A Fan's Notes

Go Marlins! Go Panthers! Go Heat! Go to hell.

I am pathological about the Golden State Warriors.
For those who don't know, the Warriors are the NBA franchise that plays in Oakland. They wear blue and gold and, as a rule, they disappoint me. Two seasons ago, when they lost to the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the playoffs, I watched every minute of every game and I howled with such self-serious ardor that my friend Pat could only shake his head and whisper, "Pathetic."

The Warriors are most famous for losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, who wear purple and gold and play their home games on an MGM back lot. A significant portion of my childhood was spent watching the Warriors bow to the Lakers, defeats that hinged on fourth-quarter collapses so dependable that my father would invariably turn to me at some point toward the end and mutter, "Still a lotta time," by which he meant: "Even though we're up by nineteen points with six minutes left, and the Lakers just put in their special Nearsighted Dwarf Unit, we can still lose." Which we did.

I bring this up because I have spent the past three years trying to wean myself of the Warriors and to root instead for Miami's shiny new teams. Adopting a native franchise seemed such an obvious way to identify with my new hometown and to bond with all the other transplants who inhabit South Florida. We were all getting in on the ground floor, after all, that holy playing field from which one can truthfully exult, "I was there when it all started."

Well, I was here when it all started, and what I saw, sadly, was not a city intoxicated by athletics, but one that is wired to a froth on sports steroids. I went to the games and found crowds so zombified by promotion that the relationship between an individual fan and team had become irrelevant. I reviewed the deals our teams have cut and discovered a community so rabid to escape its own woes that it has made gods of greedy entrepreneurs. I hung out with the sports pundits and quickly concluded that most are too busy enjoying the perks to worry about the fans. It's no different in other cities, I suppose. But it's so damn blatant in South Florida, where our three new franchises have been delivered unto us with all the subtlety of a brush-back pitch.

Most Miamians have no earthly idea who actually plays for the Heat, Marlins, or Panthers. Many cannot afford to attend their games. Yet we are all somehow willing to accept that these new teams communicate something profound and positive about our community. Well, I think we're getting duped. Worse, we're duping ourselves. We've let a bunch of salesmen march into our town like the land swindlers of yore and sell us a bogus covenant. They don't want our hearts; they want our wallets. And soon enough they'll get 'em, or "our" teams will be shipped to greener pastures.

Call me a whiner. A pansy. A sonofabitch. Tell me Miami has finally won the Big League Bowl. But I'll tell you what my father would say. He'd take one look at the clock, size up the opponent, and announce, "Still a lotta time."

It didn't take long for me to gauge the level of fan interest in Miami's two newest sports, both of which are brought to us by Blockbuster boss H. Wayne Huizenga. At my first Florida Panthers hockey game, for instance, I ran smack into The Kid.

The Kid's eyes were huge, big blue lasers locked onto the miniature blimp bobbing 40 feet above his head. The blimp was dropping small white envelopes from a mechanical claw strapped to its underbelly. The Kid wanted an envelope. It was a safe bet he'd have killed for one. Down at ground zero of the Miami Arena, the ice was being primed for the second period of the Panthers' game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I was trying to get past The Kid, who'd planted himself in the aisle several rows up from my seat. But every time I tried to edge past him, he threw out his forearm as if to check me into the handrail. Thus protected, he tracked the nervous flutter of a single white envelope, freed from the claw, leaping out of my way only when it became apparent the package was destined to land one section over.

In fact, the blimp had entranced every single person in the building. Ushers. Vendors. Even the guy operating the device via remote control.

"You ever been to a hockey game before?" I asked my companions when I got back to my seat.

"Uh-oh! Look, the blimp's gonna run straight into the scoreboard!" one responded thoughtfully.

"Look, that fat guy knocked over his own kid to get the prize," the other added.

It was useless. I could not float. I had no mechanical claw strapped to my underbelly. I was no competition for the blimp.

Nor, for that matter, are the Panthers themselves. And if it isn't the blimp, it's a fleet of geeks in jumpsuits firing T-shirts into the stands. Or a costume contest. Or the Rolling Stones at 100 decibels. Or one of those giveaways wherein fans humiliate themselves for free luggage.

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