Posted Feb 18 2010 10:43AM
I am a proud and unabashed Lakers fan. I always feel obligated to offer an explanation as to why, because 1.) I grew up in Western New York (Buffalo), and 2.) Laker fans have a collective rep as bandwagon-riding bozos.
I know that Laker fans can be an insufferable lot. A bunch of louts wearing Kobe jerseys and chanting "MVP" when he's at the free-throw line. Most of them probably think Gail Goodrich is the name of a pancake mix. When Kobe and Phil retire and the contender-years come to an end, a good portion of "Laker Nation" will defect to whatever team LeBron plays for. I know, I know, I know.
That's not how I get down, though. I haven't been to a Laker game as a non-journalist in seven years, but even if I were at Staples Center, I wouldn't chant "MVP." If you showed me a silhouette of Elden Campbell shooting an eight-footer, I'd be able to ID him. I've seen a little too much of Nick Van Exel's upper lip. In the post-Kobe/Phil salad days, I will remain a die-hard.
I should have been a Knicks fan, right? But I never watched them on TV, and they stunk during my formative years. Whoever I saw my Pops rooting for was going to be who I ended up rooting for. During the '80s, Pops was consumed by the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Because he was somewhat of a reformed pseudo-militant, the rivalry was as much a black-white thing as it was a Lakers-Celtics thing.
My first truly vivid sports memory was staying up late to watch the 1985 Finals. I was in kindergarten. All I knew, as a little kid, was that Dad really, really, really wanted the dudes in purple and yellow to win. The dudes in green and white were either "punks" or "lames." The dude wearing 32 was "Magic" and the guy wearing 33, in goggles, was "Reem." Dad seethed, celebrated, protested, shouted and gave me high-fives that felt worse than whoopings, all while he blared Miles Davis' Decoy. That was the soundtrack to the '85 Finals. Come to find out, he played Miles and other jazz because he couldn't stand to hear Tommy Heinsohn, a former Celtic, announce the games with a homers streak.
By the time the '87 Finals rolled around, the only person I hated as much as Larry Bird was my second grade teacher, Ms. Seggio. (I still hate Ms. Seggio, but Bird is a cool customer).
Fast forward 20 years to June 2007 -- the Lakers are middling and Kobe is demanding a trade. Well that sucks. But something was about to suck even worse.
Even though I hated the Celtics, I still dug Paul Pierce. Loved his game, loved his moxie, loved everything about him. I didn't necessarily think Doc Rivers was the greatest coach, but he was a likable man. Then they had to go and trade for Ray freaking Allen and Kevin fudging Garnett. Three of my favorite players in the league, and one of the more likable coaches, suddenly were rocking with the friggin' Celtics. This was bad news.
It took all the joy out of hating the Celtics. How am I going to "hate" a team with PP, Jesus Shuttlesworth, KG and Doc? Even when they completely bullied the Lakers in the 2008 Finals, I couldn't coax any loathing. On the real, deep down, I was kinda happy for them. I admired the way Boston played and wished the Lakers were more like them.
This season, things have reached a critical and embarrassing level. I never thought I'd get here, but, in all honesty, I wish the Lakers and Celtics would swap rosters.
It's not just PP, KG and Ray. Other than Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, there is no player I dig more than Rajon Rondo. In 2007, he was just a young point guard. Now he's a beast. I've been a fan of Rasheed Wallace since his freshman year at North Carolina. Kendrick Perkins is a straight gangster on the court, a goon. And you can't not like Doc unless you're a true Celtics fan and dislike his coaching.
Everything about the squad is dope to me. Their team persona is my favorite in the league.
The really troubling thing is that the Lakers are the exact kind of team that I'd dislike, maybe even hate, if I weren't a lifelong fan. It took me about six seasons and two championships to fully embrace Kobe. Why? I don't know ... I mean, he wore sunglasses to his "going pro" press conference. And other stuff like -- right around the time I was listening to Moment Of Truth and Black On Both Sides -- busting lame raps on "K.O.B.E." with Tyra Banks singing the hook. Even though he's won my squad way too many games, he remains perilously close to "unlikable" if you're the type of person that wants to take it there.
I love Phil Jackson, but will readily admit he's smug and elitist. He has the right to be and, because he coaches my squad, I dig the heck out of it. But it would probably be fun to root against him.
The rest of the team is just so opposite of the type of aggressive, street'ish, rebel-squads I tend to appreciate. If I weren't a Lakers fan, there is not one Laker that I would check for. Well, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. That's about it.
Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), my squad plays the squad with the roster that I wish was the roster for my squad. I will spend 98 percent of the game rooting for Andrew Bynum to act like he enjoys playing basketball, for Jordan Farmar to calm down a little and make good (and not delusional) decisions with the rock, for Pau Gasol to dominate like he's the best big man on the floor (he is), for Luke Walton (if he plays) to not shoot turnaround jumpers, for Sasha Vujacic (if he plays) to please make some jumpers, for Lamar to be aggressive, for Ron to be our enforcer ... for my squad to rout the Cs.
But that other 2 percent of the time, I'll be looking at the Celtics on the court -- even if they're getting bludgeoned -- and thinking, "Man, I wish ..." Not, "I hope Rondo tears an ACL."
How did this happen? Who knows? It happened, though. So now I need for Danny Ainge to bail me out and rip apart the roster.
He had no right, whatsoever, assembling a Celtics team that is this hard to hate.
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