Tanking hurts fans

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
11:49
AM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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HoopIdea wants to help make the NBA game even better for basketball fans. With that goal in mind, taking on tanking seems obvious. In no way can what’s happening in Charlotte, where the Bobcats are 7-45, can be construed as “good for fans.”

Same goes for the woeful Golden State Warriors, who have won just four of 15 -- including home losses versus New Orleans, Minnesota and New Jersey -- since trading away two key players. Though the team was within shouting distance of the playoff race, Warriors' management pulled the plug in the name of other goals. The hope: to retain a lottery pick that will escape if Golden State doesn't lose enough to end up with the No. 7 or better in this year's draft (due to a previous trade).

Oakland’s Oracle Arena, where the Warriors play, may have the rowdiest, most loyal fans in the NBA. Despite years and years of losing and very few star players (it's been 15 years since a Warrior made the All-Star team), fans still show up and make themselves heard. This is the home of "We Believe!"

But the new motto is #TankExpress. And the Warriors' tank job has taken the zip even out of fans accustomed to all the losing. Ethan Sherwood Strauss explains:
The essence of the arena’s appeal is not just that you’re so close to the action, but also that you’re sharing a collective, emotional experience. ... It is spiritual in nature and I suspect that its spirit is crushed by [tanking].

Tanking is terrible because it compromises a crowd’s sense of purpose in these intended moments of union.

Lately, subjectively: Oakland’s Oracle has felt like a muddled political convention, divided into three parts (Warriors fans for victory, opposition fans for victory, Warriors fans for defeat). While this can be fun to analyze from the detached perspective of a sociologist, it makes for a worse fan experience. As written by Warriors reporter Matt Steinmetz: “They’re 20-30 and half the fan base is rooting for them to lose as many games as possible. The focus isn’t even on the games anymore, it’s on whether or not the Warriors will get to keep their draft pick.”

Tanking makes fandom feel ridiculous and stupid, often when a team is already at a pretty low point. And this is why I root for its demise.

Let's pivot to a team that started mailing it in way before the Warriors. Just two seasons ago, the Bobcats were in the playoffs. This year are the second-worst team ever by scoring margin. Not only are they losing, they’re getting crushed, night in and night out. This is no accident. GM Rich Cho has stated the Bobcats want to "take a step back to take two steps forward."

Bobcats blogger Ben Swanson has been there each step of they way, and chronicles the demoralizing nightmare in a post titled “On the Infinite Sadness of the Bobcats.”
During this fantastic streak, the Bobcats opponents outscore them by an average of more than 17 points per game. I've dragged my eyeballs through losses by 44 to Portland, 35 to Indiana, 33 to the Lakers, 30 to Atlanta, 25 to Philadelphia, 22 to Indiana (again), 17 to the freaking Washington Wizards and another by 17 to the Detroit Pistons. I also had the displeasure of watching a horrendously ugly game that included Deron Williams dropping 57 points on the Bobcats in a win. I can't count how many times I've seen games get out of hand only to look at the game clock and see that there's nearly a whole quarter remaining to play.

It's utter misery.

On a deeper level, I wonder if it's conditioning me further, perhaps subconsciously. Have I become more cynical? Less hopeful? More at risk for depression?

"Oh, that's silly," I can hear some say already. It's just basketball. Or they say it's an unhealthy obsession.

It probably is, and I'll be the first to admit it. But NBA basketball (especially that of the Bobcats) is my passion.

HoopIdea has jumped with both feet to help solve the problem of tanking, and some, especially those who identify with small-market teams, have spoken up in favor of tanking.

But as Strauss and Swanson can testify, tanking is heartbreaking -- and it offers no guarantees that things will get better.

The current system forces fans to either root for teams that aren’t trying to win or, even worse, root for their own favorite teams to lose. Game by game, year by year, city by city, it turns fans off by degrading their experience and making a mockery of the product on the court.

Why protect such a system?

SOUND OFF

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Beckley Mason is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com.

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