On rooting for laundry

Steve Nash forced a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. Ray Allen took less money to play for the Miami Heat. Charles Barkley was traded to the Suns’ bitter mid-90s rivals the Rockets, and Johnny Damon traitorously left the Red Sox for the Yankees.

This list could go on and on as time and again athletes have made it clear that these seemingly deep rivalries on the playing field are more about one fan base against the other rather than any kind of authentic disdain from one team to the next.

Although I could not imagine Derek Jeter opting to finish his career with the Red Sox or Larry Bird taking his talents to LA, Jerry Seinfeld’s old bit about how local sports fans are really just rooting for laundry has never been more true.

Bill Simmons made that point in an offseason NBA column:

These guys don’t care about rivalries.Only we do. We want to believe players care about things like “We hate Miami, we have to beat those guys!” … but they only care about that stuff in the moment. Fan bases, not players, keep rivalries going. Ray jumped to Miami because it was the best move for him. Nash jumped to the Lakers because it was the best move for him. That’s sports, that’s the way it’s always been, that’s the way it will always be.

This issue will come into play on Jan. 30 when Mr. Nash makes his first return to the Valley.

As Seinfeld put it in the aforementioned clip, “Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt, they hate him now. Boooo, different shirt! Boooo!”

It does seem a little silly the way Seinfeld puts it, but if you really wanted to think about sports in this manner you could question the wisdom of 20,000 (or 70,000 in football’s case) people cramming themselves into a building to holler while grown men throw a ball into a net.

When you strip sports down to the basics it all does seem a little ridiculous, but the reason we do care so much and root so vigorously for laundry is because it’s fun. It’s fun to watch your team through the years and all the accompanying ups and downs, from the thrilling come-from-behind wins to the heartbreaking defeats. It’s fun to talk a little trash and to take real pride in your team’s accomplishments even if you personally have nothing to do with them.

It’s also fun to boo that flopper on your team’s biggest rival and to make a ruckus in hopes of causing a missed free throw so that you can at least tell yourself that you made a contribution to your team’s effort.

Through rooting for laundry we become connected to certain players, and when they leave it becomes much more difficult emotionally than changing your underwear so to speak should be, especially when that player is Steve Nash.

It can hurt us when we thought we were rooting for more than just laundry, when a player transcends the player-fan relationship the way Nash did in Phoenix.

He was the face of the franchise for eight years, the engine that drove a contender and by the end of it the only reason to come out and watch a mediocre Suns team.

From a Seinfeldian perspective, it might seem crazy to boo a player who received this kind of ovation just a few months ago, but I think the rule of thumb should be to do everything in the spirit of fun and not take any transaction personally, no matter how bitter the rivalry may be. It might feel personal that Steve Nash wanted to play for the Lakers, but it isn’t.

I don’t think Nash deserves to be booed. That designation should be reserved for “villains” (from a Suns perspective of at least) like Manu Ginobili and Kobe or players who screw over the franchise on the way out (a la Dwight, who deserves Hell from the Magic faithful).

The Suns and Nash came to a mutual decision to split ways, so I don’t think it makes sense to hold it against him that the best situation for him happened to be with a major rival.

The Nash situation provides one more piece of evidence that it’s kind of silly to think of a player as belonging to a city or representing a city since he could be repping your biggest rival a few years down the road. From that standpoint, we really are all just rooting for laundry.

And that’s OK, so long as we realize that sports are meant to be fun and player movement is a part of the business, and thus we should not take it personally when our favorite player moves on to a hated rival.

Tags: Steve Nash

  • http://www.brightsideofthesun.com Gordon

    I say we give him the silent treatment. Boo the Hell out of Kobe, Pau, MWP, Jamison, and especially Howard but when Nash’s name is announced not a peep. No boos, no jeers or cheers, just crickets.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

      @Gordon A friend of mine brought up the silent treatment idea to me as well, and I think that’s brilliant. It’s unfortunate that will never happen because you can’t coordinate a riled-up, sellout crowd like that, but it would be pretty funny. Just feels wrong to boos him no matter what jersey he’s wearing.

