*Growing up as a basketball fan in New York City during the 1990s I naturally rooted for the New York Knicks. Which meant I naturally hated the Chicago Bulls.
While most people across the country worshipped Michael Jordan and saw him for what he was (the greatest player in the history of basketball), I saw him as the person standing in the way of the Knicks’ championship parade. So I can admit that on more than one occasion I hoped that he would tweak a knee, turn an ankle, sprain a wrist… something.
So the irony is not lost on me that the Bulls are now the team that is facing a superior team with superior talent and having a chance to win only by being extra physical.
This way of operating, taking drastic and perhaps unconventional measures to accomplish a task when it seems you should not be able to do so, usually engenders one of two reactions. First: if the side you support is the one that needs that is undermanned and unlikely to accomplish the task, you generally look at the unconventional tactics as justified. You look at the drastic measures as evidence of your side’s desire to complete the task. As a Knick fan I loved that they played rough. They weren’t thugs, they were tough guys. They didn’t lack skill, they had grit. The other reaction that occurs when the side you support is very talented and likely to accomplish the task. When only one of these sides can win, the unconventional measures become unsportsmanlike; they become a sign of sour grapes; they become an admittance that their side isn’t good enough.
All of this is a matter of perspective. The most important sports contests are still a form of entertainment and so the consequences are rarely serious. But let’s look at these differing perspectives inside the world of politics and history.
The American colonists in the 1770s sought sporadically against the British Empire and encouraged guerilla warfare. Because of our perspective as Americans we view this as gutsy, as emblematic of the American ideal of giving it all we’ve got. The Vietnamese use the same tactics in the 1970s and because of our perspective as the stronger country, we view the tactics with disdain.
This is partly why there is disagreement about the hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis in that Western Asia. The facts change depending on one’s point of view.
I confess that the unconventional tactics are a sign of desperation. But while that sounds like an insult, it is necessarily negative. Desparate teams/countries/armies can be counted on to do whatever they think it takes to accomplish their goals. So of course the Bulls are incorporating rugby tactics into this playoff series. And of course rebels are using children as soldiers in certain African countries.
The key is understanding that desperation. At one point most of us have been the underdog. So when we are on the side of the favorite we shouldn’t be surprised by “unfair” tactics. We should expect them and respond accordingly. Just like the Miami Heat.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]