Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tied and Equal Are Not the Same Words

Whenever life gets me down this spring, I remind myself "hey, at least you're not a Lakers fan." Cheers me right up.

Bostonians may not believe this, but southern California is full of nice, normal, somewhat raucous Laker fans. They're not all Hollywood poseurs. And even the poseurs have to be embarrassed by the team they're rooting for in the 2009 NBA playoffs. Real fans must be hanging at the corner of Humilation and Shame, just off Sepulveda. One only hopes John Wooden hasn't watched any of the games.

There is no other way to put this. The Lakers disgust me. Not the franchise, which is an honored one. This team of guys, out there on the court, is insulting the very notion of professional sports, indeed, of professionalism itself. With the exception of vapid, self-obssessed, but honest craftsman Kobe Bryant, they cannot be depended on to give a full day's work for a day's pay.

As everyone knows, the Lakers were blown out by the Rockets in Game Four of their playoff series in Houston, the first game the Rockets played without Yao Ming, kind of an important player for them. Embarrassing for LA, yes, but these things happen. More often than not, in the FIRST game after a star is lost to an injury, teams in any sport react by raising their level of play to previously unreached heights. It's one reason NFL bettors who rely on the injury report go broke more quickly than their peers.

By the third game after an injury, that effect wears off. And yet, the Lakers were blown out as thoroughly in Game Six as in Game Four, and in the same manner. They showed up late and got massacred early. Challenged, they folded, secure in the knowledge they have a Game Seven at home.

As we saw in the 2008 Finals, the Lakers do not take adversity well. They don't take it at all. Without weighing their merits as individuals, we can safely say that as a team, the Lakers merit the worst epithet sports has on tap. They are quitters. I can only imagine what Lakers past like Jerry West, Kareem, and Magic think when they see these imposters wearing purple and gold. Ordinarily old-time players enjoy proof current players don't measure up to them. In this case, the legends must want their retired number banners reversed so they face the walls of the Staples Center.

Being a fan is an emotional commitment, and like any such commitment, one likes to feel that the object of one's affection is worth the price of one's heart. Of the four teams that will play Game Sevens tomorrow, three sets of their fans don't have that problem.

Should they lose, Magic fans will be disappointed but ought to accept that their team had its chances, and missed 'em, so justice was done. Should they lose, fans of the Celtics will be disappointed, but ought to take solace in the resilience, poise, and skill the team showed in coping with the loss of Kevin Garnett. Should THEY lose, fans of the Rockets should be just about as proud and happy to have rooted for their heroes as they will be if they win.

Laker fans have one option. It's victory or nothing. And even in victory, this series has to taste like ashes soaked in month-old Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Lakers could (but won't) go on to win the NBA championship. That would be a disservice to the idea of karma, but it could lead to a first of sorts. The victory parade could feature adoring crowds throwing rotten fruit at Phil Jackson.


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