During the 2008 Boston Celtic’s first round playoff matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, Mike Bibby the Hawk point guard made a derisive comment about the Celtic fanbase. He called them what could be the most offensive insult to a true sports fan, bandwagoners. The term is used to describe a fan base that only shows up to support when their team is enjoying a period of success. It’s a scathing remark that cuts to the core of any sports fan. Celtic fans responded with a chorus of boos and chants of “Rondo’s Better!” every time Bibby touched the ball for the remainder of the series. It was a deserved response from a proud group of Celtic supporters, but you know what? Bibby was right, and so what if he was.
The notion that bandwagon fans are out of the ordinary is naïve and illogical. It was the first year of the big three era when Bibby made those remarks. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with longtime Celtic Paul Pierce to form a formidable and most importantly an entertaining basketball team. New Englanders came out in droves to cheer for the revamped Celtics, and subsequently the Celtics sold out every home game, the year before? They ranked 16th in the league in attendance percentage. That statistic alone validates Bibby’s so called heinous evaluation of Celtic fans. The reason I bring this up now is because I’ve heard many analysts, bloggers, and fellow basketball fans label the new legions of Heat fans as dreaded bandwagoners. The assessment is truthful, but it is said with great disdain, as if Celtic fans didn’t go through the same exact process three years ago.
This is simply how all business works. If you have a high quality product people will come out and consume it, if not they’ll go elsewhere. In the instances of the Celtics and Heat, respective GMs Danny Ainge and Pat Reilly had a chance to better their on-court product. They jumped on it and now are reaping the benefits of constructing more intriguing, entertaining, and successful (yet to be determined in the case of the Heat) basketball teams. When you put that kind of talent and those kind of superstars on the court people will want to come out and see the spectacle in first person. If the team wins, fans will keep coming, but if they fail people will stay home, watch on television, fall asleep at halftime, and check the box score in the morning.
Certainly this isn’t what diehard Celtic fans want to hear from a fellow green supporter, but what we diehards must realize is that we are the exception, not the rule. Yes, I now consider myself a diehard Celtic fan, but my fandom began during a period of moderate success. Don’t worry, I was here before the Big 3 ever was. I truly began rooting for the Celtic’s in 04-05 campaign when Antoine Walker made his brief return and alongside Pierce and Gary Payton led the team to a playoff berth. I was even there during the franchise’s rock bottom 06-07 campaign when the highlight of going to a game was getting a strawberry coolatta at halftime and waiting for entertainment to appear on the scoreboard via drunk people dancing, because the product on the court certainly wasn’t going to satisfy. Sure my dedication waivered slightly during that year, I wasn’t glued to the television every game they played like I will be this season. What we have to come to terms with is that success and support are symbiotic. Most fan relationships with a certain team are rooted in a time of victory, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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Written by Mike Fillyaw