Adopted loyalty is different than its pure-breed brethren Loyalty, capital-L.
The latter is typically generational, slowly melded over years of devout, jingoistic following to a country or an institution or a starstruck professional football franchise (hey, look, over here that’s me!). It feels earned, even if your life and the ever-accruing amount you are owned don’t always overlap; as if your unflinching fandom has earned you a sliver of the spoils, assuming one is fortunate enough to achieve such seemingly mythical honors*. I’m a Kansas City sports fan because my father was before me and his before him; it’s part of how I was raised.
*I’m a Chiefs and Royals fan so I remain skeptical whether these things are actually attainable, personally
Adopted loyalty, though, has never felt as organically correct to me. I really started following the NBA about six or seven years ago, picking up the professional game late after a Kansas Jayhawk-infused love affair with the college game lasting the first decade of my sport-fan life. With no Loyalty, capital-L, to any particular team I canvassed the league, wanting to pick the perfect franchise for which I would pledge my undying allegiance. I eventually settled on the Oklahoma City Thunder for a variety of reasons, the majority rational and logical; they were bad, so it would be a far cry from jumping on a bandwagon, while it also had become the closest team geographically to Kansas City. And, as a cherry on top, they had just drafted Kevin Durant, who had dazzled my eyes, along with the rest of the oxygen-breathing populace, the year before while at Texas. It all seemed perfect. I had become a Thunder fan, just as I was a Chiefs fan.
Except it never really worked out like that. Where rational thought had led me to select them as my favorite team, the unquantifiable spark was missing. I’d watch games and I’d want to root for them, and I sometimes would, but others I felt this undeniable urge to cheer for another team. It wasn’t that I disliked the Thunder, though I do now; it was that it felt so ungenuine (not a word) to claim them my own. I hadn’t “earned” any success, for lack of a better term; I had simply shown up, (metaphorically) bought a Starter cap and begun exclaiming “Kevin Durant 4 Life!!!!11!!11one!!1” to anyone who would listen. I’ve since dropped the charade and merely claim an allegiance to the league as a whole, although different teams catch my eye from time to time.
This long, overly personal diatribe leads to another, shorter, more relevant one: as much as I loved Xavier basketball during my four years on campus it never really felt like “my” team until last year’s overmatched squad. I grew to absolutely adore the 2012-13 Musketeers, championing them while the rest of the world was lambasting their apparent lack of depth and athletic ceiling. I grew overly attached to the unrelenting force of Travis Taylor and the unassailable potential of Semaj Christon. I paced around my living room for two hours while they struggled, two-steps-forward-three-steps-back style, during seemingly innocuous games in Olean, New York. The season ended unfavorably, obviously, but it was the season the Xavier Musketeers transformed from “my alma mater’s team” to “my college basketball team,” changing my paid-for-by-tuition loyalty to an undying, lifelong affection best described as Loyalty.
I love these Xavier Musketeers. Before the season, drunk on both hubris and actual alcohol, I placed a couple of wagers on my boys. At the beginning of the season, as the scores remained lopsided despite abhorrent performances from the free throw line and a revolving door of injuries, it didn’t seem all that bad. Following a disastrous three game stint in Atlantis, exacerbated by two come-from-behind wins against competition, in Bowling Green and Evansville, which should have been overmatched; not looking too hot.
This is not a game preview. You can get that other places; I haven’t seen UC play a single time all season, don’t as of yet have a KenPom subscription and would really just be displaying my relative ignorance if I tried to inform you of any basketball realities. Just know this. This is the most important Crosstown Shootout of my lifetime. I wasn’t aware of the rivalry when Lenny Brown hit a buzzer-beater to take down the #1-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats, prompting the legendary call “the UC Bearcats are #1 in the country but #2 in their own city.” I never once saw Kenyon Martin wear those delightful old Bearcat uniforms, nor did I witness a David West game at Cintas. I’m new to this rivalry but now, over the past year, it’s become my rivalry. The Musketeers are my team and our rival, which can be said so singularly considering the ending of the Xavier-Dayton series, is UC. I came to this city five years ago always having possessed an affinity for the Bearcats. Minor and relatively meaningless, sure, but I certainly didn’t hate them. Even last season I found myself cheering for them at times. But now? Now I want nothing but failure for those Cliftonites. I’m sick of their arrogance. I’m sick of their insistence on playing this series in the gigantic shithole which goes by the name US Bank Arena. I’m sick of the incessant trash talk on the new Big East, stinking to high heaven of jealousy and defensive attacking. We’re not the ones in the same conference as Houston and SMU, y’all. This game means a lot. Probably too much.