In many ways, sport has made my life miserable.
I mentioned recently the catastrophe that was my adolescent attempts at athleticism, but adult life has proven no less fraught for me in this regard. A teenage hatred of all coordinated physical activity has matured in my case, unexpectedly, into increasingly rabid sports fandom (weird, I know). But now that I actually like sport, the grass on this side of the pitch has not proven any greener.
The problem for me has been chiefly concentrated in the realm of merchandise.
Like anyone interested in clothing, I spend a lot of time figuring out what to buy. Generally, I end up being pretty happy with my purchases. I’ll usually spend a long time thinking about whether a given piece of clothing will really fit in my wardrobe, whether it’s something I’ll still want to wear in a few years’ time, whether it’s really worth the money, etc. These kinds of questions help to sift out more impulsive purchases and leave me feeling terribly smug about how grown-up I’m being about my choices.
That is unless we’re talking about sporting merch, in which case my life is an unmitigated disaster. Since becoming a sports fan, I‘ve been making terrible merch-based decisions from day one.
Basketball is my main pastime and despite loving everything about the game, it would be fair to say that very little about the culture surrounding the sport matches the reality of my own life. Just off the bat, there’s the matter of geography. While my chosen team plays their home games in sunny Miami, Florida, I spend my time watching those games on a small screen at ungodly hours some 4 000 miles away in cold and rainy Scotland.
What’s more, the clothes decking out my favourite players could not be less like the stuff I wear day to day. While they’re rocking their trendy tunnel fits, I mostly wear (and write about) things like duck boots and button-down shirts. Suffice it to say there isn’t much wardrobe crossover to speak of.
Nevertheless, I have spent untold amounts of time and money buying highly questionable merchandise in my attempts to touch the robes of the players I admire and to express my allegiance to the teams I love. As a result, right now in my closet you will find such items as a pair of pink and baby blue mesh basketball shorts with ‘MIAMI’ brightly emblazoned on the crotch. Ditto, a woollen jumper with a giant NBA logo knit all across the front of it. Moreover, the number of sport-related baseball caps I own have long ago entered double figures and scattered all about my house you will find untold nicknacks and bits of memorabilia. I now schedule my holidays around the possibilities of catching live games and concertedly plan how to maximise the number of sport-related souvenirs I’ll be able to carry back with me.
All of this is wildly untenable. There is simply too much of this stuff, bought at too high a price. The real problem, though, is that none of it comes anywhere close to suiting my personality or style of dress. Have you ever wasted hours of your life trying to incorporate sleeveless basketball jerseys into a wardrobe composed largely of tweed and penny loafers? Ever hoped to pull off a trendy 59FIFTY New Era cap or box-fresh Jordans when your usual vibe is at best that of a poor man’s Max Fischer? Well, I have and I can confirm that it is a recipe for disaster.
I should say that this kind of hybrid aesthetic can be done. Very well, in fact. Any number of creative streetwear types have proven as much many times over. Ditto all of those Aimé Leon Dore lookbooks. Heck, I’ve even seen the likes of Drake, Spike Lee, and Flea looking fly covered head-to-toe all in their teams’ branded kit. It’s just that in my own case I am no closer to cracking that particular nut than I am playing in the actual NBA.
While there are some items of sportswear that I’ve had greater success with — rugby jerseys, cricket jumpers, baseball caps — I suspect these only feel accessible for being linked to sports that I care less about. When it comes to the stuff I actually want to wear from the teams I really support, however, as cruel irony would have it, the ability to carry any of it off sadly eludes me. I can’t help but feel cursed somehow.
There’s a certain woeful symmetry in all of this to the experience of being a sports fan in general. Nick Greene once wrote that there’s no such thing as a happy coach. I think the same can be said of fans too. Happiness simply cannot coexist with a love of sport. Not true happiness, anyway. Not anything that resembles meaningful contentment over a period of time. There’s just too much to go wrong. Missed shots, injured players, lost games. The best you can hope for is a burst of dopamine when someone on your side scores or a match is won, but on balance these are just short-lived, adrenaline-fueled bursts. Most attempts are going to be misses and more championships will be lost than won. If you’re lucky, your team might be doing well for now, but, let’s face it, it’s really just a matter of time before they start losing again. The fact is, the odds are always stacked against us all and commiseration is the lowly consolation prize.
It’s the stuff of tragedy when you get down to it. Sisyphus eat your heart out.
Yet, as sports fans, we continue heroically to push the proverbial boulder up the hill. Despite it all, we keep on living in hope. And as a sports fan as much as a clothing enthusiast, the same has proven true for my foolhardy merch compulsion. I continue to think that one day I’ll be able to wear a basketball jersey or a pair of player-endorsed sneakers out in public when deep down I know that only misery lies that way.
After all, to live is to suffer, and to live as a sports fan is to suffer more. And then there’s the life of the suffering sports fan trapped in a sick cycle of merch obsession…well, let’s just say I have a theory about why your man Sisyphus is always pictured shirtless. I’ll bet, like me, he knows he’d look absolutely ridiculous in a basketball jersey.
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