For the Love of the Game

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I’m not a big NBA fan, but I do enjoy and respect the various skill set challenges that occur each year at the league’s All Star Game. Of course the slam dunk contest is always a big hit. I love it, but I’d guess it’s not for the same reason that most fans do.

At this point, the players have probably neared maximum liftoff in terms of their ability to rotate 360, 540 or 720 degrees. They’ve launched themselfs from longer and longer distances. They’ve jumped every object imaginable, from Kias to sisters. The dunks remain incredible, but they somehow still manage to surprise the fans every year.

Even more importantly, they somehow manage to shock their similarly superhuman peers every year. You’d think that LeBron and his posse couldn’t be impressed by anything at this point, but the looks on their faces tells a different story. During the dunk contest, invariably the players on the benches and in the stands – those better than 99.99999% of the ballers on earth, still can’t get enough. They fall out laughing and cheering, a little bit of drool coming out of their mouths, and more than one typically has a camera phone out to record their teammates’ and competitors’ exploits.

I was reminded of that during the recently-concluded Bassmaster Classic won by Jordan Lee. While there are certainly anglers who are burned out on bass fishing, and wouldn’t pay it a moment’s notice if they weren’t getting paid to be involved and informed, there are plenty who remain fans of the other pros’ efforts.

Chief among them, of course, is Charlie Hartley, the nicest guy in fishing. Every year I think that this will be the one time he doesn’t send me a pre-blastoff text or email, and every year I am positively surprised. The email arrived at 7:57 am on Friday, just as the last flight had taken off. While I won’t share the entirety of it, here’s the money quote: “Make all us fans feel like we are there with you!!”

Charlie isn’t the only fan. Whether they’ve fished two Classics or more than a dozen times that many, there are plenty of pros who still get giddy over watching the big show. I weaseled my way into the BASS Sponsors suite at the final weigh-in (try to the chicken fingers and mini corn dogs, they’re amazing), and found the VanDam family perched watching all of the action. Most of them were socializing, too, but Kevin tried to remain focused on the Super Six. Despite what must have been a disappointing finish for him, the four-time winner had his phone out, recording this year’s crowning of Jordan Lee. Fans, sponsors and industry folks occasionally politely interrupted him for a picture or a brief word, but VanDam looked as captivated and focused as was possible under the circumstances.

As I drove on Monday, countless “regular” fans as well as many Elite and FLW pros called or texted me with questions about Jason Christie’s performance on Days Two and Three. Everyone wanted even the slightest insight into what might’ve gone wrong, as well as any little nuggets of information about what got him to that point.

As a self-proclaimed Super Fan (not the face painting type, though), all of this combined made me realize as much as many of us outsiders want to be more like the Elites, truth be told the big boys are already more like us than many of them know.