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Daily Babble: Despite Appearances, Celts Fans Reveling In the De-Normalization of Losing

Recently, all-purpose CelticsBlog MVP Bob Day wondered in the forums about the nature of fan emotions over the course of this dream Celtics season:
Indeed, it seems right now that any bunch of C's fans you might pick are mad at half the team at any given time...I say that for the simple reason that unlike most other team fan sites these days, activity here drops off sharply when things are going well whereas the others perk right along as usual. I think other Celtics fans sites have experienced this as well because a number of them have commented on it.

The nature of fan reaction to poor gameplay and losing also seems to be somewhat more extreme this year compared to last season.

Given that Bob tends to be a fairly thoughtful dude, it seemed only worth taking the time to consider his take on this one.  That time seems only that much more well spent when one realizes that Bob may well be absolutely right.

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People like to characterize certain fan bases as groups that love negativity.  Some say Boston fans can't live without misery.  For some it is Chicago fans.  Or maybe New York fans always need drama.  The stereotypes abound.

As a native New Yorker who lives and dies with the Celtics, frankly, I'm not sure how geographically unique each fan base is.  What I do believe is that there are two factors that could likely apply to any fan base and particularly the Celtics this season that both help explain why Bob's assessment is what it is.

The first is that the higher the stakes become, the less acceptable failure is.  Though the Celtics are virtually the opposite of the 24-58 team they were last year, it is to be expected that fans and perhaps others around the team take more issue with losing now than they did last season.  This is because when a team is terrible, losing becomes normalized for a fan base. 

Whether all of us can admit it or not, losing did to some degree become a part of the routine for Celtics fans last season.  Some embraced it to the point of rooting for the team to tank for the draft; some remained frustrated anew with each loss.  But by some point shortly after the turn of the calendar, it became evident that this was not a good team and that expecting great things in the won-loss column from the 2006-07 Celtics simply was simply foolish.  For much of the fan base, the season became less about winning games and more about seeing progress from the youngsters and finding a reason to hope for the future.  Seasons like the one Celts fans went through last year become about looking for silver linings that will allow us a reasonable justification to become neurotic about winning and losing once again in the future.

That future is now in Boston.  The pieces Danny Ainge had spent seasons compiling were turned into Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in two fell swoops, and the team is now set to make a run at an NBA title.  It is finally about winning again in Beantown.  This is a wonderful thing, and no matter how angry we sound at times, it is my truly held contention that we fans are cognizant of this nearly all of the time.  Perhaps not always, but certainly close. 

However, with expectations of greatness come both a greater pressure to win and a greater focus on the details.  The 'little things' in basketball don't matter so much when none of the 'big things' aren't remotely present.  When the team is winning 24 games and can't play defense to save its collective life, the issue of back-up point guard isn't a particularly pertinent one.  When the team is getting blown out every other night, who cares about what the eleventh and twelfth men bring to the table?  They aren't going to make a sizable enough difference either way.  On a team that is already very good and looking to make the jump to great, all those details come back into play.  Given the legitimate potential for the team to win, there will also likely be more enthusiasm for discussing them.

As such, it remains my belief that fans will be angriest about losing and most obsessive over attention to detail when losing isn't normalized.  The likelihood is that even the most diehard of Celts fans are taking losses harder this season than they did last season.  That in its own right is a testament to how far this team has come in such a short time and how incredibly happy the fan base is on a regular basis.  The stakes are higher and the fans care more, making the valleys lower than usual but the peaks higher than usual.  Works for me.

Because losing isn't a normal part of Boston Celtics basketball anymore.  In fact, it is the furthest thing from normal.

It feels good to say that.  Really good.  Our anger over the 'little things' only further accentuates just how much we enjoy that truth these days.

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