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James is a contributor at The Hudsucker and Indianapolis Monthly. He's also a full-time student at IUPUI where he's one year away from a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism with a minor in Sociology. Music and friends are his main interests. He also loves sports, vinyl records and photography. Born and raised in the Midwest, he loves Indiana. But in a perfect world he would take Nashville, Tennessee and place it on the coast of St. Augustine, Florida, where he would live and never leave.

My Favorite Athletes Happen To Be The Most Popular But I’m Not a Bandwagon Fan, So Quit Asking

Through the process of socialization, which none of us are born with, we start learning how to act in socially defined situations. For second through fourth graders groomed with a love for sports, this becomes a very important time. This is the age of understanding what it means to win or lose. It’s also the time of finding favorite teams and players that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

Not only have I already had the good fortune of being a second through fourth grader, I also work with the age group for three hours a day, Monday through Friday. We play intense basketball games, while I teach them the significance of working as a team, and why it’s just as important to lose, as it is to win. And trust me, this indeed is the age of solidifying your favorite teams and athletes for the rest of your life.

When you’re 10-years-old, only a few things can determine your interest in a team or player:

  • Who your family roots for;
  • The city you live in;
  • The most popular athlete in their respective sport.

That last one is a tricky one. It’s okay to like the most popular athlete in your early years, but folks that continue flaunting only their favorites throughout their entire lives become known as bandwagon fans. These people only follow winning teams or popular athletes. For some reason our society doesn’t like that about people. We like it if you stick with your teams no matter what. God forbid we causally watch only popular teams or players. This doesn’t really matter to me, but because of my favorite players and teams I constantly hear things like, “Oh, you would like them.”

I’m tried of hearing about it every year. It’s not my fault.

Photo by: Elijah Abramson

Photo by: Elijah Abramson

In 1996 I was 10-years-old, and in the market for something cool and good, like most at that age. My Dad loved the Pacers so naturally I did too. But this was also the year Kobe Bryant was drafted at 17-years-old. He was the first guard drafted straight out of high school. He was young(er) like me and generated a lot of television time. I loved basketball and Kobe & Lakers were my favorite team. I spent hours shooting hoops on my garage-goal with an imaginary Kobe.

A year later I was introduced to Tiger Woods. I was chipping balls in the living room with my Dad as we watched Woods become the youngest Masters winner at 21-years-old. There was a period during this time of my life when my first best friend and I played golf 32 days in a row. This was because I idolized Woods and the character he brought to golf.

At 12-years-old I became a football fan. I’m from Indiana, where basketballs bounce through our blood. In 1998 that quickly changed when the Indianapolis Colts picked Peyton Manning No. 1 overall. The Pacers made some noise during Manning’s 14-year run with the Colts, but from early 2000 through 2011, Indy transformed into a football city. Even though he’s gone we still call Lucas Oil Stadium, The House that Peyton Built.

Photo by: Casey Gane-McCalla

Photo by: Casey Gane-McCalla

These were my young impressionable years. These three athletes have created memories for me and my Father that I will certainly share with my children. I will never forget watching Tiger Woods win his first Masters and then going outside with my Dad to hit plastic golf balls in the front yard. We still follow Woods to this day. It’s not my fault he stayed good, and went on to change the face of golf by winning nearly 100 total tournaments.

It’s also not my fault that Kobe Bryant and the Lakers won three NBA titles in a row right as I entered my teenage years. I played basketball in middle school & high school because of Bryant. I can’t help it that he has stayed at an elite level for his entire career, going on to win two more titles back to back, as I’m in my twenties.

It took a little longer for Peyton Manning to win his first championship, but it was well worth the wait. Woods and Bryant made it easy for me by winning their respective championships early on. Manning set many regular season records and won numerous MVP’s, but the night the Colts beat the Patriots to go on to the Super Bowl in 2007 is potentially the greatest memory of sports I’ll ever have. My Dad literally screamed for joy and I ran barefoot down the snowy street yelling, “Finally!” Again, it’s not my fault Manning is a living legend. He’s stayed pretty good too, as of week four this season he’s thrown 16 touchdowns…no interceptions.

Photo by: Jeremiah Thermidor

Photo by: Jeremiah Thermidor

So yeah, I love (borderline worship) three players that are arguably the best at their sport. I respect sports in general, and it’s because of three players. Three players that stayed consistently good at their craft. All have had off the field hiccups, but never on the field. The reason I love sports has everything to do with the memories Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning have left me with over the years.

Here’s how I rank the competitive sports that start a fire inside me. It’s Bryant & the Lakers at the top, but a tiny centimeter under him is the game of basketball. The same goes for Woods and golf, and Manning and football. Hell, I get excited to watch the Bobcats play the Wizards, or the Jaguars play the Buccaneers. And sometimes I’ll watch amateurs play golf on the Golf Channel just to watch people swing. I owe this excitement to the three that have consistently kept it exciting for me for more than 15 years.

Sure, I root excessively hard for some of the most popular teams/players in all of sports. But the memories they’ve given me by staying on top of their game is simply not my fault.

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  1. The Hudsucker Previews Super Bowl XLVIII | The Hudsucker - January 31, 2014

    […] lived in Indianapolis my entire life. When I was 11-years-old the Colts drafted Peyton Manning. I’m forever indebted to him and the memories he left my family and me during his 14 year run […]

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