Last night during the third quarter of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ win over the Miami Heat, Wolves fans booed their home team again. While Minnesota’s sloppy play warranted some frustration, this seemed like an odd response from those vocal dissenters in the crowd. The Wolves entered the Heat game on a three-game win streak and still had a chance to get back into the game when the boos began. Ironically, they ended up going on a run shortly after the crowd became angered and established a rhythm that helped them eventually win the game.
However, to any avid booers who may think they put a fire under the team’s ass after yelling at the top of their lungs from the seats, correlation is not causation in this situation. There has become increasingly more evidence that in the current sports landscape, boos don’t motivate players. Instead, it aggravates them.
In Rudy Gobert’s press conference after the game, he addressed the crowd’s booing, saying, “I just don’t appreciate people that come in and boo your team. When you’re a fan, you gotta support your team in the tough or the good moments. There’s no team in NBA history that only had good moments, so if you’re not going to support us in the tough moments, just stay home. I think if you’re going to embrace us in the tough moments, then come, and then we’re going to love the support.”
Anthony Edwards also chimed in on the subject, saying, “Yeah, I love the crowd, man. Tell them, ‘Hey y’all, if y’all listening to this, keep coming, showing us love, stop booing us. We’re going to give you everything we got, man. We trying.”
Both players approach their address to the fan base from a different perspective. Gobert took a slightly sharper tone as a veteran, criticizing the negative fans for their unhelpful behavior and schooling them on the history of constant ups and downs of the NBA. Ant appealed to the fans’ good nature by pointing out how hard the players work to get wins for fans and themselves. However, both arrive at the same conclusion.
When you come to a home game, don’t boo us. Support us.
Gobert and Edwards aren’t the only players in the NBA who have spoken out against fans booing them. Last year, Julius Randle gave the notoriously rambunctious New York Knicks fans a thumbs down during a comeback win last season. Fans had booed the Knicks for getting behind early in the game. In the post-game press conference, Randle said the gesture was meant to tell fans to “shut the f*** up.”
The gesture also seemed to be in reference to a few New York Mets players who gave their fans the thumbs down after being booed throughout a slow part of their season. While all players involved in these thumbing incidents eventually apologized to fans despite not doing anything more offensive than the fans were doing to them, the message remains clear that most players don’t want to be booed.
Randle is still on the Knicks, and though the relationship seems to have been mended, some players have gone so far as to demand trades because of how much they disliked their fanbase and vice versa. Infamously, Ben Simmons passed up a shot near the rim during a critical moment in the playoffs. The combination of negative fan response and lack of support from his coaching staff led to Simmons requesting a trade. What’s worse, it contributed to some severe mental health issues for Simmons, which may follow him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, you would hear little sympathy for Simmons from sports analysts. More often, you hear people questioning the validity of his mental health issues. As recently as this year, someone was seen harassing Simmons in a candy store, telling him he can’t shoot.
There are countless more examples of fans ruining a player’s experience with a team and a city. I could write an entire article on the scars that hardcore Wolves fans have gained from the many heartbreaks and failures that have plagued the franchise throughout the years. I could then use this history to attempt to justify the frustration fans are showing in the stadium. However, that would be unfair to the players currently on the team. Most of them were nowhere near Minnesota when many of these heartbreaks happened. Edwards and Jaden McDaniels were around four years old when the Wolves lost in the Western Conference Finals in 2004.
It’s also unfair to fans to continue to let our past disappointments in the team bias how we view an entirely new group of players and front-office staff. It takes away the enjoyment we get from watching basketball. If you let your trust issues from past relationships ruin your new relationships, you create a toxic cycle that only hurts your experience of the relationship and the person you are in it with. The same goes for the relationship between fan and team. And if the relationship only serves to disappoint you rather than bring you joy, there’s no shame in finding a different team to support or reexamining your relationship with sports to discover where your emotions are coming from.
Ask yourself why it is that sports make you so angry. If your goal isn’t to goad your favorite team into playing harder, then what is booing for? Is it to make someone feel bad for their inability to accomplish your vicarious desire to see them win? And if so, where does the disconnect between fandom and the humanity of the players on your favorite teams happen? What makes you feel you’re entitled to make someone else feel bad for disappointing you, especially when they almost certainly already feel bad on their own because their career trajectories and livelihoods are based on winning and playing well?
I believe these are some of the questions we must ask ourselves as fans of modern sports to circumvent toxic fandom moving into the future. Gone are the days when the only place fans could spout their irrational takes to the world was on AM radio. They had to wait in line behind hundreds of callers, only to be cut off by the show’s host when the opinions became too outlandish. Now fans can say nearly whatever they want, whenever they want, on a social media platform built to amplify their voice to others discussing the same subjects. Echo chambers have become more resonant than ever. If you don’t actively seek other people’s perspectives, their voices and stories will be drowned out by the almighty Al G. Rhythm.
Players already hear enough criticism from fans of other teams online. They deserve to feel love when they play on their home court. Thus I strongly encourage the Timberwolves fan base to lead with love when they go to home games this year. You heard it first-hand from one of the best defensive players of our generation, Gobert, and the player who is set to lead our franchise for the foreseeable future in Ant. Players want to be supported by their fan base even when they are struggling.
Ultimately, our job as fans is to encourage the players to play their best by celebrating their incredible moments and motivating them to stay in the game when things get tough. It is not our job to compound the team’s frustrations and make them feel bad for their mistakes. That will only alienate the players from the fan base, making them unappreciative of the support they get from us when it comes. Not every player requests a trade after their relationship with the fans of their team goes bad. However, it’s never worth taking that risk or putting someone else down so that you can get your frustrations from the week out in a mob of other angry people. A crowd may give you anonymity, but it does not protect you from being responsible for the harm you cause others.