Fanatic Focus

Del Olaleye: Apathy can be a killer for a franchise

Jay Cutler can be tough to cheer for. Miami Dolphins/Facebook

A sports franchise can just suck the life out of you. You’ve been through so much pain and angst that you just refuse to care anymore. It isn’t as simple as just the losing wearing you down. Embracing losing can be fun when you know your team has a plan. The Astros had a plan. They told their fans to prepare to be very bad because the plan was to be good for the long haul. There was new ownership and management. Those two things allow you to sell hope because you don’t have past failures on your resume.

So Astros fans sat through multiple 100-loss seasons. They waited as their favorite team became involved in a cable dispute that made games unwatchable. I’m not even talking about the product on the field. People couldn’t see the team play. A majority of the people in Houston could not watch the Astros play baseball unless they decided to switch their TV provider. As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well. Apathy can be the worst enemy of a franchise and that deathly emotion was starting to creep in around Houston. Sure the Astros had a plan, but when no one can see your plan in action those well-laid plans just become a ton of L’s in the loss column.

Fortunately for the Astros, 2015-2017 happened. There was the ultimate payoff of a World Series title. It all worked out. It doesn’t always. When it doesn’t work out being a boring franchise that loses can set your organization up for the worst of all outcomes. People stop caring. You don’t want to be the franchise that no one cares about. When your name is mentioned on the job, in the street, or at the sports bar, you don’t want people to respond with a shrug of the shoulders.

It is better to be really bad, maybe all-time bad than it is to be “meh.” When you’re “meh” you can be dismissed. No one wants to be dismissed. Browns fans held a parade after an 0-16 season because they still cared. Eagles fans are celebrating a Super Bowl title this offseason but in previous years they celebrated their perennial losing with something called Wing Bowl. The Eagles were never in the Super Bowl but the fans still wanted to party so Wing Bowl was created. That previous link is a safe for work version of Wing Bowl. That isn’t what Wing Bowl really is. This is really Wing Bowl.

I love my teams. It hurts when they lose. I’m not close to being apathetic. Those losses sting so much that you just might find me sitting in the dark on my hallway steps after a particularly brutal defeat. That time on the steps is to compose me. Gut-wrenching losses turn me into a pillow tossing, cursing, screaming crazy person. That is a part of the reason I don’t watch games around people. No one needs to see that side of me.

All that being said, I’m completely comfortable watching Dolphins games in public. That is if I actually care to ask for their games to be put on. Perpetually being in the 6-10, 7-9, 8-8 range will do that to you. Draft picks not working out, free agency busts and coaching changes all have contributed to something I’d never thought I’d approach. Apathy. The final straw for the Dolphins was the emergency signing of Jay Cutler. These were the ingredients to that rancid casserole:

  1. Ryan Tannehill re-injured his knee in the preseason.

  2. Dolphins coach Adam Gase was once Jay Cutler’s offensive coordinator.

  3. “Shockingly”, the newly retired Cutler thought 10 million dollars guaranteed was enough of an enticement to get off the couch.

Final outcome? The season went how you would expect. Cutler mixed bad footwork, awful decisions, and mind-numbing interceptions along with that Cutler face and cooked up a 6-10 season. I couldn’t have cared less. What's that you say? The Dolphins are bad again. That’s been the case my entire adult life. I’ll live. They’ve driven some people to root for a different team. I’m not in that dark place but simply not watching the games has become an option. Drafting Lamar Jackson would change things real quick. Nothing like a young, exciting QB to delude a fan into thinking everything will be alright.

Apathy from fans is death for franchises. For the fans, it is similar to the feeling you get when you get a hug instead of a kiss at the end of a date.

Sure the hug sucks, but at least you’re not getting pepper sprayed in the face anymore.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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