This has been a rough start to the Hornets season, and the fans are struggling to deal with it as expected. All over Hornets Twitter and in Facebook groups there is discussions of trades, arguments on who should shoulder the blame, and questions of what to do next. Yet there is a new type of fan involved in many of these discussions, and to be honest I have no clue of how to understand them. Before we dive into them though, I want to take you back to my childhood so you get a better picture of me as a fan.
I grew up in a small town 40 miles south of Seattle, and I bled Sonics Green and Yellow. Many of my favorite sports memories involve the now extinct NBA franchise that ruled Seattle sports in the late 1990’s. My Dad and I went to a few games a year, but i never missed them on TV. I had NBA fever and I had it bad, I grew up listening to Kevin Calabro on the call, and still get chills when I hear his voice doing the occasional national broadcast. I wrote my 7th grade paper on the history of the team ( I got an A by the way) and could recite every player on the roster, where they went to college and their height and weight. My favorite player was Shawn Kemp, the Reignman posters covered my walls and I pretended I was him on the playground. I used to tape the games on the VCR (Go ask your parents what that is) and breakdown the plays. I had his jersey and wore it all the time to the point the numbers began to unstitch. I can still feel the disappointment when we lost to the Bulls in the Finals in 96, I was 18 years old and a young man, and I cried. Nothing prepared me for what happened the following year though, on September 25th 1997 my favorite player since I was 11, was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers……for some bum named Vin Baker. (Vin was actually a decent player looking back now, but I did not care at the time) I was crushed, but a month later when the 97 season tipped off, I was still a Seattle Sonics fan. I remained one until the 18th of April in 2008, 12 days after i took my wife to see Kevin Durant drop 37 points on Carmelo Anthony, when the NBA approved the team that i loved to move to Oklahoma City.
Fast forward to the 15/16 NBA season, I have now adopted the Charlotte Hornets as my team and have been following and writing about them for 3 years. I swore off the NBA for awhile because I was angry, but watching the best athletes play the best damn sport in the world drew me back in. I adopted the then Bobcats because well, they were terrible. They also were a new franchise that i didn’t have any grudges against from my Sonics days. (Like i could cheer for the Lakers or Trailblazers, ewwww GROSS) This season would be my first interaction with a new type of NBA fan. I call them Player Only Fans.
Charlotte Hornets’ Al Jefferson (25) gets a point across to teammates, Jeremy Lin (7), Kemba Walker (15) and Nicolas Batum (5) in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. The Hornets won 113-88. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
We all remember when the Hornets signed Jeremy Lin to a cheap contract, I thought “Cool, a good veteran to back up Kemba on a cheap deal.” Within days of the signing I started seeing strange things show up on my twitter feed. Comments from a bunch of new followers telling me Lin should start over Kemba, and that Lin just had not ever gotten a fair chance to prove himself, but he was gonna be way better than Kemba that year. I wasn’t the only writer experiencing this, and as the season wore on it became clear that these fans were not like anything I had dealt with before. They were happy if the Hornets lost, but Lin had a good game. Lin only stayed one season, and when he signed in Brooklyn i was glad to say goodbye to the Linatics (I coined that phrase on twitter and it stuck) thinking that would be the last time I dealt with fans of a player who do not care about the team.
I hate to say it, but these type of fans are back in Charlotte and all over the NBA. The Malik Only Fans are growing in numbers by the day. These fans do not care that Monk is not ready for big NBA minutes physically or mentally. We see them on Facebook and Twitter, complaining that Monk needs to get 25 minutes a night, or should be starting. You can argue till you are Teal in the face with stats and logic, but they don’t care. They want to see “Their Guy” play, no matter how it affects the team. If the Hornets win and Monk get a few minutes and misses his shots, they are no where to be heard. Yet if the Hornets lose a game and Monk hits two shots in garbage time, they post until the next morning how this team sucks all except for Monk. The Fan Boi culture is here to stay, and its something fans of this team and others around the NBA are going to have to learn to co-exist with. Fans changing teams with players in free-agency is becoming the new normal. Stars that have fans that follow them instead of the home team, never understanding the joy or disappointment of your team that you love winning or losing in the Finals. Just a closet full of different jersey’s with the same name on the back, all while not caring in the least about the name on the front.