Is Fandom a Mental Illness?

I have always been a crazed sports fan for the teams I love.

I don't remember this, but my mother tells me when I was seven I went into the bathroom and sobbed when the Yankees lost. When I moved to Los Angeles as a young adult, it didn't get much better. For more than thirty years, I have bled "Purple and Gold," going into a serious depression, barely able to talk to family and friends, when the Lakers lost and feeling complete exaltation, close to euphoria, when they won, especially an important game.

Wednesday night, when Kobe dropped twenty-five on the Spurs in the second half of their Western Conference final game to pull the Lakers back from a twenty-point third-quarter deficit, I was in heaven. You'd have thought I'd just won the Pulitzer or been nominated for an Oscar. (Okay, those awards are tainted, but you know what I mean.) An hour before, when my team looked to be blown out, I was in hell, stomping around my house like some grown-up version of Little Itch.

With these extremes, good for me I was a Laker and Yankee fan. Think what I would have been like if I rooted for, say, the Chicago Cubs!

I also confess to a secret vice. When I want to procrastinate, which is remarkably often during basketball season, I log onto LakersGround, a forum for fans who seem to be as obsessed as I am. From what I can gather, they come in all sizes, shapes, races, and ages -- although many, though far from all, are male.

So the question that puzzles me is -- why do I care so much? This isn't me. I don't have anything to do with these sports teams other than I live or lived in their towns. I gain nothing from their success or failure, nor do I contribute anything to it (well, other than the cost of a small yacht for Laker seats). It should be no more than a mild diversion, an entertainment, like watching a couple of episodes of South Park. But it's clearly not.

Sometimes fandom almost feels like a mental illness. During the playoffs, I can spend more time thinking about my team than my work, family, or anything else. Part of the reason I am writing this article is that it, at least, combines thinking about the team with work. And I have checked LakersGround and ESPN twice while writing it, even though the article, no magnum opus, is at this point barely seven short paragraphs long. Surely there is something wrong with me.

But what is it? Am I just some aging white guy anxious to identify with six-seven black dudes who can slam-dunk backwards? I hope it's not that pathetic. But even so, I worshiped Mickey Mantle when I was a kid and he was shorter, white, a bit pudgy and, apparently, something of a drunk. (Parenthetically, I am much more willing to excuse athletes their personal foibles than any other public figures -- as in the Mr. Bryant mentioned above.)

So what is it? Arrested development? Testosterone poisoning? So far I have no full explanation for this insanity. And it's not just me of course -- Bedlam itself had nothing on those maniacs sitting in EnergySolutions Arena for a Utah Jazz game. And I'm not even going to mention the Euro-bullies pouring out of the stands for your average Neanderthal dust-up between Manchester United and the Italian team du jour.

Whatever the case, it's all idiotic. Still, I can't wait for the Spurs-Lakers game tonight, although I dread it and am already biting my nails. So forget your Shakespeare and his sonnets, your Oscar Wilde and his witty comments, what I really want to hear are the immortal words of the late Chick Hearn: "This game's in the refrigerator ... the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and the Jell-O's jigglin'!"

UPDATE: Lakers 101 - Spurs 71