*What with baseball’s wrapping up and hockey’s heating up, feels like the season to put this post from the spring of 2014 (with a few updates) back in the line-up! The Red Sox won the World Series that previous fall – and right at the time, the LA Kings were en route to winning their second Stanley Cup! I’ve always enjoyed connecting through a shared love of sports – and over these last months, connections have been so important, however we come by them!
I just love what you learn from traveling!
I had a fantastic time in Boston last October doing all kinds of terrific touristy things. But the big surprise? Despite my US history knowledge, it took journeying to this storied city to learn that Founding Father George Washington was a serious Red Sox fan. Who knew?! Old George was not a great fan of monarchs. But since he brought Boston luck in the World Series – and since there’s a huge Game 7 tonight in the Stanley Cup Playoffs – I’m kind of hoping he might make an exception for my LA Kings!
Hm. My LA Kings? My Kings? Well, whenever they take the ice at Staples Center, the announcer says they’re mine. I know how they say there’s no “I” in “team”. But I also know there’s something compelling about taking that next step in a sports team relationship and becoming a “we.”
I do consider myself a “we” with the Kings. It’s been a solid relationship for over 20 years – one that’s thrilled me and inspired me to laugh, cry and high-five people I don’t even know. But not everyone’s ready to make that kind of commitment. Some never get deeper than a casual relationship with a franchise – or they only own it when a team is successful. We won. They lost. And I get that reluctance. We’ve all been hurt before.
But relationships can run much deeper. For good pal Dedrie, passion for the Kings runs verrry deep! Once, while performing carpool mom duties, Dedrie refused to let a kid into the car until she removed her Anaheim Ducks jersey. And regardless of your age or the cuteness of your Halloween costume, if you have the nerve to stand on Dedrie’s front porch and disrespect her Kings decor, don’t even think about getting candy.
I totally get that too.
Dear friend Judy’s relationship with the Buffalo Sabres went all the way back to childhood. By day, she’d bake cookies and write letters for her two favorite players (“Dear Mr. Foligno and Mr. Ramsey”) – then at night, she’d snuggle deep under the covers to muffle the sound of the little radio she’d use when game time was after bedtime.
My own first sports relationship goes back as far as I can remember. Before jumping on the Kings bandwagon during their 1993 run at the Cup, I was strictly a Cal Bears Basketball fan, attending games with my folks and brothers from the age of two right through my years as a UC Berkeley student in the 80’s. Being a Cal fan had its thrills in the old Pac 8 days – but there were lean times too. Mum will say that back in the day, she saw some of the finest college basketball teams ever assembled! It’s just they were mostly the visiting ones. But that didn’t matter to the professors and their families in our section who remained dedicated to their Bears through thick, thin – and thinner.
Like me with the Kings and Cal, there was room in my big brother Rich’s heart for multiple teams! He was fiercely dedicated to the Chicago Blackhawks and Seattle Seahawks, and he had the same deep-seated love for Cal – until he moved north and became a Beaver at Oregon State University, after which the Bears took a back deep-seat.
Rich always made sure the relationship with his Beavs was clear to all. During my Cal days, I’d visit him when the Bears made their basketball swing through Oregon, and Rich would mercilessly get in my face – and anyone’s – in support of his alma mater. For one game, he adorned a baseball cap with a stuffed beaver that appeared to be consuming a tinier stuffed (and decapitated…) bear – again, just in case there was any confusion over who he was backing.
Sibling harmony was always restored though when Rich and I joined forces to root against the Oregon Ducks (I seem destined never to support teams represented by anything with wings). Although eight years and many miles separated Rich and me, basketball (and later, hockey) always brought us together.
In case this behavior appears odd or eccentric, I’ll restate my belief that our genes are entirely to blame. The branch of the family tree from which I didn’t fall far includes: Mum, a Blackhawk fan for over 75 years; her dad, who helped instill that Blackhawk passion; her mom, who adopted the LA Lakers after moving west; and last, but definitely not least, Mum’s baseball-lovin’ aunt Martha!
Great Aunt Martha had a lovely spirit and huge devotion to the San Francisco Giants! Well into her 70’s, she and husband Bill attended home games in Candlestick Park and traveled to out-of-town ones with the booster club. If we accidentally stopped by on a game day, we could still count on her hospitality – just not on her attention.
In the final months of what had been a long and active life, Aunt Martha was confined to her bed. I’d stop in and bring her news of the outside world, and on one visit (back in the 90’s), after my customary wait in the living room while she put on lipstick and fixed her hair, I took a seat beside her and, after a little small talk, broke the important story that the Giants had just acquired Darryl Strawberry.
“Oh, I know,” Aunt Martha replied. “It will be a good deal if they can just keep him clean.”
I should have known. Although no longer able to cheer them on in person, or even make it down the stairs, she was still keeping an eye on her Giants. For Aunt Martha, the relationship was lifelong.
Recently, Mum, my nephew Rich (another Blackhawk fan!) and I got together to watch their Hawks play the Sharks in San Jose. There, amid a vast sea of teal, sat three generations of Parmeters, each marking the event in a different sartorial way: Rich repping for Chicago; Mum sporting a jersey touting her Finnish roots (and those of a ridiculous number of NHL players and goalies!); and me proudly wearing the jersey of my friend Chris who played hockey for Cal!
It all comes around.
I do step back sometimes and think how crazy it is to be so invested in bunches of people playing games. How are these teams really mine? I’m not the owner. I was never a point guard for Cal (no jump shot). And while I have played hockey (in a broad and not altogether skilled sense), I never stepped (or stumbled…) out onto the ice as an LA King.
But it’s not about ownership for me. It’s about membership. It’s about sharing a common history and goal with family, friends and whole tribes of kindred spirits with whom I have an enduring bond.
Having a relationship with a team can evoke every kind of emotion! Joy. Heartache. Solace. Sorrow. And sometimes even salvation. For Dedrie, Judy and Martha, for those who are Boston Strong, and for all those who’ve followed teams and forged those bonds – in my case, while on the benches of old Harmon Gym, while hanging from the rafters of McArthur Court, in the cheap seats at the Great Western Forum, and sitting kitty-corner to one of the goals in Staples – I don’t have to explain how rewarding it can be to embrace the “we” in “team”.
P.S. The Kings just performed an improbable reverse sweep of the Sharks to advance to Round 2! Guess President Washington’s a fan after all!
P.P.S. Can’t help adding weeks after writing this that my Kings went on to capture their second Stanley Cup! The awe and admiration of this feat are mine – but the hard-won right to hold aloft that glorious piece of hardware in a parade? It all belongs to them!
Whatever team you might follow, may you savor that bond – and may this prove a season for the ages! Cheers!