Fans know the rules. You don't boo a player who has more floor burns than field goal attempts. You don't boo a high school or college athlete unless he drives a more expensive car than you do. You don't boo the anthem singer, the organist, the backup quarterback, Tony Gwynn or any player whose mother is sitting within earshot.
Whom to boo? You boo underachievers, cheap-shot artists, whiners, loafers and arrogant churls who believe their $6 million salary is just about right for all the joy they bring to our otherwise empty lives. You boo Latrell Sprewell, Wayne Huizenga, Jeff George and Albert Belle. You boo coaches who scream when they're 20 points up with two minutes to go and referees who think they're part of the show. Taunting or heckling is rarely appropriate, but good, orderly, heartfelt booing is part of the deal.
Isaiah Rider, this boo's for you. This season alone, Rider, the talented but troubled Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard, has missed practices, been late for games, served a suspension for marijuana possession, verbally abused a flight attendant, speculated that the FBI or a "racist sniper" might be after him and spit on a fan. Other than that, he has been a coach's dream.
Before last week Rider had missed five games this season as the result of suspensions stemming from some of the above incidents. He was suspended for a sixth after he prematurely left the locker room during the Blazers' Feb. 10 home victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Why did Rider leave? Why else? He had gotten booed.
After Rider took an ill-advised shot midway through the fourth quarter, Portland coach Mike Dunleavy subbed for him. Instead of returning to the bench, Rider walked toward the locker room, motioned to his girlfriend to join him and left the arena. The next day, after arriving late to practice and leaving early, Rider told the media that he could no longer tolerate the abuse of Portland fans, who, if you listen to Rider, are busy lynching people when they're not enjoying Blazers games. "The respect isn't there," said Rider. "I might be the best player on the team, and I get booed."
Indeed, Rider may be Portland's best player, which is part of the reason he has been so lustily booed. Blazers fans are funny like that—they prefer their best players to play rather than serve suspensions. Naturally Rider has a more reasonable explanation. Portland is "a racist area," says Rider, who adds this brilliant observation: "Forty miles from here, they're probably still hanging people from trees."
No, they're not hanging anyone, Isaiah. They're just booing one ignoramus in a Blazers uniform, and for that we've got to hand it to you. In the long history of booing, rarely has an athlete done more to deserve it.