The “Maybes” Make Sports Great

When it comes to predictions, sports reporters need to show conviction to be taken seriously. An “expert” might suggest how both teams could win a game, but ultimately he or she has to pick a team, then stick to it. There’s no room for “maybe.”

Saying “it will be interesting to see” can buy a play-by-play or color commentator time, but that’s quickly become an all-but-meaningless expression. I try my hardest never to use it.

I predicted before the Eastern Conference Finals that the Heat would beat the Celtics in six games. The voice of the analytical, objective observer that lives in the left side of my brain still argues the Heat will win in six, and for the same reasons: the Heat are too fast, too young, too strong and too deep.

But as I watched the Celtics pull out an edge-of-the-couch overtime victory over the Heat in Game 4, I could hear another voice in my head. It didn’t come from the part of my brain that thinks – no, it came from some deeper, rawer, part of my brain. A part that just “feels.”

And everything that voice said started with one word: “Maybe.”

Maybe this win gives the Celtics some momentum. Maybe it’s enough momentum to steal the win in Miami they couldn’t manage in Game 2.

Maybe the Celtics will play Game 6 at home with an honest-to-God chance to clinch. Maybe the Celtics can beat the Heat after all.

Maybe the Big 3 can still win Banner 18.

Sports writers don’t want to entertain thoughts of “maybe.” If we’re right, we gloat for a moment at our own understanding of the game, then move on. If we’re wrong, we take a moment to figure out what went differently than expected, then move on.

“Maybe” grounds us in the present when we’d just as soon start looking to the future. There’ll always be another game, another series, another season, and we by necessity have to approach sports with a bit broader perspective than the fans.

But for the fans, “maybe” can be everything. I bet thousands of people watching Game 4 Sunday night all went through the same thought process I did. Beating the Heat four times seems darn tough, but beating them twice? That’s half the work, and the Celtics aren’t dead yet.

Maybe Kevin Garnett has a few more 20-10 games left in the tank. Maybe Rajon Rondo has transformed permanently into a higher class of player. Maybe Ray Allen‘s shooting struggles aren’t as tied into his bone spurs as everyone thought. Maybe his shooting keeps improving before the playoffs end.

Ultimately, “maybe” is a sign of hope. As long as you can keep saying “maybe,” some part of you still believes your team can win.

The Heat looked quite menacing before the Eastern Conference Finals started, and the media overwhelmingly picked them to advance. Normally Boston fans turn that kind of media reaction into more support for the home team, falling back on the old adage, “No one believed in us.”

But Celtics fans by and large went in the opposite reaction, calling the season a success just by the team making it this far. “We’re just happy to be here,” as the equally old adage goes.

As one of the most demanding fanbases in American sports, for Boston fans to give in to the media’s portrayal of the series like that shows just how good the Heat are. We started preparing ourselves for the loss before the series even started.

Boston fans weren’t wrong to do this. Even now, despite Boston heading to Miami on a two-game winning streak, few people think Boston can pull this off. And if your team is going to lose, why not start preparing yourself for the loss early and save yourself some of the bitterest grief?

Everyone started prepping for the Celtics’ exit after they lost the first two games. We’re still ready for that should it happen, but now we’re also starting to ready ourselves for the opposite. And as a fan, being torn between two believable outcomes is far more exhilarating than always knowing what’s going to happen.

Sports are all about the “maybes,” whether you’re a writer who ignores them or a fan who lives for them. Because without the “maybes,” sports just wouldn’t be as much fun.

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