The Agony of Game 7: Can Sports Be Too Exciting?

In preparation for tonight's NBA Finals decider, two Atlantic staffers chat about sports fans' competing desires: maximum drama vs. efficient domination.
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Reuters / Mike Segar

'Twas the Wednesday before Game Seven of the NBA Finals, and Atlantic staffers Ashley Fetters and Chris Heller were both nursing some residual disappointment from watching Game Six the night before. The Miami Heat, to their shared dismay, had beaten the Spurs 103-100 in overtime to tie the best-of-seven series at 3-3.

"But now we get a Game Seven!" Chris reasoned. Ashley, however, simply wished San Antonio had closed out the series the night before and saved her the extra two days of anxiety.

Which raised a big question. Who's the superior fan: the one who wants to see his or her team win in dominating fashion, or the one who wants to see more basketball? As Chris and Ashley weighed their differing feelings toward tonight's seventh and final game of the series, the following chat about emotional investment, self-preservation, and the nature of sports fandom (plus a little trash talk that's since been scrubbed out) ensued.


Chris: Do you wish the finals had ended before Game Seven?

Ashley: I'm torn. Because I know Game Seven is a sports fan's dream, supposedly; I'm supposed to love any occurrence of a Game Seven because it means it was a close series between two well-matched teams. And it's definitely preferable to a 4-0 blowout series where one side just doesn't show up. But when it gets to this point, I find myself thinking something like, "Oh God, how did we let it get this far?"

Chris: Haha. "We."

Ashley: Right!? It's almost like "my" franchise has let things get out of hand by not just closing it out earlier—and the more "we" struggle to seal the deal, the more anxious I get.

Chris: But you're getting more entertainment! If Ray Allen didn't hit that absurd circus shot, it'd all be over now. I'll take another game—the last game—over the silly "What It All Means" bloviating we're sure to get once it's all done. But maybe I'm being a bit too practical about this.

Ashley: It's true—I AM getting more entertainment from this series going to Game Seven. So part of me feels a little bit guilty that I'm not more appreciative of what's sure to be more excellent basketball. It's just that when Ray Allen hits an insane circus shot and I want the Spurs to win, that's the kind of entertainment that hurts at the end. Every game I watch in this series, I get more invested. So the later in the series, the bigger the payoff/heartbreak.

Chris: And now it's too much to handle?

Ashley: Yes! Am I an ungrateful sports fan for getting to a point where I just want the tension/excitement to stop?

Chris: I don't think so. I mean, it depends on your intentions. You can root for the Spurs and be a good fan—rooting for LeBron to lose, though... Do you want to see the Spurs win or LeBron lose?

Ashley: Hahaha. I mean, I'm a bandwagon LBJ-eye-roller, for sure. And to be fair, even I'm surprised at how much Spurs devotion I feel—I've never been a Spurs fan whatsoever before this post-season.

But I've noticed this extends to other sports when I watch them, too. Rafael Nadal, who's basically my favorite human, won this epic five-set match against Novak Djokovic in the French Open earlier this month, and I didn't even watch the fifth set. I turned it off. I got too scared! Maybe that's part superstition, I don't know—but I was just so invested in the outcome that a loss would have been too much to handle.

HOWEVER: I went back and watched later. Once I knew the bad guy didn't win, I was OK with watching it.

Chris: What's "too much to handle," though? If Rafa lost, what would you have done?

Ashley: Not rewatched!

Chris: But if you watched and he lost?

Ashley: I'd probably just be cranky for a little while. Actually, that's an understatement—I would have been pretty damn sad.

Chris: And that's enough of a reason not to watch?

Ashley: IS it a good enough reason not to watch? That's a big question, and a crucial one. If your team comes THATCLOSE and doesn't win, is it worth it to you to have seen the whole thing and then seen it all collapse?

Chris: I say yes. Maybe it's different when you're casually rooting for a team, but when it's your team, the disappointment matters just as much as the success. I guess this kinda relates to the bigger question of fandom at large. Why do people like watching sports?

Ashley: I feel like the noble-sports-fan response to that is "to see great achievements in sports," or "to see great games." And maybe this outs me as a blasphemous, non-noble sports fan, but I like to watch sports to watch the teams/players I feel loyal to win. Like, maybe a nobler basketball fan than me can watch Game Seven of the NBA Finals and appreciate that it's great basketball no matter who wins. But now that I have this burning desire for the Spurs to win, I'll look back at this series and sigh a little if they don't, and maybe wish I didn't have the depressing memory of them almost winning but then not.

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Ashley Fetters & Chris Heller

Ashley Fetters and Chris Heller are associate editors at The Atlantic.

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