COLUMN: Spontaneity is why fans fall in love with sports

When the Golden State Warriors went ahead 3-1 in the NBA Finals last season, my editor at a local sports site I write for asked if anyone wanted credentials to the parade when they clinched the championship.

We were all certain that the Warriors would finish off the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 at home. In fact, I remember confidently tweeting something to the effect of: “The Warriors are in good shape. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.”

So I jumped on the opportunity, requested time off of my internship and got excited for the chance to cover my hometown team’s championship parade for the second straight year.

I proceeded to spend the next week in panic mode, followed by going through the five stages of grief after the Warriors lost three straight games, blew a 3-1 lead (cringes) and became a walking social media joke.

It seemed impossible — a team that had broken the regular season record with 73 wins and was dominant by historic proportions needed to win just one of three games against an objectively inferior team to bring home the title. Somehow, they choked it away in the grandest style.

Never have I hated sports more than the moment after the final buzzer sounded in that final game, when LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed onto the Warriors’ home court in celebration, breaking hearts across the Bay Area and sending shockwaves through the entire sports world.

I remember watching the trophy presentation in my living room, then just sitting in shock for the next hour. The adrenaline rush that accompanied the thrill of the game quickly turned into depression. I felt robbed and devastated.

As I watched the broadcast show highlights of the game with anchors talking about the Cavaliers’ historic comeback, I tried to convince myself that this was a movie (I’m still trying, to this day). My friends and I exchanged four-letter-word text messages because there was nothing else to say, really.

To follow a team almost religiously, to invest the time to watch their games and support that team for three-fourths of a year — only to have them lose by 4 points in Game 7 of the Finals is not a feeling I would want even for my worst enemy.

It’s also what got me thinking: Why do I care about sports so much? Why is it that I care so much about a stupid little game when non-sports fans go to sleep at night not able to name a single NBA team? Why do I keep watching sports, knowing that I’m basically signing up for a lifetime of heartbreaking moments and depressing losses that will ruin many of my days?

There are a lot of possible answers, but my big one is this: I keep coming back to sports because I love its spontaneity. I love how, at any given moment, anything can happen. Nobody can spoil it, and nobody can expect it. Everything’s live, happening in real time, and you’re almost forced into watching because you don’t want to miss a special moment.

When the Mississippi State women’s basketball team broke UConn’s NCAA-record 111-game win streak a few weeks ago, nobody planned it. When the miniscule Iceland soccer team made it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 by beating England, nobody could have conceived of that possibility.

And even when baseball slugger Barry Bonds was chasing the home run record a decade ago, no one knew when or where he would hit that historic homer — you still had to watch the games, to pay attention, to invest in them.

Sports aren’t movies, nor are they books. Sports play out in real life, and they force you to be in the moment and vulnerable because you have no clue what’s going to happen next — one moment your team could be cruising to its second straight title, and the next, they’re blowing a 3-1 lead.

Movies and books end the same way every time, no matter how many times you watch or read it. But in sports, you can take the same two teams and have them play 10 games, and every game would play out differently and end differently.

I watch sports because I want to see something special, because I could be watching the next perfect game in baseball or about to see a vicious slam dunk in basketball, a spectacular goal in hockey or soccer or an incredible punt return in football.

Something else I’ve learned over the years of watching sports is that what goes around, comes around. For every heartbreak you experience as a sports fan, hope arises somewhere else that keeps your emotions in a manageable place.

On Wednesday, I watched my hometown hockey team — the San Jose Sharks — steal a playoff game on the road, coming back from a 2-0 deficit and winning the game in sudden-death overtime. A script might’ve had the Sharks losing, and, based on where the game was at early on, that would have been an accurate prediction.

But sports don’t stick to scripts. They don’t play out the same way like every Adam Sandler movie or Nickelback song. Sports are like jazz: Every game, every quarter, every period marches to the beat of its own drum, luring in fans like myself who can’t get enough of the whimsical rhythm.

The spontaneity of sports is what makes them enjoyable, intriguing and thrilling, and I’m more than willing to sacrifice occasional heartbreaking moments for the gratification of sweating out an exciting overtime playoff win.

I’m still mad I didn’t get to cover that parade, though.

Eric He is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. He is also the associate managing editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs on Fridays.