      @Tony I actually agree with you for once up until that last bit. Hard to blame Nash for choosing the best possible option in terms of competitiveness and distance to family (his top two priorities), even if it is them. I do consider it a rivalry for no other reason than the LA/Phoenix thing. I understand that Suns fans consider them a rival much more than Lakers fans do, but it sure felt like a rivalry in the mid-2000s when the Suns were kicking their ass!

  • Tony

    The ignorance of many Suns fans is astounding. Nash did not force his way out of Phoenix, but actually was forced out by the Suns management. People seem to ignore that aspect and instead soley focus on the fact that he decided to play for the Lakers.

    By not evening offering Nash an extension, nor requesting a meeting with him once the free agency period began, it was quite clear that Sarver, Babby, and/or Blanks wanted to start fresh. While it’s fair to argue the merits of starting over without Nash, versus keeping him to mentor Marshall, it’s unfair to criticize Nash’s departure since he was no longer wanted by the Suns.

    Moreover, because of the Suns FO’s lack of interest in resigning Nash, are we really so ridiculous as to expect him to go sign with the Raptors, Mavs, or Knicks, and be far from his kids, rather than signing with the Lakers because of some purported rivalry with the Lakers? Furthermore, let’s not pretend there actually is a rivalry between the two franchises. How can there be a rivalry when one franchise has won 16 championships and the other hasn’t won any? This is not a true rivalry because there’s no parity in terms of competition between the Lakers and Suns. Until the Suns win even half as many as the Lakers, it’s silly to believe the Suns and Lakers have a legitimate rivalry.

  • Ty-Sun

    I’ll never boo Steve Nash. He a quality guy no matter what uniform he wears. I loved watching him play in a Mavericks uniform almost as much as I loved watching him play in a Suns uniform and I’ll still love watching him play in a Lakers uniform. The Suns will always be my team but there are some players – like Nash – that you just love to watch play the game no matter which team they play for.

  • Scott

    An explanation of what happened with the Suns over the summer, as delivered by Coro:


    As far as Nash goes, this is said:

    The walk from the end of a second consecutive lottery team to this fresh start felt like bare feet on broken glass for some because Nash’s departure was the first step.

    “We spent many hours with him on the topic of, ‘How could we bring you back and what combination of players would work for you and work for us to give us the financial flexibility to pay you and pay the players we’re interested in?’ ” Babby said. “If Steve came back, we felt like we needed a high-end backup. You’d have Bassy (Sebastian Telfair) but he was only under contract for another year. You had to invest in Steve and another point guard. When you begin to do the math, it becomes obvious that it was investing too much in one position.”

  • Scott

    As for Sarver’s role in events, there is the following:

    Dragic agreed to less than he had been asking because he wanted to return, a sentiment that was evident when he visited with Suns players and staffers before and after each game against Houston last season. There was some internal push for Raymond Felton, but Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver favored Dragic, just as he pushed for Luis Scola, via an amnesty waiver that came the day after New Orleans matched Gordon’s offer sheet.

    Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/20120907phoenix-suns-rebuilding-plan-coming-full-circle-under-lon-babby.html#ixzz26aTnsf00

  • melon man

    In england the fans beat the other fans teams’ asses. Hell, they do that all over europe. Perhaps we do root for laundry but that’s a sign of the times, instant gratification, we don’t let players even finish contracts half the time. I felt nash was a sun but I was wrong. Hey, the move worked for him and good for him but I will flip him off in the stands next year. Besides, everyone knows the team from my geographic area is better than the team from their geographic area.

  • Iceman

    I will chant MVP for Nash when he comes back the Phoenix. His jersey belongs in the Suns’ rafters and when he goes into the Hall of Fame, he should do so as a Phoenix Sun. The man brought the fans nearly a decade of heart-fought (not just hard fought) seasons that made these past 8 seasons mean something more to us fans.

    I am excited for him to finally get his recognition as one of the best PGs of all time when he goes to LA and shows everyone what a great PG can do to teams. The Lakers are going for the 96 record.

