Andray Blatche, 13 and 12 with 4 steals for a tidy 23 fantasy points: This is why I play fantasy basketball. Why, you might ask yourself, would a moderately above average performance from a moderately inspiring journeyman in a pretty exciting mid-season game between two mediocre teams be such an emotional touchstone for me? Why would it validate fantasy basketball for me at all? Because his performance made my hobby feel useful.
I watch a lot of NBA games. I’m not a hardcore junky; I don’t have time to watch more than half a game a night before dinner (part of the reason I’m so Eastern Conference centric: their games fit the niche between when I quit work and I have dinner), and occasionally the entirety of a Heat game. But I read a lot of game summaries, and I follow closely the ongoing narratives in the league and its supporting communities. I’m interested, on a meta level, what’s happening in the game and what how we interpret that as a community has to say about who we are as a people.
I’ll admit, I’m ambivalent about that. I could be spending that time catching up on world news, reading the Economist the way my wife does. I could be learning a new skill or improving an old one. All that knowledge I soak up, all those games I watch don’t produce anything except an expertise in a completely superfluous pastime, which is of dubious real world value. Fantasy basketball upends that (somewhat). Having a use for all that knowledge I’m soaking in, putting my understanding of those narratives and its characters to work helps me to validate the otherwise wasteful use of my time. Sure, putting the knowledge from one superfluous pastime to use in a second more time-consuming pastime might seem like doubling down on useless ephemera, but the validation I get from fantasy basketball reinforcing my knowledge of the game reinforces that I’m paying attention, reading signs correctly, and that I may very well be taking useful skills away from this pastime.
That’s what Andray Blatche represents for me: The correct reading of a situation. I’d coveted Blatche all year, somewhat irrationally, since his statistics don’t really measure up to how much I wanted him. He’s a solid role player with few stinkers, but more than anything I valued his narrative. Amnestied by the Washington Wizards due to poor conditioning and an even worse attitude, Blatche was then picked up by the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason. He looked good in the pre-season: slimmed down, determined to show his value as an NBA player. I liked the chip on his shoulder and just missed getting him in my fantasy draft.
So I was surprised when Blatche showed up on the league’s free agent list. Doubly so that he showed up the day before he played against Washington, the team that, according to his narrative at least, callously cut him in the offseason. There was no doubt that Blatche was going to be hyped to play against his old team. It’s an NBA truism that players love showing up their old teams, something equivalent to looking great the first time you see your ex, bonus points for being with someone better. That’s Blatche and the Wizards to a T, and I expected good things would result for the fantasy team that had Blatche in that game, and that team was now my team. Hence my delight at Blatche’s 23 fantasy points against the Wizards last night. His above average performance validated my understanding of his value, the league and the way it functions.
It’s not much. It’s a tiny moment, but a significant one. I may not keep Blatche all year; fantasy value has a way of fluctuating based on how many games a player has in a given week, and Blatche’s value is high this week, with a back to back yesterday and today. But to have another member of my league drop Blatche right before a game with the Wizards and for me to have picked him up at exactly the right moment for a very tidy score is a wonderful and satisfying feeling, and a reminder of why I find fantasy basketball such a satisfying experience.