Everyone Loves An Underdog: Lessons From Watching My First NBA Playoffs

by Peter Spina
Everyone Loves An Underdog: Lessons From Watching My First NBA Playoffs

If you haven’t been watching the NBA Playoffs, you have at least  1 more chance to watch history in the making!

I typically don’t watch basketball; but these past few weeks, I’ve been staying up way past my bedtime to watch these exciting games. I have been swept up in the fervor that is the Raptors vs. Warriors fight to the finish!

Admittedly, if the Raptors weren’t in the Playoffs, I probably wouldn’t be watching. I grew up just outside of Toronto and moved to the city for 5 years for school, so my Excited by Association feels are definitely at play; that “OMG I’m sorta kinda from there! This is MY TEAM, TOO!” feeling has got a hold on me.

But the other – and larger – factor that is making me absolutely PSYCHED to watch these teams duke it out is the love and support for the underdog team that is exuding from every corner of the North American continent right now.

The Limits of Raptor Fever Do Not Exist

I know some people reading this aren’t Raptors fans, but according to our Instagram poll, about 2/3 of our Synergee Athletes are cheering for the Raps. And according to this TSN article, most American fans are cheering right alongside the Canadian fans for the Raps.

But also, Toronto is a relatively new team that is rising to first-time heights in the NBA this year - which, Raptors fan or not, you gotta admit is pretty fricken cool! 

The Raptors have shocked basketball fans across the nation. People are travelling across Canada and then lining up for DAYS to snag a spot outside – yes OUTSIDE! – the Scotiabank Arena and watch the game in “Jurassic Park”.

The Raptors unexpected, ground-breaking slew of wins has even resulted in McDonalds giving out an unprecedented over-two-million orders of free French fry across Ontario, amounting to $5.8 MILLION worth of fries to be given away! McDonalds signed a sponsorship deal to give away free fries in Ontario every time the Raptors made 12 three-point shots in a game. Unbeknownst to them, the Raptors would sink 12 or more three-pointers in over half their games this season, AND added another 5 during the playoffs. McDonalds was NOT expecting a) the Raptors to sink so many baskets, and b) Raptors fans to be such hungry fry fiends! 

Everybody's Cheering for the Underdog

In short, the Raptors have been blowing peoples MINDS across the continent; and this team has been supported by an insanely excited and growing fan base throughout this season.

Although I don’t have the time or resources to conduct a continent-wide survey, based on the articles I have been reading, it sounds like a large portion of Raptors fans are drawn to the Toronto team because they are inspired by their ability to defy the odds: to show up, give it their all, and win an unexpected number of games in the process.

(Of course, a lot of people are going nuts about Kawhi Leonard, too – but there’s no Kawh-I in TEAM! He’s fricken awesome, but that’s not what this post is about!)

As I watched the Raptors play on Monday, I was distracted from the actual game time and time again by the fans: the people in row G hugging strangers in row H and high-fiving people they don’t know in Row F; the screaming fans in- and outside of the stadium; and even the friends I was watching with, who were unable to remain sitting or standing because their excitement started to express itself in a form of untamable restlessness.

And it struck me that this feeling and passion isn’t just a love for basketball; this is what INSPIRATION looks like. This is the excitement that comes from seeing the unexpected become reality.

Every Failure is a Chapter in Your Success Story

I feel this moment in NBA history is an important one to reflect on, dear Athletes, because it reminds us – or at least, me – of the power of The Underdog Story.

And the Underdog Story teaches us that success is earned. And that success after a series of losses, failures, mistakes, whatever you wanna call ‘em tastes sweeter and is celebrated louder than any other success out there!

The Underdog Story makes me question, “Where would I be now if I hadn’t been afraid of failing in the past?”

Because how often do we refrain from pushing ourselves – from adding weight to the bar, adding a km to our run, or even trying out a new fitness class – because we fear failure or a DNF? How often do we fear standing in the spotlight when people who are “better” or “stronger” or “faster” have stood there before us?

The Underdog Story never ceases to tug at my heartstrings because it shows how resilience and unrelenting focus can make the ordinary extraordinary. It restores my faith in humanity to see people cry tears of exhilarated joy at the sight of someone succeed after rooting for them through thick and thin!

And it makes me think: that could be me one day!

Not that I think I’m going to play for the NBA and win the play-offs. Hahahaha nooooo I am an optimist, but I am not delusional!

What I mean is:

Me-Right-Now can’t back squat 300 lbs. But if I put in the time, and I put in the work, maybe Me-One-Day can confidently go A$$ To Grass with 300 pounds on my back.

And while I’m putting in the time, I know people are going to need to spot me at 250 lbs; they’ll see me miss a 280 lb squat; they’ll see me come in some days and struggle with an EMPTY bar (we all have those days).

And as I fall down and get back up to try again, it’s not the sound of jeers or “better luck next times” that fuel my fire: it’s the screams and cheers I’m going to hear when I hit my goal that keeps me squatting.

Final Words from Kawhi

I know I said I didn’t want this to be all about Kawhi, but he did have some beautiful words to share about how to be relentless and give it your all. So let’s end with that:

 “You’ve just got to have fun with it and enjoy it. Like I told [my teammates] tonight — we were down 10, I told them to enjoy the moment and embrace it. Let’s have fun and love it. This is why we’re here,” Leonard said. “It’s the same mindset I’ve been having throughout the playoffs: just come in, have fun, try to execute the best I can, and play confident. Whatever happens after that is what happens. I know that I put the work in. I can live with the results because I’m having fun and I’m putting my all out on the floor.”

Keep at it, Athletes! We're cheering for you!