Utah Jazz Fans: Strength through diversity, the importance of fan passion, and the internet

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If you are reading this chances are you are a Utah Jazz fan. You may be old, or young. You may have been introduced to the team decades ago, or are just now finding a love for them. You can be a man, a woman, or anything in-between. You can love our past, or embrace our future. If you are reading this and are a Jazz fan then I am more than happy to call you kin. And more than that, I am more than willing to sit down with you and talk about the team we both love.

That said, things over the last few days (months? years?) have been going crazy. Before we go any further, please watch this video.

This video makes more sense than what has happened over the last few days. I've held several on the record and several off the record conversations with a diverse group of people over the last few days. Jazz fans and non-Jazz fans. Bloggers and non-bloggers. People who are directly associated with our community here, and people who are with other groups -- or no group at all. It was necessary to find out how people think by actually going out to them to talk to them. It was also very encouraging that some people took the time out to talk to me, and initiated things as well. One of my failings is a lack of telepathic ability, so I have to rely on the old school approach of actually talking things out with people. So if you heard from me then you know I care about how you think. If you did not hear from me directly then what that most likely means is that someone else who I talked with vouched for you, supported you, or explained how you feel about things to me on your behalf.

We're a small community. I don't mean people here at slcdunk.com. I mean we're a small community here, as Utah Jazz fans. Out of all the people on the planet, not all of them care about sports. Out of all the sports fans on the planet, not all of them care about basketball. Out of all the basketball fans on the planet, the majority do care about the NBA. But again, out of all the NBA fans, a very small percentage of them call themselves Utah Jazz fans. There are 6.9 billion people on that planet. The number of Los Angeles Lakers fans out there number in the multi-millions. Honestly? There are probably only half a million Utah Jazz fans out there. (If you double or triple that you're still at a smaller number than some other teams) Even fewer of us are even online every day and have a chance to make these personal connections and talk about the team we love.

And for me that's mind blowing. Let's back track here -- my parents are from the other side of the world, but somehow in my personal travels I've found a team to love that's located in a place I've never been. And even more mind blowing, I've found thousands of people to talk to who love the same team as I do -- while I have met only 3 Jazz fans in person in my life. Because of this thing called the internet, my life has been personally enriched because I get to interact with people who like the same things I like. Sadly, the internet is also a huge problem because it allows for immediate communication, but at the cost of depth, true meaning, and non-verbal communication cues.

It's super easy to read something incorrectly, or find a hidden meaning in something that was never there. Overt transmission of an idea is hard enough; and becomes even more difficult when people try to decipher hidden meanings, or meaning that is unintended. For example if I say a good thing about player A, do I automatically also mean something bad about player B? Depending on who reads what I write -- yes or no. Or both.

Language is tricky. And the internet makes it even harder to communicate and express what we mean -- even though we have great opportunities to connect now more than ever before in the history of civilization.

  • We're the super minority of NBA fans by being Jazz fans.
  • It's hard to find people who share the same passions.
  • The internet makes it easier to connect, but harder to communicate in a meaningful way.

As a result, probably more than ever, a prolonged losing streak can exhibit itself in some very negative ways. It's easier to be mad, write mad, and have other mad people miss-read what you write. And all of this can happen way too quickly for cooler heads to a) catch wind, and then b) eventually prevail. If the United States and the U.S.S.R. worked at sports internet speed during the cold war -- the world would have been mutually destructed, assuredly, thousands of times by now. But in that case, for our sake, communication was slower and thinking was maximized.

Today everything is immediate, and "internet speed" is both powerful and dangerous.

Moving beyond speed, the internet is really, really tricky because when we look at our screens we're not looking at other human beings. We're looking at usernames, or avatars, or random comments which are sometimes systemically launched onto the world wide web with a limited 140 character maximum length. It's harder to communicate now because dialog has been truncated into data packets. Conversations are now one sided salvos. For all of our celerity, we've moved too quick to remember to care.

