August 17, 2012 — Wednesday’s mention of Christian Laettner in the “Who would you rather (be)” blog prompted a good conversation with my friend and possible recurring character on The Live Ball, Dr. Shawn Skeen.
He said he would choose Christian Laettner from the list of sports stars because of Laettner’s set-in-stone association with his college team. Skeen made an excellent point because, by starring in college, an athlete garners a set of fans which he can (almost) never alienate.
Of course, the alumni of the athlete’s school will stand by him. But I submit that even those fans who have a fond recollection of watching that player in college will extend him more support and leniency (unless he or she played at your school’s arch rival). My gut-reaction example is Dwyane Wade, who I like despite his team playing against the Dallas Mavericks in the Mavericks’ only two NBA Finals appearances. I believe I like Wade because I watched him lead Marquette to the Final Four in 2003.
The college factor also articulates why we might be so quick to dislike guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Specifically in James case, is it possible that the reason we faulted him so much for leaving Cleveland was because that was his original incarnation and by leaving there he did what no great college player could or would ever do — reject his alma mater?
I think our college heroes are like our high school or college friends. Even if we lose touch, they will always be a part of who we are. But we also feel a strong desire to keep in touch.
Where I live, in the middle of Dallas Cowboy country, many of my Baylor-fan friends are supremely interested in Redskin rookie Robert Griffin III, who won Baylor an improbable Heisman Trophy. Of course, I capitalized on this by writing this article back in the spring.
I might be inclined to dig the Tom Brady Patriots anyway, but my semi-rooting interest in the Pats is mostly owed to Wes Welker, who played at my alma mater Texas Tech.
And I’ll even make this argument with Michael Jordan, though it’s a bit of a chicken-egg scenario. When I was growing up in Texas in the 1980s and 90s, it was cool to like North Carolina, maybe more so than any other college team. Saying you liked North Carolina was saying that you understood what was cool and that you were on board with it.
I don’t know if everyone remembers this or not, but Jordan was definitely the baddest-ass player in the NBA long before the Bulls ever won a championship. Jordan’s six championships cause his greatness to overshadow his coolness. And his coolness came from hitting the game-winning shot in the NCAA championship game, lifting the Tar Heels over Georgetown when he was a freshman in 1982.
So was Jordan cooler because he played at North Carolina? Or was North Carolina cool because Jordan played there?
Photo via Bleacher Report.