Sports hate is a funny thing.
I touched on it a bit in my post about fantasy sports hate, but sports hate is something only true sports fans understand.
Sports hate is when you absolutely, positively loathe someone for everything they do on the field/court/rink. Every time you see a highlight, photo, newspaper clip, Internet article or game where that individual performs well, you cringe with anger that anything remotely positive could happen to that person.
The reason it’s called SPORTS hate, though, is because that’s as far as your hatred goes. In most instances, you’ve never met the person individually and, being the rational human being you presumably are, don’t wish any legitimate ill will toward the person.
There’s lots of sports hate from a lot of people. I don’t know many football fans these days who don’t sports hate Brett Favre. Barry Bonds was the epitome of sports hate when he was playing, and you’d be hard pressed to find a non-Yankees fan who doesn’t sports hate Alex Rodriguez.
The reason I bring this up because, as I sit here watching game two of the Chicago Bulls-Cleveland Cavaliers playoff series, I can’t believe how much my feelings toward Joakim Noah have turned around.
As I type this, Noah is playing a great game and keeping the Bulls within reach of the Cavs. He has 19 points, six rebounds and is outplaying Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the Cavs’ post players entering the fourth quarter.
I practically have forgotten how much I hated Noah when he was leading the Florida Gators to back-to-back NCAA National Championships a few years back. There was nothing remotely likable about the guy. I remember watching him do his horrible, decrepit dance (seen above) after the Gators won the SEC Tournament and thinking “What an idiot,” in so many words.
Of course, when my favorite NBA team decided to draft him, I didn’t know what to think. I was appalled, but at the same time apathetic, thinking he wouldn’t last but a few years and probably spend the duration of his time with the team at the end of the bench.
Boy, was I wrong.
The turning point for Noah came during last year’s historic playoff series against the Boston Celtics. His signature dunk against Paul Pierce is engrained in Bulls fans’ memories forever, and the tenacious attitude he displayed that we (or at least I) hated about Noah was now loved.
I’m sure there are many examples of fans loving players they once hated, with the most obvious example being the way Minnesota Vikings fans feel toward Favre. But even in Favre’s case, I don’t know if fans love him so much as they tolerate his antics in knowing he’s A) Giving them a helluva shot at winning a Super Bowl, and B) Not Tarvaris Jackson.
Before Noah, the closest example I can find is A.J. Pierzynski. The Chicago White Sox catcher was hated by White Sox fans during his time in Minnesota. He wasn’t known so much for his antics then as he is now, but he was still hated because of the mere fact that he was a Twin and he absolutely killed the White Sox every time they played each other.
Two years after leaving Minnesota, Pierzynski became the starting catcher for a World Series Champion White Sox team and the rest is history. He’s not, arguably, the most popular player on the team and someone White Sox fans will forever have a positive memory of. We’ve completely erased from our memories his time in Minnesota and only know him as the lovable head case with a knack for getting in the heads of opponents.
So the question I have for anyone who happens to read this is, do you have any other examples? I know there are plenty of Bulls fans who might read this. Do you have the same feelings as I toward Noah? Vikings fans (Erik): How about your feelings toward Favre? Or is there any glaring omission to this?
Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.