This Will Leitch piece in New York Magazine begins with LeBron and the NBA, but it gets to a general point about sports I’ve thought about for a long time: whether fans care about the off-the-field, free agency/hot stove aspects of sports more than they care about the actual games.
After noting that he can’t ever hope to put himself in the position of a star athlete competing for a championship, Leitch talks about what he and other sports fans can comprehend:
What I can grasp is what happens off the court. Draft lotteries. Salary-cap maneuvering. Free-agent negotiations. Roster construction. And not only grasp: Like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve been doing all of those things in fantasy sports for two decades. Also like just about every other sports fan in America, I’ve started to think I’m pretty good at it. We all have. Which has made the action on the court, or the field, feel somehow like the subplot.
A friend of mine is fond of saying — and has been saying for years — that there once was a time when kids grew up wanting to be star athletes. Now they grow up wanting to be general managers. I think that’s an overstatement, but there is some essential truth there. There is something driving fantasy sports, sabermetrics and the conversation in and around blogs like this one that is way more informed by off-the-field, team-building considerations than the actual kinetic aspects of sports. HardballTalk’s best month, traffic wise, is always December. Every single year.
Obviously the games are why we’re into sports. It all starts there. But it certainly doesn’t end there. And those games may not be what engage us most about the sports we love.