Rejoicing at Our Enemy’s Downfall in an NBA Final

As Jews, we historically rejoice at the downfall of our enemies.  We boo Haman on Purim.  The very prayer our rabbis tell us in the Talmud to recite twice daily, Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea, taunts the supposed might of the fallen Egyptians after the Israelites cross the Red Sea.

But is it acceptable to rejoice at the pain of our enemies when they fall on the basketball court?

In Game 5 of this week’s NBA Finals, Kevin Durant, arguably one of the top three best players in the NBA, attempted a risky comeback from an injury to help his flailing Golden State Warriors to overcome a 3-1 deficit.  Unfortunately, only eleven minutes into playing, Durant’s initial injury exacerbated.  He went down on the side of the court.  There is now no shortage of discussion about the wisdom of this decision; depending on whether this injury proves to be career ending, pundits may debate the justice of the overwhelming pressure he received to play in Game 5 for years.

Unfortunately, what has also received prominent coverage was the initial reaction of a group of Toronto Raptors fans that cheered when they saw Durant go down on the court.  Certainly, in defense of the fans, much has been made about the fact that this group did not recognize–at least at first–the extent of the injury: once they realized it was more serious, the entire stadium gave him a standing ovation in a seeming act of contrition.

Yet, the gut reaction of cheering an injured sports player–even in the intensity of the playoffs–raises the question of derech eretz, sometimes translated as common courtesy, literally meaning “the way of our land.” Even in an intense Game 5 situation, is it acceptable to cheer at an injured player on an opposing team?

In Atlanta, our beloved chop–which taunts the opposing team when it is playing poorly–is somewhat mean spirited, but I would argue that given its usual context, is appropriate (although as a Phillies fan, I die a little inside when I say that).  But would the Braves begin to chop if a player on the other team took a pitch to the stomach?  Unlikely.  It would be classless.

If UGA or Alabama (or name your favorite college football team here) was playing an in-conference game, and a dominant quarterback for the other team went down, would it be appropriate to celebrate that injury? Even if he would only miss a couple of sets? Remember: these are kids.  Some may eventually play professionally.  Others play for the opportunity to attend college on a scholarship.

The Red Sea crossing was a moment when the Jewish people faced certain annihilation: and so we rejoiced at the downfall of the Egyptians.  Haman’s downfall saved countless lives.  But sports are a game.

There is nothing wrong with having an intense love or passion for our team.  But we must be mindful never to allow that love to cross that into celebrating the pain of an opposing player:

And never, ever, be that person who paints your face going to a game:

About the Author
Daniel Dorsch is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. He also serves a Vice President of MERCAZ-USA, the Zionist arm of the Conservative movement. He enjoys barbecuing in the winter, wearing jeans to work, and spending time with his family.
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