Tribalism’s Easy Allure: Brooklyn Does Not Like Toronto Anymore (in the NBA)

Tribalism in sports is a curious thing; it is especially so in professional sports, where as I’ve noted, we encounter:

[T]he mystery of how millions of sports fans, here in the US, and all over the world, develop long-standing, passionately defended and articulated, emotionally infused, personal allegiances with large, profit-seeking, corporate entities, an enterprise that should be–but most definitely isn’t–akin to finding someone to cheer for in a Ford vs. Chrysler encounter.

Tribalism in sports is a much written about and theorized phenomenon; I won’t offer further analysis here (for the time being.) I do want to point to an interesting occurrence of it this week–one of personal interest.

As NBA fans are well aware, the first round of the 2014 playoffs are underway. In the East, Washington and Miami are already through to the next round. Meanwhile, the score in Brooklyn and Toronto’s clash reads 3-2 for the latter; Brooklyn need to win tonight to force the series into a seventh game this Sunday. Thus far, despite meaning to watch the Nets in action against the Raptors I have been unable to; personal and professional commitments of all stripes have conspired to keep me away from the television.

But I’m almost certain to watch tonight’s sixth game, and what’s more, I’m itching to see the Nets thrash the Raptors. A plain win won’t do; a shellacking is called for. What’s up Doc?

Well, I’m a little ticked off at Toronto. The Raptors fans have used the Brooklyn chant to taunt the team, its general manager Masai Ujiri, at a a kickoff rally in Toronto, pumped up the crowd with a loud “Fuck Brooklyn” and lastly some Toronto fans have even desecrated the Brooklyn Bridge. Fuck Brooklyn. Not Fuck the Brooklyn Nets.  Graffiti on our bridge. Yeah, my feelings are hurt. Sniff. They haven’t been assuaged by going online to read more about the Toronto chants and Ujiri’s outburts, and finding, unsurprisingly, hordes of Toronto fans  echoing Ujiri. (And on buttons too!)

Toronto is one of my favorite cities in North America. I have visited it a few times–though it’s been too long since my last visit–and have always enjoyed its cosmopolitanism, its multi-ethnic food, its intellectual life, the list goes on. I’ve been to some great parties in Toronto; met some wonderful people; seen some great sights.

But right now, I feel like giving Toronto the finger, of sending a few ‘Fuck you’s up north, across the border–where, like any other American, they won’t need a visa–straight up the CN Tower, to be emblazoned by klieg lights across the Canadian sky. Are they all like their mayor?

My reaction is juvenile, of course, as was Ujiri’s provocation. But there is no denying the surge of irritated defensiveness I felt on reading the relevant news and viewing the videos; I identify with my city, my home for over ten years, and have become susceptible to provocateurs who seek to get under my skin by dissing it.

Of course, they weren’t dissing it. They were dissing the team. Note that at various points in my post, rather than using the terms “Brooklyn Nets” and “Toronto Raptors” I have simply gone with “Brooklyn” and “Toronto”. It is this easy contraction, this easy conflation of the city and the team, that does considerable work for the professional franchise’s marketers. Ujiri knew this too, of course; which is why he didn’t simply say “Fuck the Nets!

And it works. Read the comments on this page and you’ll see how.

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