Rand: Moral victories can have short shelf life

  • Updated: December 28, 2011 - 9:21 AM

Sometimes you can feel good or bad about the exact same type of loss, depending on the timing and circumstances that surround it.

Ricky Rubio supported teammate Michael Beasley

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Official standings in major sports do not include a spot for "moral victories" -- well, except for the NHL, which uniquely camouflages them as overtime or shootout losses.

Still, the larger point is this: Moral victories are the rationalized creations of players, coaches and even fans -- losses wrapped in a "yeah, but" sentimentality that attempts to reward effort, a narrow margin or other such things.

The sporting public then has the right to accept or reject, by various degrees, these qualifiers. Moral victories are hard for a lot of people to swallow, but we believe there are some key factors that determine whether they are denounced outright as blatant excuse-making or granted as imperfect salves. Here are five of those factors - with examples:

• Relative quality of both teams: This one is the most obvious, but a single loss -- in a vacuum -- by a below-average team against an elite team can be passed off quite easily as a moral victory. The best and most recent example, of course, is the Timberwolves' 104-100 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. That was the perfect moral victory in terms of timing, entertainment value and matchup. "Obviously, we would have felt better with a win, but we just had a good feeling in the locker room after the game," Kevin Love said. This would not work after, say, a home game against the Raptors.

• Repetitiveness: Part of the reason the Wolves' moral victory was perfect the other night is it was the first game of the season. It would not have been so easily accepted in Game 50, after several more similar moral victories and quotes from Love.

• Expectations: If a team has shown that it has achieved enough to be beyond the need for moral victories, it makes claiming one that much tougher. For example, Wild coach Mike Yeo said this after the Wild lost in a shootout -- earning a point in the process -- against Chicago, the second game of what is now a seven-game losing streak: "As far as I'm concerned, that's a win for our guys." That one rubbed a decent number of people the wrong way.

• Magnitude: No amount of David vs. Goliath attempted heroism can turn a real loss into a moral victory if the game is big enough. It's best to not even try. Examples: Twins in the playoffs, 2002 ALCS through 2010 ALDS.

• Wording: How you attempt to frame a moral victory can be essential. Choose your words carefully, trying to strike a balance between sincerity and admit of defeat while also shedding a positive light on the overall situation. Such as: "This might not have been the best thing you've ever read, but it was a sincere attempt to both entertain fans and help them relate to teams better."

MICHAEL RAND

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