Fear the Dissonance: On Being a Fan of Professional and Fantasy Sports

 This is the first post in what will hopefully become a series from members of the Official Fantasy Basketball League of Irrational Confidence. Today’s post is by friend of the site Stephen Carradini.

“I loved Julio Jones, but now that he’s in the NFL, he’s a pain,” said my friend Jimmy, a huge Crimson Tide fan, as we watched Alabama’s ritual thrashing of Tennessee.

“Do you like the Saints or something?” I asked.

“No, I’ve got Roddy White on my fantasy team, and Julio Jones steals points from him,” he replied.

This is the strange professional sports world of 2012. Fantasy and professional leagues create mixed loyalties, strange bedfellows and cheers for your erstwhile enemies (depending on the week, of course). I’ve navigated this odd minefield in professional football by cheering for the Rams, which works out because Rams players almost never matter in fantasy. I’m the only person in the world who picks Danny Amendola on principle. But I’m a die-hard Oklahoma City fan who has just been invited to the Official Irrational Confidence Fantasy Basketball League, and I’m about to have serious cognitive dissonance. I want to win. I want the Thunder to win. Sometimes these desires will come at cross odds.

This is not exactly the first time I’ve had this problem, because of my bizarre sports fanship background. Because Sooner football in the 90s can euphemistically be referred to as “lackluster,” I cheered for a strange and occasionally contradictory amalgam of professional teams that had no connection whatsoever to my childhood home state Oklahoma.

I pulled for the New York Mets and Florida Marlins concurrently, because my love for perpetual underdogs apparently outweighed the fact that they played each other all the time. I dealt with this by blocking that fact out of my memory: I have no recollection of watching Mets vs. Marlins games, but I vividly remember my parents letting me stay up past my bed time to watch the Marlins win the World Series. 

The other team combos I cheered for were a bit less problematic. The dominant white guys of the Utah Jazz didn’t play the Hakeem Olajuwon-led  Houston Rockets as often as my baseballers did. The Dallas Cowboys were great until they got druggy; the Green Bay Packers took their place, because Brett Favre was an iron man.

The intensity of my passion for professional sports waxed and (mostly) waned over the years, coming to its nadir in 2006 when I gave up on the Rockets after they lost in the first round to a Postman-less Utah team. (I have never given up on the Mets, but I don’t get my hopes up, either.) Months later matriculated at OU in Adrian Peterson’s collegiate heyday, became a Sooners superfan, and thought pro sports was dead to me. Here lie poor choices in far-off teams.

Two things changed this premature obituary in 2008: Fantasy football and the Oklahoma City Thunder.    A quick history:

2008-09: Declined inclusion in a fantasy league due to lack of knowledge. Watched the Thunder proudly but nervously, steeling myself for a long-term relationship with bottom-of-the-barrel failure.

2009-10: Found out what “bottom of the barrel failure” really meant in my first foray into fantasy: a hyper-competitive IDP league. Learned so much about basketball x’s and o’s over that glorious season that I was able to howl in pain at the missed block-out that ended the Thunder’s season in Game 6 of the first round.

2010-2011: Became a passionate Thunder fan, bringing up the team whenever socially acceptable; watched two playoff games in person, including the game where we blew the huge lead with two minutes left. Played in two ESPN standard fantasy leagues and managed to be average in both.

2011-2012: Read Daily Thunder almost as often as its name implies, learned how the NBA salary structure works (!!!). Watched all but two Thunder playoff games, the first time I’ve ever come near completion of that endeavor. Considered fantasy football as simply a part of life. Still couldn’t win a league, but I made the playoffs.

And now we’re here, in 2012-2013. My fantasy football teams are both floundering terribly, although I did name one Flynndering in expectation of a boom-or-bust season. I’m budgeting to get NBA League Pass so I can watch the Thunder more often. And on top of that, fantasy basketball is angling for a space in my heart. I don’t know if I have that much love to go around!

I considered picking up a Thunder-heavy team so that I could cheer for the Thunder twice, but I had a late draft spot; KD and Westbrook were gone by the time I picked at seventh. I love James Harden, but I’m not going to stack my team on him. (Although apparently I’m banking on my first pick Al Jefferson, so maybe I should have gone with the beard.)

With that strategy gone, I went the complete opposite direction: I drafted almost exclusively players I don’t like. On its face, it would seem like this would maximize my cognitive dissonance, but I feel differently: if I win, I can congratulate myself on being smart enough to assemble a group of talented but enemy players to win for me. If I lose, I can double down on O-ver-RA-ted cheers. This is a win-win situation. I can get started early: I can knock Kobe as an over-the-hill injury liability who will probably miss my first game of the season. But if he turns it on at the end of the season, I can pat myself on the back for choosing a high-upside risk that paid off.

Will this strategy work? Well, I think I could win some games. Hasheemba Matata’s starting eight is:

PG: Rondo

SG: Kobe

G: Tony Parker

SF: Danny Granger

PF: Al Jefferson

F: David Lee

C: Carlos Boozer

C: Al Harrington

I almost got Al Horford; I would have immediately changed my name to the Al-Star Team. I (and, I’m sure, Jeff and Chase) will keep you posted on how Hasheemba Matata and the rest of the teams in the Irrational Confidence league are doing.

Will this strategy work to keep me loving the Thunder and hating its enemies? That remains to be seen. You will note that there are no Heat players in my starting line-up; there are also none on my roster. A man’s got limits, after all.


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