Love of the game: How sports created a community for me

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Growing up in Southern California, I knew one undeniable fact: Kobe Bryant was basketball god.

Whether you followed the NBA or not, you could not escape it. Ask anyone you know, and chances are they’ll know that name — Kobe.

It takes a special kind of person to have that level of fame, reverence and recognition. But that begs the question — why?

Bryant was the face of the Lakers for well over a decade. He won five championships and three gold medals and tore the hearts out of any and every opposing fan who watched him play.

He was electrifying.

To me, that says something. Not about Bryant, not about his skill, his ability or his heart but about the very nature of sports themselves.

Some people get confused about the popularity of sports. They see them as trivial, something people use as an excuse to shut off their brains while they watch sweaty athletes do things that, in the long run, don’t mean anything.

In some regards, that’s true. Did Bryant really accomplish anything when he made a basket? If he dropped 30 points, did anything in my life really change?

The short answer is: Well, no. At the end of the day, it is just a game.

But that’s not the point.

Sports are something else entirely. They have no script, they have no set ending. In any and every event, anyone can win, regardless of preconceived expectations. And even departing from the pure entertainment value of it all, there’s something greater behind it.

Sports inspire. Sports bring people together. They elicit emotion and passion in their most powerful forms.

Whether you love basketball, football, baseball, tennis, track, soccer, volleyball or any other sport, you understand that the game means more than the final score or mark. When I think about my favorite teams and players, I don’t just think about the most recent wins or losses; I think about my memories.

I think about the games when I’m standing up screaming at the TV, the intense joy I feel when my team wins or my favorite athlete succeeds and the frustration when they fail. Sports let you throw yourself into something else — they give you something to root for.

Bryant’s popularity and rabid fan base would not exist without this. Lakers fans are known to be insufferable, but take a moment to try and comprehend how astonishing it is that there is a fan base this large.

Millions of people stand by their teams; millions of people scream at their TVs during close games; millions wear their fan gear with pride after victories; millions stand with you as you watch this one beautiful game unfold.

Sports create communities. There is nothing better, nothing more amazing than when you’re watching a game, and you realize there is an unimaginable number of people out there rooting for the same outcome as you. Everyone is a part of this one event, whether they are just participants or observers.

Watch events such as the Olympics or the World Cup to see this on an even greater scale. Countries band behind their best athletes, watching them with pride and hoping they succeed but standing behind them if they don’t. Sports are more than just games — they are a means of belonging. Win or lose, they are a way for people to connect with the world around them and be a part of something.

Bryant gave pride to Los Angeles. He gave the city a team to stand behind, to be proud of. And he’s not the only one. LeBron James, Roger Federer, Lionel Messi and Serena Williams are all greats who have not only dominated their respective sports but have created cultures bigger than themselves. They have inspired millions and brought them together to stand for one singular thing.

Whether this article illuminated something new or just reaffirmed what you already knew, this is the sense of community that sports create for me. Sports are universal, and they mean so much more than just a game.

Harshil Desai writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @harshdailycal.