It's not that hard to follow the rules of being a sports fan. Basically, there is only one: root for the team that is closest geographically to where you live in every sport. There are a few exceptions (keep in mind that these are my rules that I just made up. If you have any ideas or objections, feel free to comment.):
1.) If your dad/close family member who introduced to to sports (or just the sport in question) roots for a certain team, that becomes your team. If your dad is a Red Sox fan, then you're a Red Sox fan (hear that Colin?) Sports teams are hereditary, passed down from father to son like male-pattern baldness. (Wait, or is that the mother's side? All I know is that I'm screwed. Moving on..)
2.) If your family moves growing up or you move as an adult, you get a one-time option (with a three year warranty) to switch to the local team. For example, if you move from Seattle to Philadelphia you can become a Phillies fan. This really only works if your old team sucked and you were looking for an excuse to drop them anyway. It is most respectfully done to fit in. No one wants to be the only non-Phillies fan at the lunch table/water cooler. Like I said though, it's a one-time deal. The warranty comes into play if you move again within three years. Unless the team wins a championship, you're probably not hooked and switching is okay if you move again. Three years or a championship though, and you're stuck. Am I thinking too much into this?
3.) College sports: Once again, you root for whoever is close or whoever your dad roots for. However, if you go to a D-1 sports college, you are obligated to root for them. This can work like dual citizenship (you're an Ohio State fan but you went to Missouri, it's okay to root for both) or a full switch in cases where conference alignment/rivalries are involved. Your allegiance should be to your school in head-to-head matchups.
4.) Your team moves or gets shut down. You get a one-time jump to the team of your choice. Rivals of your old team are off limits, but that should be obvious if you were a true fan of the team to begin with.
5.) A close friend, relative, or old teammate makes it to the pros. You can become a fan of whatever team he plays for until he retires. This also works with college players whom you idolized. For example, I have an unhealthy man-crush on Jon Diebler. He just got drafted by the Portland Trailblazers. If I wanted to become a Blazers fan during the time that he is there, I could do that. Also, as much as it pains me, Pittsburgh Steelers fans in Findlay fall under this category. The ones that truly knew and/or followed him before he made it to the pros are not bandwagon fans, but that does not make them any less annoying.
(Am I missing anything? I'm sure there are more scenarios that could cause one to switch allegiances and not be considered a bandwagon fan. If you feel you may have a case, you should probably get a fan lawyer before you get arrested by the fan police. As always, there are people out there like me who take these things way too seriously.)
So, why am I telling you all of this? A.) So that you have some guidelines to go by when trying to figure out if someone is a bandwagon fan, and B.) because I root for a team that does not fall under one of these categories. That's right, I am a bandwagon fan. What's even worse is that I'm proud to be a bandwagon fan, and it's not the first time that I've jumped on a bandwagon.
The first time it happened, I was six years old. I remember sitting in front of my family's TV in early June of 1998. I don't remember much from the experience, but what I do remember constitutes as one of my earliest memories as a sports fan. I remember the NBA on NBC theme music that still sends me into a fervor of excitement every time I hear it or it randomly comes into my head (side note: if you want to cheer me up and have at your disposal random media from the '90s, either NBA on NBC theme music or a copy of The Mighty Ducks will do the trick), I remember hearing Marv Albert's wonderful voice narrate the action, and, most importantly, I remember this: A man named Michael Jordan hitting a step-back jumper with 5.2 seconds remaining in what would be his final game (Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals) as a Chicago Bull.
I can't say for sure how many Jordan Bulls games I watched prior to this one, but I don't remember them. All I know is that I was a bandwagon fan of the 1990's Chicago Bulls. There was only one problem: the '90s Bulls didn't exist anymore after my only memory of them. Jordan retired, the Bulls became a shell of what they once were, and the NBA followed suit (unless the Shaq/Kobe Lakers were your style. They weren't mine). I was a six year-old kid who loved basketball, but I didn't have favorite NBA team. Just an extremely '90s nylon Chicago Bulls tank-top that I can be seen wearing in many home videos.