Each of us, no matter if we're a college student, or an armed forced veteran, or a stay at home mom . . . we're all people. And for the most part, we're all Jazz fans. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you are pro-Ty, or anti-Ty. Or if you champion the C4, or hold fast to a more deliberate approach favoring veterans. We're all people. We're all Jazz fans. And we all deserve to be communicated with the same level of respect that we would earn in a face to face conversation. The internet has a great way of stripping us of this humanity. While the target of our internet attacks may be espousing an opinion we don't agree with -- they are still coming from a human being on the other side of the internet. You don't pick a fight with someone in the grocery store check out aisle for purchasing the rival brand of the soft drink you like. You don't yell at your neighbor for cutting his lawn on a different schedule than you cut your lawn on. I know in my personal experience that I don't get offended and lash out at someone who offers up a different opinion on how to solve a problem at work.

Being around other people changes how we behave -- we see them, we hear them better, we can deal with non-verbal communication cues. Tone and context are immediately understood because we grow up learning to read and react to other people in a face to face manner. We know when someone is joking. But on the internet -- we're still trying to re-learn the ways of discourse. Maybe years from now generations of children will grow up and just implicit know and be able to navigate the internet better than we do now. We're not quite there yet. We don't have a sarcastic green font, or fail to tag our jokes as jokes. As a result, being dehumanized on the net makes us both easier targets to be jerks to -- but also makes us harder to communicate effectively with.

And that's fine for specific situations like YouTube comment sections where every video, even one about cute little ducks, deviates into the same tired arguments about socialized medicine or something. But that's not fine here. I don't lay down the law much -- but in light of the last few days, and specifically in light of my own behavior -- I think I need to hold myself to a higher standard. And I know that we all are capable of meeting that standard as well.

My mother always used to appeal to reason when my brother and I would fight. She said that we only had each other, and that if we fought -- we'd be not just hurting each other, but hurting ourselves. Right now I think Jazz fans are hurting each other -- and it's a similarly self-destructive activity that a number of people have participated in or contributed towards. By dragging my feet on setting a standard I'm also guilty of this.

There are only half a million Jazz fans out there in the world. Or even if you double that -- it's still not a lot. When we fight we look dumb. When we fight we communicate poorly. And when we fight we actually hurt each other. I know that in my case I've been upset over something someone has written to me online before. I know that in my case I've also written something way too mean than it needed to be online before. In both cases, had the communication happened face to face -- the negative feelings would not have been transmitted because we would have worked towards resolving our difference of opinion in a civil way.

I think we can do that here at SLC Dunk, and elsewhere. But I'm not the Principal of twitter or facebook, or google or youtube. I am the "Principal" of this website though. So let's try to crib what The Shums wrote so many moons ago . . .

