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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, April 14, 2024
Jake Powers

Column: The evolving world of sports fandom

He’s 6-foot-4,190 pounds and he’s been averaging 3.8 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game this season. Thursday afternoon, sneaking just ahead of the NBA trade deadline, the Chicago Bulls traded Kirk Hinrich, Sioux City, Iowa, legend, to the Atlanta Hawks for a second-round draft pick. Not only did the Bulls brain trust of John Paxson and Gar Forman trade away the man with the 334th-best field goal percentage in the NBA, but they traded away one of my irrationally favorite Chicago athletes of all time.

I couldn’t tell you why Hinrich held such a special place in my heart. Maybe it was the rec specs. Maybe it’s because he tried to tackle Lebron James. Maybe it’s because at Kansas he looked like a spitting image of Paul McCartney. It’s definitely not because of his rebounding ability.

For whatever reason, Hinrich held a special place in my heart. I grew up watching him in his first stint with the Bulls from 2003-’04, lost my mind when he left for Toronto in 2010, and rejoiced when he came back to the United Center in 2012. I tried to emulate his bad defense and the weird leg kick he integrated into his jump shots early on his career when I played middle school basketball.

Now, Hinrich represents the time in my sports fandom when things were simpler. The politics, business, scandals and insane amount of scrutiny surrounding both collegiate and professional sports didn’t concern me when Hinrich broke into the league. My morning routine consisted of reading (what I could comprehend) the sports section of the newspaper over breakfast, and it was a comfort to finish eating dinner with my parents and then just watch basketball. Sports weren’t even an escape at that point — it was pure, simple entertainment that I aspired to partake in one day. The only real “interaction” I had with the players I loved, like Hinrich, was through their quotes in newsprint and occasional postgame interview on TV.

That type of simple, unadorned appreciation for sports seems to be dwindling. That’s simply the natural progression for more mature, sophisticated fans who understand that the intricacies of sport extend well beyond the sidelines. But the days of simply loving sports for the enjoyment of the game feel foreign and foggy.

While I look at that time with reverence, I don’t regret fully immersing myself in sports and, now, contributing to the 24/7, deeply analytical coverage that defines athletics today. What seems strange is that younger generations may not ever be able to enjoy the simplicity of sport in the same way I was privileged to.

With the explosion of sports blogs, mobile apps and, most prominently, social media, the barrier between fan and athlete has begun to erode. People can see into the lives of athletes through their own social channels and the intense coverage that follows teams everywhere. It’s as easy to send Steph Curry a direct message on Twitter as it is for me to text my mom. While Curry won’t respond, and my mom will usually respond to me, that transparency and access (even if it is just one-sided) in sports is unprecedented and is going to shape the future of sports fandom in ways that are difficult to predict. The one certainty that exists, however, is that the close, personal connection to sports has seemingly become more impersonal than ever.

The important part about sports fandom today is that more coverage and a closer look into athlete’s personal lives don’t necessarily bring people closer to the game. Sure, it’s one more Vine to watch, another photo to retweet and an Instagram post to like. It feels participatory, but these abbreviated slices of content pale in comparison to watching an entire game, feelings ebbing and flowing with the emotions of the game. It’s a long-held conviction across many types of media that content is king, no matter how it’s packaged, adorned or promoted. When it comes to sports, that belief has never held more true. More content doesn’t equate to deeper coverage. It’s just more noise.

Hinrich’s departure is a sentimental move for me. He’s a living relic of my sports fandom past, and now he’s moved on. Of course, I’ll follow the Hawks’ social media accounts when he moves to Georgia. It’s just not the same.

Is Jake actually an out of touch, 85-year-old man? Let him know at jake.powers@dailycardinal.com. 

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