  • Scott

    @Iceman -

    I agree. I’d like to see Nash show the NBA he still has awesome stuff. Maybe more than that Mamba guy. ;)

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    What the hell is wrong with you guys? Boo Steve Nash? Because he was loyal for 10 years, when he could have played on any other team in the league? Because he was the best playmaker in the history of basketball? Because ownership treated him like shit? Because towards the end of the career a the 2x MVP wants to win a ring?
    There is no reason to boo, whatsoever. You should welcome him with a great applause, in order to honor his class and in order to behave classy yourselves.

  • http://n/a Keith

    For me, it’s all about the team and not about a player. So I absolutely do root for those wearing our uniforms and do not root for players on other teams. He’s not on our team, so he’s the enemy. Period, end of story. I will happily boo him like every other Laker. Past is the past. He is a Laker now. Come in our house, and you get booed. Very simple. I am not wishing him death or anything, but he is getting booed.

  • Danc133

    What a waste of wordiness. Seinfeld is and always was inane and to mention that moron in the same breath as the NBA is in insult to basketball. To whichever goof said without championships there is no rivalry bullspit. Look at recent history say the last decade the Suns have beaten the Lakers in more playoff series then the other way around. If there was no rivalry then why did Kobe even bother to mention his dislike for the Suns? Come on get your facts straight or at least put down the pipe before you post.

  • http://n/a Keith

    Agreed, Dan. It’s most certainly a rivalry no matter what the pompous Lakers or their fans think. We’ve done very well in said rivalry as of late.

  • Tony

    Oh wowwwww! The Suns knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs twice!! Only losers would take such pride and belief in a rivalry because of two playoff successes against a team that has won 16 championships in contrast to zero championships of the other franchise.

    It’s an insult to legitimate rivalries to label the Suns and Lakers as a rivalry. True rivals have parity in success, and are not as one-sided as the Suns-Lakers. The only issue that marginally represents a rivalry is the comparatively short distance between LA and Phoenix and the fact that so many Laker fans go to Suns home games. Yet, similar to the Lakers domination of championships compared to the Suns, go to a Lakers versus Suns game at the Staples Center and count how many Suns fans attend….You’ll hardly find many at all.

    My point is only that beating the Lakers two out three times in the last decade hardly qualifies the Suns as a rival to the Lakers, who have won 16 championships and have won 2 championships while making 3 total Finals appearances in the same decade. Furthermore, it’s not as if there will be a shift in either franchises’ position with respect to winning. On paper, the Lakers have the best starting five in the NBA and most likely will at least make it to the Western Conference Finals. What about the Suns? Most likely a 3rd consecutive year not even making the playoffs.

  • http://n/a Keith

    Lolz. *not taking bait*

  • JZ

    This is a dreamer’s wish, but I hope Dragic turns into that Dragon from the Spurs playoffs 3 years ago. This team actually looks like it could be the SSOL version 2. Affordable versions: Dragic(NASH), Beasley (Matrix), Scola(STAT). This version doesn’t have a great SG like Joe Johnson, but Wesley Johnson has shown to be a good scorer…in NBA 2K. (Shannon Brown or JD as 6th man a la Barbosa?) The other difference is that this possible SSOL version has a somewhat reliable center in Marcin Gortat. Both versions are not great at defense but the second seems more capable to rebound.
    This won’t be the same SSOL from the mid 00′s, but could Dragic use this squad’s potential and his own to propel himself to All-Star game and MVP considerations.
    Is this too hard to believe? probably. However, this team has nowhere to go but up and Dragic is the face of the franchise that needs to make the “analysts” eat their words. I would like to dub this team the “Cinderella Suns” by the time this season is over.
    BTW…is getting Harden next year a stretch?

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    So … the Suns basically have no rivalries, since they don’t compare to the Spurs, Lakers, or Mavs.

