Sunday, February 5, 2017

My Fantasy Career

We want control.

Backseat drivers. Commenters on political news articles. Armchair quarterbacks.

Fantasy GMs.

I had my introduction to the world of fantasy sports in high school. I forget the mechanics of how it worked, but I recall friends luring me into the world of fantasy baseball--a sport I never much cared for, and could never really claim to know all that much about. A fantasy I chose to partake in more to be part of the crowd than out of a genuine interest in the game. I drafted a relief pitcher--the best relief pitcher, mind you--with my first draft pick. My friends scoffed. Apparently, you didn’t start picking relief pitchers until much later rounds of a draft.

My main memories of this first foray into fantasy sports was waiting for moments when girls I crushed on walked nearby, and proceeding act like a knew what I was talking about, using the kind of vocabulary and cadence with which I’d heard sports big wigs talk on TV.

But then there was fantasy basketball. In a period of my life when I watched NBA games compulsively, obsessed over my basketball card collection, played NBA Jam daily, and, whenever the weather permitted, shot hoops at the local playground, participating in a fantasy basketball league seemed like an obvious step.

But I didn’t know of any such league.

I should note that this all happened in the fledgling days of the Internet, when our family, like most, used dial up to get online and loading the most basic web pages took a matter of minutes. While my understanding is that online fantasy leagues had started to take shape, using them, like using most aspects of the Internet at the time, was at least as annoying as it was enjoyable.

Thus, I developed my own system for a fantasy basketball league. I concocted formulas that took into account points and assists per game, and shooting percentage statistics to give players overall offensive value numbers; I considered blocks and steals for defense. From there, I developed a system of random numbers to determine how players would fare against each other, using a literal roll of dice, to account for random happenstance of which players would beat out others, position-for-position, to determine who would win games. I’d even woven in a randomized system to put players out for injury at different intervals throughout the season.

I explained to my lunchtime crew the details of what I had worked out. Most of them were confused, but willing to go along with the experiment. One even nerdier friend pointed out the overwhelming similarities between my rudimentary system and the mechanics of how Dungeons and Dragons functioned.

Leading up to draft day, Ben told me that my set up sounded dumb, and that he could simulate the whole thing on NBA Live 1999 instead.

Putting my hurt pride aside, the time investment of executing my system over a projected 82-game season, versus letting his Play Station handle it all had its merits.

Thus, we proceeded with an in-person, on-paper draft to forge eight teams of twelve to play on Ben’s TV screen.

The first couple nights of the experiment went well. My team unbeaten. The beginnings of trash talk for fledgling rivalries and foreseen big games between championship contenders.

Then Ben got impatient and played out the next three seasons.

Gone were the nuances of trades, or the dramatic build of a playoff series. My team had gone to Finals all three of the seasons and won twice--the points Ben emphasized for me. And though I tried to argue the point that he had no right turn NBA Live into warp drive and peer into the future, no one else seemed to much care.

So I let it go.

I tried fantasy basketball again about six or seven years later, after college, when Internet speeds had improved and online fantasy technology had grown more advanced. But most well-developed systems required entry fees and whenever I dipped my toe in the water of ostensibly free ones, I quickly discovered layers of nuance I had never anticipated. Not just the prospect of assembling a roster, but considerations of salary caps and the variety of intangibles beyond superficial statistical information that these systems took into consideration.

Moreover, I felt an immediate pressure. These fantasy leagues tied in directly to real-life occurrences, such that real-world injuries could cripple rosters, and real-life trades could lead diminished playing time for one player, or touches ballooning for another.

It doesn’t help that my passion for watching basketball had waned in this period—in the aftermath of my beloved New York Knicks as championship contenders and the retirement of Michael Jordan, plus the arrival of a host of new rookies who I struggled to keep track of. I recognize that it isn’t really contemporary fantasy leagues that are to blame for my failure to engage with them; it was at least equally my own diminished interest and refusal to let fantasy basketball become a twenty-hour-a-week avocation.

I was invited into the fantasy world again about five years later, living in Baltimore where a hot period for The Ravens seemed to make everyone a die hard NFL fan. My colleagues staged fantasy drafts over lunch hours and were at least as invested as my high school buddies and I had been in how the season would proceed.

Time and again I got the call to join in. Time and again, I passed.

For in that time in Baltimore, I had rediscovered a truth that I suppose I'd known all along. That I couldn’t both participate and not care. My first year working in Baltimore, I participated in an ongoing American Idolprediction game, and not only watched, but compulsively studied the show in an effort to win. When I considered the time that would be necessary for me to not just participate, but be competitive in a fantasy football league, obsessing over a sport that I didn’t even like, I failed to see any meaningful rewards.

And thus, my fantasy career died.

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