Five years later, it happened again. There was a young phenom from Akron, Ohio who was about to be chosen number one in the NBA draft. The team with the number one pick in the 2003 draft was the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are the only professional basketball team in the state of Ohio. Before LeBron James ever put on a Cavs jersey, I had one. I had just jumped on the second bandwagon of my young life. Last summer, it was time to get off. My favorite basketball player had just made an ass of himself in front of the entire country, and I, along with every other Cavaliers fan (bandwagon or not), was ashamed to have ever worn his number 23 jersey.
For the second time in my life I had no NBA allegiances. The only difference between this time and the first? This time around, I had plenty of stars around the league to choose from. Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Boston's original "Big 3", Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmello Anthony, and others all had immense talent and would be chasing titles for the remainders of their careers.
I had hated Kobe and Boston ever since I could remember, so they were out of the running. Dwight Howard was someone who I couldn't really relate to (I'm a 5'11" on a good day white kid who will never dunk a basketball, 'nuff said), and Carmello Anthony and Chris Paul were stuck on middle-of-the-road or worse teams at the time. There was only one star in the NBA that I could immediately fall in love with (no homo, although I'm sure a few of you who have heard me gush over KD or Jonny D would beg to differ) along with his team.
That player was Kevin Durant, and his team the Oklahoma City Thunder. Durant was the humble 22 year-old star who had just signed a six year contract to stay in a small market. More importantly, he had announced the signing in a sort of "oh, by the way" tweet. He was the defending NBA scoring champion and had hardly gotten a look at MVP, but, more importantly, he was okay with the lack of attention. He was fresh off a playoffs debut in which he led his team (one of the youngest ever) to within a Game 6 tip-in of beating the defending and soon to be champs, he thanked God for the opportunity to play basketball before every interview, and his fans created an atmosphere formerly seen only in places with names like "Cameron Indoor Stadium" and "Phogg Allen Fieldhouse". I had found my anti-LeBron on a team that was about to burst on the scene and a fan base that I could relate to as a college basketball fan.
Naturally, I made the switch. This time, however, my "decision" was met with much criticism from those who had seen me sport Cavs clothing for the past seven years. My sports fandom was in question. I was quick to defend myself with lines such as, "I used to live in Oklahoma." and "I'll still root for the Cavs, but I can't watch shitty basketball", both of which were true, but not the real reasons for my sudden change in allegiance. The truth is that I am and always will be a Bandwagon NBA Fan.
Does being a bandwagon fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder make me less of a fan than the people of OKC? In the long run, of course it does. I can't say that I will always be a Thunderer, but at this moment there might not be a bigger fan anywhere outside of Oklahoma. I'm about to get a new set of t-shirts to go along with my KD shirt, I visit the official team blog (Daily Thunder by Royce Young from CBSSports.com, one of my favorite sportswriters) daily, and I followed the team's 2011 playoff run on the kind of emotional roller coaster that only a true fan can ride.
By the second round, I was locking myself alone in my house to watch Thunder games because I couldn't stand my friends rooting against them. I had a Facebook profile picture of Kevin Durant's dunk over Brendan Haywood during the Western Conference Finals and I hash-tagged #THUNDERUP at the end of every Thunder-related tweet, a phrase that only a true Thunder fan would know. I can name every player on the roster, and will defend Russell Westbrook's erratic play to anyone who will listen.
If being a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder makes me a bandwagon fan, so be it. It's better than being a fan of a team that went 19-63 last year and just wasted the fourth pick of the draft on Tristan Thompson (sorry Cleveland). I have found that being a bandwagon fan in the NBA is the way to go. I am a bigger fan of the NBA in general since becoming a Thunder fan and I followed this year's playoffs closer than I ever have before. The NBA might be more interesting than ever, and that has a lot to do with it, but it's a hell of a lot more fun when you root for a team that has the potential to win it all.
Finally telling my story of bandwagon fandom to the world, it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. The purpose of telling my story is to show other bandwagon fans that there are plenty of us out there, and we should be proud of who we are. Fans like us may never have a true place in the sports world, but sports wouldn't be what they are without us. If you're thinking about jumping off a sinking ship for a pristine yacht and don't mind getting called a few names on the way to a couple of championships, well, you're a cheater. And I have no room to talk. THUNDERUP!!