While the Grizzlies were getting taken to the cleaners by the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, Memphis fans would get nervous whenever Gregg Popovich‘s squad made a big run or a momentum-shifting play. Normally, that would be completely understandable. Fans tend to tense up when their team is getting swept by a superior opponent in a late playoff series.
As it turns out, these were no normal circumstances. In a headache-inducing path of logic, ESPN commentator Bill Simmons thinks Memphis fans are wired to expect bad things to happen because Martin Luther King Jr. was shot there on April 4, 1968.
“I think, from people we talk to and stuff we’ve read, the shooting kind of sets the tone for how the city thinks about stuff,” Simmons said on the “BS Report” podcast, according to USA Today. “We were at Game 3. Great crowd. They fall behind and the whole crowd got tense. It was like, ‘Oh, no. Something bad is going to happen.’ And it starts from that shooting and it’s just that mindset they have.”
Um … what?
Listen, non-sports tragedies can and do impact the sports that are played not just in the cities in which they occur, but everywhere. The recent bombing at the Boston Marathon and the sense of togetherness that rose out of its aftermath is a case in point. Many of us will look back on Bruins fans singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the night we were most proud to be Bostonians.
But when the Bruins trailed the Maple Leafs by three goals in the third period of Game 7, we weren’t tense because somebody attacked the marathon weeks before. We’re more mature than that, and we suspect Memphians are, too. We can separate sports from real life (or death) and feel a different, lesser feeling of tension when our sports team isn’t doing so hot. It’s called compartmentalizing.
We saw a lot of crazy Grizzlies fans during these playoffs, and we mean “crazy” as a compliment. But for all the fans with painted eyelids, we did not hear any of them react to the Spurs’ four-game sweep by lamenting, “Oh, no! First, Martin Luther King gets shot, and now this.” Grizzlies fans were nervous because the Spurs were a far better team, and they knew it. Let’s not try to make more out of that than the standard-issue fandom that it was.