I have to hand it to Bill Schoening. His captivating musical account of the annual “Rodeo Road Trip” has inspired me to do a little of my own writing on the subject. I would like to start with a topic that is near and dear to all sports fans: heckling.
I get heckled more than any other San Antonio Spur.
I am taunted, teased, and insulted by opposing fans, their wives, and their children. Sometimes, even the popcorn vendors get in on the act.
My tormentors always seem to pick the game’s quietest moment to unleash their bouquet of verbal abuse; in between free throws, during a time out, while I’m inbounding the ball.
Each time, while I’m tempted to abort my inbound pass to Tony Parker and instead, turn around and rifle the ball at the heckler’s head, I defer to common sense and just take it. Hey, they paid for their tickets. They have the right to act however they want, right? Even if it means blowing out my candle to make their own shine brighter (insert slowly rolling tear on cheek here).
The thesis of this piece begs the obvious question: why do I get heckled so much? I’d like to think I’m a good guy who plays hard and is about the right things on and off the court. Or maybe I’m way off with that self-given synopsis of myself?
After some serious soul searching, it came to me. Opposing fans don’t hate me because I’m a bad guy. They heckle me because I’m an easy target. I never considered this to be the case until I went through the typical subject matter of opposing fans’ taunts.
1. My Shoes - I had the fortune of being sponsored by New Balance for two glorious seasons. Here’s the problem: New Balance stopped sponsoring basketball players almost three years ago. So while the other two or three players in the NBA wearing New Balance switched to Nike or Adidas or British Knights, I was left in the proverbial shoebox. Nobody wanted me.
To this day, I am still wearing New Balance basketball sneakers I have left over from the “good old days”. I’m down to my last four or five pairs and have no clue what I’m going to do when they run out. I even called New Balance in the hopes that they would send me some more. They said no. I then scoured the internet and came up emptier than Leonardo Dicaprio at the Oscars. In a last ditch attempt, I found one pair in my size on E-Bay but they were purple. The scrutiny from Coach Pop wouldn’t be worth it... But they are soooooo comfortable! The point is, I am obviously the only person wearing New Balance basketball sneakers in the NBA, possibly the world. Apparently that’s NOT COOL.
2. My Last Name - [Insert joke here.] Keep in mind that I’ve been hearing that one since second grade. There is nothing more annoying then seeing someone who thinks he’s the first one to ever make a joke connecting my last name’s phonetic likeness to another really funny word.
3. My Red Hair - Red heads are a dying breed... especially in the NBA. I think we’re down to me, Brian Scalabrine, and kind of Blake Griffin. By the way, thank you South Park for the “Kick a Ginger” episode.
4. My Paleness - If I hear one more taunt about how I need to get some sun I’m going to lose it like John McEnroe circa 1981 Wimbledon. It doesn’t make any sense! Think about it. I have very pale skin. People like me generally do whatever we can to avoid the sun... because we have pale skin. Having pale skin makes us prime candidates for a common and serious sun-caused disease called melanoma. Why would I want to get more sun?
5. My leaping ability (or lack thereof) - Hecklers are quick to point out that I can’t jump. They think such verbal daggers are an insulting blow to my ego. Quite the contrary. I take it as a compliment. The simple fact that I can succeed in the NBA while very rarely getting any higher than 10 inches above court level is a tribute to my basketball ability. That’s not to say I won’t make the ESPN Top 10 as an ornament in a Blake Griffin montage from time to time. But I’ve generally learned to adapt my game.
I understand that heckling is a part of sports. For whatever reason, some fans find fulfillment through taunting people they don’t know anything about. People who in all likelihood, the heckler would probably really like if they ever did get to know them.
But hey, I’m not one to talk. The verbal assault I laid on The Rock for stealing Stone Cold Steve Austin’s belt at Monday Night Raw in 1997 was hardly polite.
And The Rock doesn’t even wear New Balance.