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Why I am an Arizona Coyotes Fan: The Late Bloomer

How an anti-sports, Korean-American, music-loving kid from Houston, Texas eventually became a sports fan, twice, before settling on the Coyotes

Philadelphia Flyers v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to the refreshed Five For Howling! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

Looking back at my journey in becoming a sports fan is always an odd experience for me. Along the way, there was a lot of growth and change, as well as some odd moments. I’m glad that through Five For Howling, I can share my story with you all.

So, how did someone like me, an immigrant living in Houston, Texas, become a fan of the Arizona Coyotes?

My family immigrated here from South Korea in December of 1998 because of my dad’s work. When people talk about Korea, sports is not the first thing that comes to mind. Technology, pop culture, food, and dramas are the things most commonly associated with Korea. Neither of my parents are very interested in sports as well, so I wasn’t going to see a game on the TV very often at home.

I came to America at a very young age (when I was five), so I could have been interested in just about anything that my parents enrolled me in. I got enrolled in some basic youth sports programs (soccer, to be specific), but it was an absolute bust. Part of it was that there was a language barrier, but I was also just an extremely immature kid who didn’t exactly follow directions well, or at all. I didn’t really play, nor did it interest me at all, so my parents looked for something different.

That something turned out to be piano lessons and I threw myself into music. All my life, I have been a music kid. I took piano lessons for ten years and I have sung in some form of an organized choir for the past 16 years, whether it was for school or an extracurricular group. For as much as I love sports now, music has always been, and will probably always continue to be, the thing I love and enjoy most.

I never expected to ever become a sports fan. As a kid, I saw a clear divide and inevitable feud between the artists and athletes. Athletes undermine artists, and artists turn their shoulders to athletes; the worlds are so different from one another and cannot coexist. Athletes are barbarians, brawn over brain, and rude to others. This is the way things have been and will continue to be. Because of my foolishness and ignorance, I told myself that it would be impossible and wrong to become a sports fan: I was on the right side! I believed in this faulty, imaginary, black-and-white world for years.

Two major things helped turn me towards sports, but neither of those are sporting events or series. Instead, they are more simple things. The first one is that I started listening to music.

That sounds incredibly weird, right?

My close-minded tendencies didn’t just extend to the “debate” of athletes vs. artists. As a choir kid and piano student, I placed classical music and choir songs to be “true” music, while everything else wasn’t good. While I had divisions of what was acceptable and not, I didn’t actually listen to anything in my spare time. The music I listened to was the music I sang or played: that was it.

One of the genres of music I told myself I would never get into was rock and heavy metal. Heavy metal is barbaric, hyper-aggressive, brutal, and all of those things that those athlete people represent, while classical music is elegant and graceful. There’s no way heavy metal could be refined (which is hilarious, looking back, considering heavy metal and rock musicians are usually classically trained, and the genre is a variation of classical music, changed over time).

Then, a friend showed me a band in my freshman year of high school when a bunch of people gathered to play Rock Band 2. I read the pre-song blurb and was floored: they were talking about musical terms from classical stuff that I knew and related to, and then the song was unlike anything that I perceived rock music as.

After that experience, I went home and basically consumed the band’s discography. I expanded and listened to similar artists, and I found that music isn’t black-and-white. My perception of certain genres as “good” and “bad” was wrong; no genre can be pigeonholed into having to be something.

My second experience was that my older sister really got into sports when she went off to college.

I can’t say that my sister and I were that close when we were younger. We got into a lot of conflicts, and we basically led our own independent lives. We never ended up at the same school after elementary: she started high school when I started junior high, and we ended up at different high schools for the one year we were both enrolled. But when she left for college, we started talking a lot more. My sister, like my parents, was never really into sports when she was here in Houston. But her first semester of school, she would call me and just talk about football all the time.

This was someone I lived with, who never showed a real interest in sports, talking about football with enthusiasm. Keep in mind: we’re from Texas, where football is the second largest religion behind Christianity. My sister was in marching band for a year, so I’ve heard her talk about football in passing. This was entirely different, the interest was real.

Some of the guys from my high school choir at the time (I was a sophomore at this point) talked about football quite often as well. Again, I began to realize that my black-and-white perception of how sports were “bad” was incredibly faulty. People like what they like and our worlds aren’t different. I wanted to keep up with my sister and be able to talk with her about things, so I wanted to learn about football.