  1. If you are upset by something someone wrote, PLEASE take 3 seconds before starting your reply. If possible, try to process any alternative interpretations of what you read (maybe the user who wrote it meant it in a different way than how you read it?) and then use your judgement. I'm not going to moderate comments -- so I'm not saying "Don't get into it." Sometimes it's inevitable. But before you get into it take some time to see if what you read is really what they wrote. Most importantly, when you reply think to yourself: "Would I say this to that person in a face to face discussion?" If your reply fails that test, fails the "humanity check", then maybe you need to re-evaluate how important it is to get into it.
  2. SLC Dunk is old. We've been around for years -- and there's a growing list of phrases that are inside jokes. This is a fact. When someone says "shut up" or "loverboy" it doesn't mean what you may think it means. If you are confused -- don't by shy in asking. We're willing to catch people up : )
  3. Think before you write. Not just when writing a response, but always. You are a smart fan. You are a smart person. You represent a small fanbase, but one that is known for their knowledge of the game.
  4. We don't need to use four letter words. I know this is a sports website. But we're a Jazz website. I use four letter words during other times of my daily life, but I don't need to type them out here. I think most of you all can enjoy the Jazz without needing to use them here either. I want this a place I can be proud of. A safe for work place. A place where I wouldn't be ashamed of if my nephews found it, or my mother.
  5. If someone does not agree with you, that does not necessarily mean they are wrong. Sometimes in life more than one point of view can have truth to it. And more than one point of view can be flawed.
  6. No personal attacks. No ganging up.
  7. Do not throw labels at each other -- troll, homer, shill, hater, noob, cry baby, etc. Some words elicit a stronger reaction than others. Baiting someone or flaming someone is not cool here. Neither is subjectively painting another fan a color that they may or may not be.
  8. Try not to question each other's fanhood.
  9. If you feel the need to engage in a long form debate -- sometimes it helps to use specific examples. Use them. It encourages debate and helps elucidate your point of view.
  10. This isn't a popularity contest. If an opinion you have is shared by a number of other members of this community, that does not mean that your opinion is better than someone with a minority opinion. And if you have a minority opinion -- feel free to announce it. You may find it surprising to see how many other people agree with you and will fight with you.
  11. This site isn't MY site. This site is for all of us. If you feel like no one is talking about a story, or have a new take on a story line -- then feel free to write it yourself. All of us here got our start writing fanposts. It's true. Look it up.
  12. No one is too big to say "I was wrong," or "I apologize." You don't have to make it public, but if you work things out with someone you butt heads with you may actually develop a stronger bond and appreciation for each other / the other point of view / etc. The internet is a big place, big enough for all of us -- but it's way too tiny if all of us come into this with closed minds and closed hearts. We're better than that. After all, we're not Houston fans . . .
  13. Endeavor to have fun here, and make this the place you want it to be.

I can go on an on with more specific rules -- but I think that for the most part it's important to recognize that we're not just avatars or text on a screen. We're people. So try to interact with each other in a more humane way. I will try as well.

Rules aside, the whole "point" of SLC Dunk is to be a community run by fans for fans. We're not part of some big TV station. We're not part of an actual media or marketing arm of the NBA. We're not part of some newspaper or radio website. The whole point of SB Nation is to be the voice of the fan. And it makes sense when I look at where I've come from. I knew ZERO Jazz fans. Now I have access to all the Jazz fans I can handle : )

And that's the other major point of being a fan. Fans are the reason why spectator sports even exist today -- because fans bring in the money. The NBA doesn't have sponsors on their uniforms because it's us fans paying the big bills buying the tickets, buying the food, paying for parking, paying the expensive cable bills, buying league pass, buying jerseys, and producing the capital that the owners and players fought over. We just had the second lockout of my life in this sport recently. And during that entire process it was the fans, the third part of this three part relationship of Onwers -> Players -> Fans, who did not have ANY say.

We did not have any voice.

At least with these bigger, more organized blogs we can have our voice. It will never be a unified voice. But it is a place where our collective voices can be expressed. This place is for the fans, but it's a place both the players handlers and owners subordinates both keep tabs on. I know for sure as I've had legit media email me, I've had players' agents email me, and I've had official Jazz people DM and email me. Heck, the OWNER of the team has DMed me about something I wrote at SLC Dunk before.

It's important for us fans to remain being honest to ourselves and be fans. And I want this to be a place for all fans, and a place for all fan opinions. Period. I don't like how some fans get turned off from our site -- but I understand that. I don't want more people to leave though. So you are going to see some changes here after the trade deadline. (Pushed back from All-Star break) That said, we have to hold up our end of the bargain by being fans. And always feeling free to be honest fans.

None of us are NBA head coaches. None of us are NBA players. None of us are members of the media. And none of us are NBA front office execs. We're all fans here. And as a result, our responsibility is to be more open and honest with how we think and feel. Everyone else has to mince their words. We do not have to. We should not have to. We are the ones paying for it all, in the first place.

I don't know what a "professional" fan is, but that's the only thing we can be accused of when someone yells at us about professionalism. None of us here are paid to be professional writers. I do get a small administrative stipend, but that's mainly because I have to attend a lot of e-mail meetings and give up hours of my free time to make sure the trains run on time. (And as pointed out earlier, that money goes back into the site for paying for ads or contest prizes) So I know we've had a lot of criticism thrown our way lately, but we're not a for profit website. We do run ads but that's part of SB Nation -- not SLC Dunk. We're fan run. Written by fans. Researched by fans. Ranted 100% by fans. But we're FOR the fans.

