so putrid that Cleveland fans finally stood up and said, ENOUGH! Even great players need to be told they stink from time to time. By booing LeBron, Cleveland may have pushed him away for good. If that’s the case, good for them. Any player that can’t take some boos, especially after a lousy game like that, doesn’t deserve the blind devotion that Cleveland has given to LeBron. Given is the key word. LeBron is a fantastic player, but he hasn’t earned anything yet. He has one NBA Finals appearance, no wins and zero championships. At this point, he owes Cleveland more than they owe him. Booing his lackadaisical effort on Tuesday night was the right call-we obviously want you to stay, but this is unacceptable. Cleveland’s season isn’t over, but sometimes a single game deserves a chorus of boos. Cleveland fans hit all the right notes on Tuesday night.

Let’s break it down in real world terms. If I have a great year at work, everyone loves me, and then I go on a two week stretch where I’m as worthless as Sammy Sosa without ‘roids, you better believe someone is going to say something. Why are fans supposed to ignore a sloppy two week stretch (at the most important time of the year nonetheless)? Because the team gave us an enjoyable regular season? No thank you. The greatest thing about “sports” is its simplicity. Only one thing matters; championships. Fans aren’t rooting for a rosy regular season. We want titles. Obviously, the season(s) building up to that title are appreciated and celebrated, but once a team gets stagnant in that pursuit (Capitals, Atlanta Hawks), fans get fed up.

The Philadelphia Eagles epitomize stagnant. Philly fans loved the early 2000’s as Donovan McNabb and the birds rose to prominence. We didn’t boo when the Giants beat us in the Divisional Round or when St. Louis squeaked out a win in the Conference Championship. Losing is an integral part of winning. However, once the Eagles dropped three consecutive NFC Championships (two to lesser opponents), the natives got restless. A half-decade later, we’re still restless. The Eagles have been running in place since the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX.

To further prove that losing doesn’t always deserve booing, let’s look at the Philadelphia Flyers and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Flyers were down 0-3 in a seven game series to the Boston Bruins. They’ve since battled back to tie the series at three. Let’s pretend the Flyers were swept by the Bruins in four games, the final loss coming at the Wachovia Center. I’m almost certain the Philadelphia crowd would have applauded the Flyers. They were overmatched, shorthanded, and battling injuries that plagued them all year. A sweep would have been disheartening, but no one could question the Flyers effort.

The same is true for the Thunder. In their first playoff appearance, the young Thunder went head to head to with the powerful Lakers and extended the series to six games. The Thunder played hard and attacked the favored Lakers, but still fell in defeat. Losing in the 2010 playoffs was an early step in building a successful team that should compete for the NBA title for years to come. Did the players want to lose? Of course not. Kevin Durant shrugged off talk of moral victories immediately after the series ended. When asked how he felt, he responded, “Like I just lost a playoff series.” I’m sure Durant understands getting postseason experience (even losing) is part of the process, but no player with aspirations for greatness would accept that as an excuse for defeat. The Thunder faithful clearly understood the situation. After game six the Thunder were treated to a rousing and well-deserved ovation from their crowd. The fans appreciated the team’s development over the past year and thanked them for their efforts and success. Now, if OKC is still getting bumped in the first round two years from now, you better believe those fans will start booing, and so they should.

Too conclude, I don’t have a problem with fans not booing. To boo or not to boo is a choice that every fan can make. However, if a multi-millionaire athlete isn’t giving his best effort in the playoffs; you better believe I’m going to let him hear about it. After all, I get scolded at work if I misread a zip code.

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