  • J

    @ Tony You’re obviously a clown, or Lakers fan. Who are you to tell what a rivalry is? Did you write the book? Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics….Clearly Boston has 17 banners hanging to Miami’s 2 but does that mean Boston is better? No you clown. I don’t understand laker fans thinking they know rivalry because their team won championships. You’ve only been alive for 5 of them and probably understood only 2, and most likely you aren’t even from L.A. Mavericks vs. Spurs is a Rivalry, Clippers vs. Lakers inner Rivalry, Bulls vs. Heat, Bulls vs. Knicks, they all have history which makes them good Rivalries…You should do some homework, ask your parents about history in the NBA…

  • steve

    @J – Tony is a clown, definitely not a Lakers fan.

    @the topic at hand – I am going to boo Steve Nash with all my might. I’m not bitter at him. He did what he wanted, and he has every right to do that. Why am I going to boo him? Because that’s what Suns fans do to Lakers players.

    I like Steve Nash. When he’s not wearing the purple and gold any more, and he’s inducted into the Hall as a Phoenix Sun, and he’s put into the Ring of Honor, I’ll be there with everyone else cheering him on, remembering the good things he brought to Phoenix. But I don’t root for players for any reason besides the fact that the team needs gusy to play well in order to do well. I am loyal to the team, and I will root for players on when they are wearing my team’s uniform. If more Phoenicians would root for “laundry,” this wouldn’t be the stink-pit of a fairweather sports town that it is.

  • Ty-Sun

    Rivalries evolve as do teams over the years. Once intense team rivalries die down over the years with the changing fortunes of each team. To say that they Suns and Lakers were never a hot rivalry is ludicrous. To say that is is still a hot rivalry is equally ludicrous. Some fans might still feel it but the teams don’t. The players change over the years and they all have their own specific “grudges” against other players or teams. Sometimes those come together as a composite hatred of another team and a rivalry results. But a true team rivalry needs a mutual sort of hate between the two teams. The Suns haven’t been good enough or mean enough to create or maintain any sort of rivalry with any other team in the past couple of years.

    Personally I still hate the Spurs more than any other team in the NBA. The Lakers are second but not really close now that Nash is there. But that is a fan perspective and rivalries always live much longer in fan memories than team memories.

  • steve


    I agree with what you’re saying about rivalries evolving over time. This isn’t really about a rivalry, but as far as specific teams I hate at the moment, a new #1 has emerged (actually they emerged in the 2010-11 season). The Miami Heat. I generally hate any other team besides the Suns so much that I will not root for anyone besides PHX. If two other teams not named the Suns are playing, the best possible outcome, in my opinion, would be for both teams to somehow lose.

    However, in the 2011 Finals, I found myself rooting harder for the Mavs than I have ever rooted for any non-Phoenix team, simply because I cannot stand LeBron. In 2007 (or whatever year it was when the Heat and Mavs were matched up before), I “rooted” for the Heat simply because I hated the Mavs so much at the time (fresh off knocking the Suns around).

    My hatred for teams does ebb and flow a little bit from time to time, but in the big picture, there is no team more worthy of a Phoenician’s disdain than the LA Lakers. Same Conference. Same Division. The championship count is 17 to 0. Division championship count is 23 to 6. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the Lakers OWNED Phoenix in the playoffs. LA knocked PHX out of the playoffs five times in the ’80s. FIVE TIMES. What the Spurs have done to the Suns is nothing compared to that.

    The Lakers are for more enviable than the Spurs, and they have caused far more damage to the Suns than the Spurs throughout the course of time. Sure, the Spurs have been the worse villain over the past decade, but the Lakers…

  • Ty-Sun

    @ steve – I will just NEVER be able to forget the Robert Horry foul that started the train wreck in the 2007 playoffs. I will hate Robert Horry until the day I die. I know it’s irrational but I hate that SOB and always will… and since he was wearing a Spurs uni when it happened, I hate the Spurs more than any other team in the NBA. “Cheap Shot Bob/Rob” is how I will always remember Horry and I’ll ALWAYS hate the Spurs more than any other NBA team.

    They should change their name to the SA Scum. Then I might actually have a tiny little bit of respect for them

  • Ty-Sun

    After all I said in my last post, I must say that I still love George Gervin. I had the chance to meet him back in 2007. They were my favorite ABA team way back when… but the Spurs are the #1 NBA team that I hate these days. If Steve had gone to the Spurs I would boo him any and every time I saw him.