And it's important for all of us to continue being fans, and being true to ourselves. We're the 'check and balance' against a force fed opinion. I understand the irony when so many of us may end up writing so much on one topic that WE begin to force feed our opinions back. However, that's just the luck of the draw. If 7 or 8 of us all starting writing posts about dribble penetration, or marketing strategies you'll probably see 7 or 8 points of view. It's only strange co-incidence that so many of us feel one way about a few hot button topics.

I'm going to continue rambling about fans for a bit here -- but only because it's the integral aspect of all of this. We choose to spend our time following a team. This is a team that deep down we love. We're passionate about our team. Our team elicits strong emotions from us. And those emotions sometimes fuel how we communicate. That's the very real human brain at work -- one that isn't too ashamed to remember that we're animals at time. Sports can fuel some pretty emotionally powerful actions -- from spontaneous joy and crying to riots. It's hard to keep bottled up. And we'd be doing a disservice to being a fanatic if we were always bottled up.

Not only is this a disservice to being a fan, but also psychologically a disservice to us as individuals as it's a great way to release a cascade of enkephalins and endorphins into the blood stream. If we are to receive a positive boost from sports -- it's an emotional one, one backed by biochemistry. And this positive effect is based upon passion.

We all need that from time to time. And if any one of us here has to write something to get something off their chest in a long-form post . . . then I'm going to support them. It's healthy, and encouraged. And after all, this is what fans do (besides fill up the seats, cheer loudly, and pay for everything).

So we've gone over the speed of the internet, how the internet makes communicating tough, some strategies on how to communicate more effectively here . . . and now why being a fan is important. What about strength through diversity? This brings us all back to being a Jazz fan. Not every human is a sports fan. Not every sports fan is a basketball fan. So forth and so on, we drill down . . . and we get the super niche minority of Utah Jazz fans.

Individually no one cares about us. You could even argue that the team we care about doesn't at times either.

But collectively, in an organized, and easily seen, vocal, checked in, and fervently passionate community that is a fertile ground for informed discourse and accepts multiple points of view? In this super concentrated, but effectively representative sample of Jazzfandom that SLC Dunk can become? In this way we are strong, loud, and heard. We matter. And people will care about not just what we think, feel, or spend money on -- but also care about us.

We represent the super minority of fans out there -- Utah Jazz fans. We come from different parts of the world. Speak different languages. Pray to different Gods. Have different backgrounds and education levels and jobs. But we're all Jazz fans. Some of us love the coach, some of us play to play the part of the GM. Some of us embrace the future, some of us are realists for the present. But we're all Jazz fans. And we are Jazz fans together here at SLC Dunk . . .and at the other great places Jazz fans hang out and interact with one another like other blogs, social media websites, or *gasp* in person at the games.

The internet can be a great place, but if used recklessly, a one way trainwreck. We need to maintain our passion level as we're a collective of fans here writing for fans -- that is large enough that the powers that be keep tabs on. If we brand ourselves in a way to appease one fringe group over the other we are no better than the traditional claptrack we exist to contest. Our real power, our real strength will come through diversity. Not a diversity of race or whatever. A diversity of opinion. If we want to represent the fans we need to encourage all fans to be part of our community.

And that starts by being nice to one another.

Shut up.

Go Jazz Go.

And last thing -- if you EVER want to communicate with any of us we're online almost all day long in every time zone. I know I'm accessible by a variety of means and I will always accept someone giving me their 2 cents. Active participant? Awesome. Talk to me. Lurker? No problem, you still have a way to reach me while still lurking. We're all part of the community. And this community is strong when we stand for each other even when we disagree with one another. We're fans. Let's continue being fans together.

Thanks for being a Jazz fan.

And if I've pissed any of you off deliberately or by accident -- please tell me. I want to know about it so I can understand it, own it, apologize, and move forward with you -- my kin -- my fellow Jazz fans.

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