They’re Still the Lakers

I understand the temptation to root for the Lakers in this year’s NBA Finals. Maybe you’re one of the ‘diehard’ fans who haven’t watched a game in years and can’t pronounce Kuzma, but if you’re like most people pulling for the purple and gold this year, chances are you’re rooting for them because of Kobe.

I get it.

Even as someone who cried a little bit every time he eviscerated my hometown Blazers or my adopted Celtics, I always respected him. He was basketball royalty; responsible for some of the greatest moments in the modern era. Despite the incomprehensible year we’ve endured since his death, from Covid to George Floyd to almost an entire election and more, his passing was one of the few stories that didn’t get lost in the fog. In a year full of horrible stories of devastating loss, Kobe was our first collective trauma. I think that’s the reason so many have jumped on the Laker bandwagon. 2020 has been immeasurably difficult, and since it began with Kobe’s passing, maybe it seems cathartic to imagine his Lakers hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in honor of the greatest Laker of all time.

I’m still not rooting for the Lakers.

You think I don’t know how powerful it would be to the people in Los Angeles to win this title? The scripts are already being written, and Michael B. Jordan is somehow already in casting. I’ve been fortunate enough to see my favorite teams win more championships than some fans see in a lifetime, with exciting storylines and subtle differences that make them all feel unique. But doing it in the year of our lord 2020, with all that’s been happening and a chance to feel like you’re honoring a lost hero? I’ve never experienced anything like that.

I don’t know exactly when my disdain for the Lakers began, but I do know it’s foundational. Maybe it was stories from my lifelong Bostonian uncle about the legendary Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 80’s. It could have been the Lakers beating the Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals in front of my friends and family. It surely wasn’t helped in 2010 when the Lakers beat the Celtics in a seven game nail biter (coincidentally both the last time the Lakers won the championship AND the last time 90% of their fans watched a game.) And their fans. Their coiffed haired, beautiful, obnoxious fans. All this is to say the hate runs deep. Is it rational? No. Is it visceral? Ask the vein in my neck as I rehash all of my favorite teams’ Laker induced carnage.

Call it jealousy. Call it sour grapes. I’m comfortable with my unyielding and unhealthy fandom, even as it ruins relationships and takes years from my life. My only hangup comes back to Kobe. His spirit is still so obviously with this team. You see it in the way they play in their Black Mamba jerseys, or in the late 4th quarter daggers from Lebron and Anthony Davis. You know how much the Lakers meant to him, and how happy it would make him to see them return to their championship ways. It’s almost enough to reverse even my most jaded of instincts.

The Lakers are up 3–1 in the series and almost assuredly going to win it all. We’ll have days, even weeks of coverage discussing the impact Kobe had on this title run. I wish I could share in the revelry and excitement, suspending my hatred for the sake of honoring an all-time great. But I can’t. No matter how hard I try, I cant escape the inevitable and inescapable truth.

I’m sorry Bean, they’re still the Lakers.

NYC by way of PDX — Writing about culture, sports, and politics.

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