The lead-up to the start of the New Jersey Nets’ first season as the Brooklyn Nets was filled with hope. Here at last was a professional basketball team moving to basketball’s spiritual home. And they’d be playing in a brand-new state-of-the-art stadium in a reconstituted and revitalized downtown. To christen the Barclay’s center, Jay-Z – Brooklynite extraordinaire and hip-hop’s “man of the people” – performed eight nights of concerts (in deference to the borough’s Jewish heritage?), even arriving at one via the R subway train, either in a show of solidarity with his home city or an act of commiseration with anyone who’s ever spent 20 minutes waiting for an R train. In the days before the NBA season began last week, a sense of possibility was in the air. Brooklynites foolishly believed that the arrival of basketball in their long-forgotten borough would mean the arrival of good basketball in their long-forgotten borough.
But in the end, all the $1 billion stadiums, Barbara Streisand concerts, and Beyonce cameos in the world can’t hide the painful truth that the Brooklyn Nets are just the New Jersey Nets transplanted across two rivers, and the New Jersey Nets are a middling basketball team. Now that the season has started, all those dreams of NBA glory will meet reality, and we’ll be left with the slowly dawning realization that, despite the team's surprising 11-8 start, most of the 41 games played at the Barclay’s Center this season are going to be plodding affairs.
This preseason delusion is an extreme example of a phenomenon I started noticing a few years ago, when I would spend hours talking with friends about the state of an upcoming NBA season: The true joy of being a fan of team sports doesn’t come while watching the games but rather in the offseason, before anything actually happens, when everything exists in the abstract, when the value of particular trades or coaching decisions can be debated without “reality” mucking things up, when fans feel important again -- when theory reigns and hope still lives.
This is the one sports joy MMA is not able to offer its fans. I wouldn’t trade for a second all my frustrations as an MMA fan now for all my joys as a basketball fan then (before I realized putting a ball in an opponent’s basket is a ridiculous way to spend one’s time when one could be elbowing that opponent in the face instead) … except in this one regard. The perpetual nature of what Congressman and failed vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan might call the MMA’s “fighting season” means fans don’t have the opportunity to luxuriate in the indisputability of their opinions about particular fights and fighters for long, which is a right most sports fans demand. In fact, the only way team-sports fans can survive the long, hard, disappointing slog of the season is knowing another pure, perfect, unblemished offseason awaits, when their opinions will once again be as relevant as anyone else’s. MMA events happen with such regularity that neither the thrill of prognostication nor the self-righteous glee of Monday-morning quarterbacking provides any sustained joy; too soon, fight nights arrive and once again turn all our predictions to dust. And though I miss those months of boundless possibility, we MMA fans trade hope for action.