"You know why kids love athletes?"
The ever-so-suave George Clooney's Ryan Bingham, who fires people for a living, asks the ever-so-natural JK Simmons' Bob in Jason Reitman's understated study on modern alienation, Up in the Air.
Bob, who worked loyally for his company for years and earned 90 grand a year, had just been let go. Clooney was the messenger. And he not only tells Bob that he's fired, he berates him too. Bob is not pleased. What are his kids going to think of him when he doesn't have a job?
"You know why kids love athletes?"
"I don't know, because they s***w lingerie models?"
"No that's why we love athletes. Kids love athletes because they follow their dreams."
Who was the first athlete you fell in love with as a kid? Who was the first sportsperson who captured your imagination as your bones grew and your body filled out? It doesn't take much, right? You were young and impressionable, and you saw a little man with curly hair and a smile of a seven-year-old walk into oval-shaped grounds and make the world's most ferocious bowlers look like your docile pet.
Or maybe you saw a blond, handsome young man in a red shirt kick a ball into the goal from the halfway line and throw his hands into the air and smile cluelessly, unaware of the importance of what he had done.
Or maybe it was Roger Federer.
It really doesn't take much. And once they have occupied your head and your heart, they don't budge. That's how fandom works — you don't replace your heroes, no matter what.
Today, when Novak Djokovic is mopping his opponents' blood off the tennis court, day in and out, he is still not as loved as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
It's been written about a lot.
That Djokovic doesn't get the appreciation he deserves, that the crowd is always against him if he's playing one of the loved ones. But then, what did you think? A generation of tennis fans who had fed off of Federer and Nadal would just throw their arms up, give up and start loving Djokovic? That's not how it works.
Fandom is not based on logic, in fact it often berates it. You don't pick and choose. It's this weird, inexplicable thing how people tie down their emotions to an athlete or a team. When they win, you feel on top of the world, all your problems in life take a backseat and you experience pure joy. Few things can do that to you.
And when they lose, you lose with them. To be a fan is to ride an emotional roller-coaster. It's unhealthy. But you're fine with it. You live with it long after your heroes have retired or faded away, long after your football club has been relegated. Some one once rightly said: a hero is someone you can admire without an apology.
In a time when modern-day footballers have achieved the impossible and beyond, Michel Platini is still my father's favourite. He can't stop talking about him when talking about football. You can't change that. No amount of Zlatan, Ronaldo and Messi can change that. Time doesn't have an effect on a fan.
Even when Virat Kohli is playing like a beast and probably on his way to break all records, he is nowhere near that echelon where Sachin Tendulkar resides. A country of a billion people grew up watching Tendulkar, they switched off their television sets when he got out, grown men cried like babies when he retired. You can't erase all that. There was an emotional bond that can't be severed. Kohli is immensely appreciated, loved even. But he's far from being the country's darling.
People who say Djokovic isn't appreciated enough are blind. Look around, every one is bowing down to what the Serbian is doing. He commands respect and tennis fans admire his athleticism, his unflinching determination, and his clockwork nature. They appreciate the hard work he has put in to reach that level.
Djokovic is a great champion. But fans can't get over Federer and Nadal because one guy is making mince meat out of the two who enthralled the world in the past decade. Djokovic has fans yes, but it will take him some time to have his own legion. It's really hard to follow an act that got a standing ovation. And that audience is still standing, waiting for an encore.