Joel Reichenberger: Cheering for the underdog

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— I spend more time than reasonable worrying about who to cheer for in sporting events where I have no natural rooting interests.

Take tennis, for instance. Until recently, I always cheered against Roger Federer, and I’ve always felt a little bad about it. It has long been obvious the guy was amazingly good.

It’s a dominance thing. When someone’s that good, I have an unofficial policy of rooting against them.

That’s why I’m rooting against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Truthfully, I care little about the NBA, but like most of America, I’ve been put off by the Heat. I’ve rooted against them in every round of the playoffs, my dedication becoming more real until it manifested itself in my watching an actual game.

I feel a little guilty about that, too. When I lay down everything that went on with the Heat, I find it more annoying than something to hate. LeBron James is a great player, and he’s been at his very best through the past couple of weeks.

That should be worthy of applause from a bandwagon NBA fan such as myself, not contempt.

I realized this week that I have nothing to be ashamed of, however.

Shaquille O’Neal retired last week. He’s another player I used to hate. I spent most of his career cheering against the guy for no reason other than that he was too good. Shaq seemed like cheating. As his career wore on, however, I grew to appreciate his personality more and eventually his skills.

I’ve taken the same course with Federer. Like Shaq, he has been humbled in recent years, losing the No. 1 ranking he had an iron grip on for so long. Then, last week when everyone in the world was hoping for a Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal final at the French Open, Federer ruined all that, upsetting Djokovic and bringing about one more clash in the greatest tennis rivalry of the last decade: Federer vs. Nadal.

I was thrilled to see that happen.

I may not always have good reasons to root against people. Most of America probably doesn’t have great reasons for rooting against the Heat.

But so long as we at some point recognize and congratulate greatness, I’m OK with that.

I may not pull for LeBron and his boys any time soon, but given my track record, eventually I’ll give in.

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