I began to realize that, despite my belief that sports and art couldn’t be more different, they actually couldn’t be any more similar. While they are not close to one another in terms of physical demands, sports and art have a lot of the same parallels. Both require a tremendous amount of diligence and practice to excel at, both are driven by extremely high levels of execution, both physically (the technical aspect) and mentally (actually performing said task). Both are used to give people enjoyment, sports and art are both forms of entertainment, after all, and both have so many various forms.

Parents enroll their kids into sports for the same reasons they sign their kids up for music, dance, acting, and any sort of artistic activity. These activities are fun, but they also teach kids important life lessons. Both require practice to be successful. We can improve by constantly working on improving what we do with extra repetitions, and in the largest moments, how we have always worked on something will be the same way we do it in the most crucial one. We learn about perseverance. Never leave jobs halfway completed, and even if things are difficult, find the drive within yourself to keep pushing. Teamwork is one of the most important lessons sports or art can teach. A team is an ensemble, and everyone has a role to fulfill. The group is at its best when everyone is working together to accomplish its goals.

Sports and art are not different spheres. It’s very clear that, if anything, they’re really close together on the same spectrum. I realized that I could easily get interested in sports for the same reasons I got into music. Even if I would never play sports at a meaningful level (I have never played organized sports outside of pick-up basketball at the gym), I could appreciate sports in the same way I appreciate music. I could love sports the same way that I love music.

And that’s exactly what happened. I started to absolutely love sports, and it was a constant cycle of consumption. There was a whole new world opened to me, and I just wanted to learn everything I could. The deeper I got into sports, the more I was fascinated by each individual sport, as well as how they worked. My intrigue with football carried over to the following the NBA Finals (2010 Lakers vs. Celtics) and MLB postseason (that Texas Rangers team with Cliff Lee was fun).

My intrigue with hockey did not fully start until my freshman year of college. Unfortunately, I started right when the lockout was ongoing. I couldn’t have had worse timing for trying to get interested, but for me, the lockout wasn’t that much of a deterrent. After all, the NFL had been threatening a lockout before the 2011 season, while the NBA suffered a lockout-shortened season in 2011-2012. Maybe it was because I knew nothing about Gary Bettman, but in my naïveté of some of the stupid things about this league, I assumed the lockout would pass.

While my premise was extremely faulty, the lockout did eventually end. Unfortunately, this is not where the story ends for bad premises. My intrigue with sports stemmed from an interest in the game. However, I ended up picking teams before learning about the game, instead of after. Looking back, that made absolutely no sense, but teenagers aren’t exactly known for reasoning, and I was no exception.

So the team I originally rooted for?

The Anaheim Ducks.

Yup, before I became an Arizona Coyotes fan, I rooted for the team in Orange County, and for a good portion of five seasons. I remembered them being the team that made a deep run in 2003, which was the first time I was made aware of the existence of hockey. It was as simple as that, and before anyone asks, no, I have never seen the Mighty Ducks movies.

Getting into hockey has been an absolute treat. I even ran a Ducks blog for a few months. But around 2015, I remember just sitting down, turning on a sports game, and just not having the same kind of excitement or joy anymore. I would watch big-time sporting events like the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I just could not get into games anymore.

In April, I did some self-analysis, and I realized that a large part of my displeasure with sports recently was that I just really did not like anything about the teams I rooted for. With football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey, I picked a team first. But for me, I went into becoming a sports fan by being curious about how the sport worked and wanting to learn about the game itself. Why did I commit to a team without knowing what I was committing to?

In the real world, we generally don’t accept job offers without first knowing what the job we’re taking is. We generally don’t apply to schools without knowing what the school is like (unless you’re stupid like I am, because I actually did this too). People generally don’t get married without knowing who their partner is very well. We don’t commit to things in our lives without a sufficient base of knowledge.

I realized that committing myself to being a fan of teams before knowing anything about the sports I was watching was beyond stupid. It made sense to me why, of the sports I watch regularly, the only one I really enjoyed watching was soccer. With soccer, I just watched everything in general, trying to pick up knowledge of the game before picking a team.

I decided then that I would use all the sports knowledge I had amassed in seven years to essentially hit a reset button on my sports fandom, picking new teams in those four sports.

I had different criteria for selecting new teams in each sport, and these were mine for my new NHL team.

I wanted a team that was building.

