NBA obsession brings comfort to a topsy-turvy world
In his latest essay, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist talks about his passion for his favorite team, the Lakers
During the first quarter of a recent Lakers-Warriors game at Staples Center, the Lakers were up by five points (a lead that didn’t last long, much to my abject misery) when I turned to my 11-year-old daughter and with an uncontrollable burst of excitable enthusiasm said to her “Sunny, I love basketball so much!!! These guys are so good at playing basketball!”
After she rolled her eyes and gave me the sarcastic “surprise surprise” look that only a pre-teen girl can muster, I happily turned my attention back to the game, laser-beam focused on every defensive rotation, the fluidity of ball movement, the uniqueness of each player’s shooting stroke, the body languages of confidence and despair, and the infinite well of basketball possibilities unfolding before me.
The truth is, I am obsessed with basketball and watch it constantly — high school ball, college ball, and every Laker game the entire season long — all the while cheering and jeering like an absolute lunatic.
I am in the middle of a world tour with my band right now, and there a group of people, intense fans, who follow us around the world seeing us perform night after night. They have each seen hundreds of RHCP shows in dozens of countries. Sometimes I think, these people are out of their ever-loving minds! I have to do this grueling tour and pour my heart out every night, but them? They could enjoy a few shows then scamper back to the love and comfort of their homes. But there they are night after night, paying attention to our variety of improvisations, the differences in our set lists, the different types of intensity we conjure up in different cities of the world, and they love it, sleeping in train stations and all.
One day recently, when I was thinking how crazy these chili pepper mega fans were, it dawned on me, that I am the same as them. Here I am, a grown man, a devoted father and a person with a busy professional career, yet I watch every single Laker game all season long, year after year after year. I read every article, I become attached to the players in an emotional way (despite not knowing them at all), and I pore over every stat sheet like it is the key to unlocking the mystery of everlasting life.
Am I crazy? I think it is some strange form of insanity. But the simple fact is it brings me comfort. In this topsy-turvy world of much suffering, basketball, much like music and art, has always been there for me. No matter the highs and lows of my life, the box score is the box score, a wicked crossover still causes me to shake my head in wonder, and the telepathic communication between the players on a highly functioning team is akin to the greatest jazzmen blowing the most sophisticated and spiritually deep gospel.
A Laker team playing well seems to afford me a lightness of being, uplifting my attitude towards all the other parts of my life. I become a better boyfriend, bandmate, and friend. A bad Laker team — like the one of the last few years — always seems to coincide with some low point in my life, the team like some ominous signpost of a superstitious culture from yesteryear.
Because I get so into it, people look at me like I’m crazy at games, including the players, who have given me many a bemused, offended, or puzzled look through the years. I was once approached by Chris Paul in the middle of a Lakers-Clippers game and he admonished me for some good-natured heckling I had offered up (he actually did a weird reverse psychology trick on me that left me like a deer in the headlights, before handing the Lakers their most lopsided defeat in team history, yikes), and the ref had to tell him to leave me alone! Ha!
As much as I single-mindedly root for the Lakers with a wildly unbalanced optimism, booing their opponents like a temperamental 2-year-old, I do respect the other team’s players quietly in the back of my mind. The other night at the game with my kid, while I was booing the Warriors and embarrassing my poor child while screaming at the ref to give Draymond a T, I was quietly marveling at Kevin Durant’s game, the man a profound 6-foot-9 moving poem, skills so deeply honed, so disciplined, such a display of intelligence and an example of what human beings are capable of. But no matter what, I refuse to just appreciate the game like an adult. Go Lakers, and vanquish all enemies, they all stink!
I find peace and a beautiful outlet, a sanctuary from the violence of the world, in being an obsessive hoops freak. My point is, I am crazy about basketball, absolutely crazy, and sometimes a little childish insanity (or in my case, a lot) is a good thing.
Michael Balzary, better known as Flea, is co-founder of the L.A. rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. His essays on NBA basketball will appear periodically throughout the season on NBA.com. He and the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be found on Twitter at @ChiliPeppers.