Since I was hitting the reset button, I wanted to grow as a fan as the team grew. That meant that a playoff team from the 2016-17 season would be out. That left 15 teams (we’re including the Vegas Golden Knights here, because this means I could really start anew), but I eliminated teams like the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Los Angeles Kings, since they were recently successful teams that had made playoff appearances or even won multiple championships in this decade. This also eliminated some fun possibilities, such as the Edmonton Oilers with Connor McDavid, or the Toronto Maple Leafs with Auston Matthews. But again, I wanted something from the ground up, so a first postseason appearance in a while would qualify as a ground-up experience.

I wanted to root for a team with a “forward-thinker” having a decently high position in the front office.

For those wondering: yes, I am one of those people who believes in analytics. I was a Math major for two years, I work as a Math tutor, and I’m trying to become a high school Math teacher, so my intrigue with math influences how I watch sports. I don’t believe analytics are the end-all, be-all in sports, they are not meant to replace the eye-test, but validate what the eye-test sees. If there’s a disagreement, then there needs to be an evaluation done both ways.

When I rooted for them, Anaheim was a budget team that worked on an internal spending limit, rather than the league salary-cap. A team that tries to build like the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Toronto Maple Leafs of the world without that sort of spending power will probably not succeed in the same way. $73 million gives you more opportunities to add quality talent than, say, $58 million. In the movie “Moneyball”, Billy Beane is trying to build his Oakland A’s team in a non-traditional way, despite the myriad of critics, many of whom reside from his own scouting department. But Beane (Brad Pitt) had a quote that really stuck with me. “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.”

Underdogs exist, and in terms of roster construction, those are the budget teams that don’t have the same ability to spend to the cap that other teams with more financial muscle do. In that case, don’t play the same game. Change it, bend the rules, and approach things differently.

Sports is just like any math problem: there is a starting point (the beginning of the offseason) and an endpoint (the championship). It does not matter how you get from Point A to Point B, all that matters is that you get there. The teams with resources, cap space, spending power, and such, those are the teams that can go from A to B in a relatively straight line (the shortest distance between two points). But other teams? There are detours, turns to make, and maybe even walking backward at times, but it is up to those teams to find alternate ways, rather than creating traffic jams by trying to take the same route in an older, slower car.

The ability to solve problems is a skill that benefits all people. Winning a championship in sports is not as simple as scout the best young talent, draft them, develop them, add complementary free-agent pieces, and go win the Cup, otherwise, we would see more true Cup contenders every year. The path to a championship is never linear, and the game is always progressing. Forward-thinking and analytics are, in my opinion, very valuable, and they are one of the best ways for smaller teams to close the gap on the larger ones, right behind huge young talent.

I wanted to root for a team with young pieces either already in place or on the verge of playing in the NHL.

Specifically, I was looking for success at two positions: center and defense. I am very much of the belief that, while goalies are the players who can best steal individual games, championship teams are built from their skaters. Goalies win games, skaters win series.

That basically left my team pool from 15 to three, though I almost immediately cut the Florida Panthers from consideration. One, they were really good last year and kind of had a blip on the radar. In my opinion, they were the better team in their postseason series last season and got beat because John Tavares was the best player. Two, they seemed to sour a bit on their analytics department because of the season they had, which is reasonable, and they probably went a bit too extreme on that side this offseason.

That left the Coyotes and the Carolina Hurricanes. Ultimately, I chose the Coyotes because of John Chayka and the roster. With Chayka, he’s the exact type of “forward-thinking” mind that I love for a team that won’t spend to the cap. His moves to try and acquire assets (such as eating the Pavel Datsyuk deal for an extra 1st round pick that eventually became Jakob Chychrun or taking Dave Bolland to take a flyer on Lawson Crouse) were great uses of cap space, which is an invaluable tool to use. There is so much talk about how the cap is staying relatively flat, and cap space is one way for teams to improve. Using this as a way to accumulate capital is an excellent move and expect to see some more of it, since the Coyotes have almost $26 million in cap room if the cap stays flat this season.

The other reason relates to the on-ice product. To me, I love the group of young players that the Coyotes have assembled. Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Christian Dvorak, Chychrun, Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer, Crouse, Dylan Strome, and Cam Dineen are incredibly exciting to think about, but to me, the big ones were Clayton Keller and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. I’ve said I care a ton about centers and defensemen, and I think those two make this team’s future extremely interesting to look at (and yes: I believe Keller can be a center at this level).

In terms of time, this journey is incredibly short. I started watching sports in 2010, following hockey in 2013, watching it in the 2013-2014 season, and became a Coyotes fan in April of 2017, right around the time I joined Five For Howling. But I’m glad that the journey I have taken has led me here, and I’m excited to share in future experiences with you all, both good and bad.

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