Being a Lakers fan used to be a lot of fun. Following the team into the playoffs year after year; watching Kobe light up the stage by making shots that I could have sworn were physically impossible; and studying the ways of Zen-master Phil Jackson all made being a fan of the Purple and Gold something to cherish. I think it is safe to say, though, that now those days are long gone.
All you need to do is take a look at the starting lineup for the Lakers this season to see that one of the NBA’s former bright spots is now an absolute train wreck. At this point, there are two things that are increasingly difficult to admit. The first is admitting to others that I am, indeed, a Lakers fan. Rooting for the Lakers here on the East Coast, even around people who know that I am from just south of Los Angeles and therefore understandably have a connection to the team, constantly draws the question “Why???” When it comes to the sport of basketball, they’re just my team. They have been since I could understand the concept of basketball. They have been since Kobe and Shaq used to throw down like no other tandem in the game today. They have been since Robert Horry drained the game-winning three as time expired in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against my then most-despised team in the league, the Sacramento Kings—a shot that caused nine-year old me to run outside screaming my head off before lurching back inside to jump up and down in the middle of the living room with my brothers and sister. Those were definitely the days…
But here I am now forcing myself to come to terms with the second thing that feels almost sinful to admit—Kobe’s career is rapidly coming to a close. Although he is only 35 years old and could still put in a couple more good years, I know that the Kobe of old must be laid to rest. The injuries sidelining him this season and part of last have shown the formerly invincible Bryant in a very vulnerable light. Seeing flashes of him on ESPN in his all black suit, fulfilling solely the role of a motivator for the plunging squad is an all too real glimpse of the near future. The day will come when he calls it a career and they hang his jersey from the rafters in the Staples Center.
This comes at an increasingly difficult time, especially considering the recent success of the Los Angeles Clippers has brought out all the bandwagon fans, flocking to the streets to blab on and on about Lob City. Before Blake Griffin, you couldn’t find a Clippers fan in Los Angeles even if you tried. I have no qualms against the actual Clippers team itself. It’s the fans that have surfaced in recent years due to the team’s ability to finally win games that makes me bitter. I cannot deny the fact that seeing the Clippers pathetically go out in the first round of the playoffs last year after all the hype about them being a championship team put a huge grin on my face. Coincidentally, I didn’t hear any talk from Clippers fans after that… How interesting. Remember back in 2011 when Commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade of former Hornets point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers in order to maintain a balance of talent in the NBA? What a joke that seems like now. It is only icing on the cake that Paul ended up going to the Clippers, who made an embarrassment out of Kobe’s group earlier this season.
With a 17-32 record and sitting at third to last above Sacramento and Utah in the West, this current Lakers team only has one thing to look forward to—better access to a high draft pick. The abysmal state of affairs that is their season was exemplified wonderfully last night. Although they ended up winning the contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the active roster by the end of the game only consisted of five players. Starting the game with only eight options due to injuries, and then losing two more to injuries during the game and one to a foul out, Head Coach Mike D’Antoni had his last remaining five out on the floor with no room to make any kind of substitution. If not for an obscure rule stating that teams must have five men on the court no matter what, the Lakers would have been forced to play with only four when center Robert Sacre also fouled out of the game. He was allowed to stay in due to the technicality, but the message had already been sent—the Lakers are down to bare minimum.
It is going to be a tough upcoming playoff season for me as I watch the Clippers prance their way into the first round and roll my eyes while the NBA’s most qualified flopper Lebron James stomps his way back to another Finals appearance. The days of a Lakers championship victory may be well into the future and it is hard to say what Kobe’s role will be on that winning team, but if basketball teaches us anything, it’s that all it takes is one new star to bring a team back from the dead. The Lakers just need to land one young individual that can bring this rickety crew back to winning ways. Focusing all my hope on the return of Kobe or Steve Nash would be very unwise, yet I cannot help but fantasize about what it would be like if those two were joined by a top recruit that just so happened to be the next big thing. A guy can only dream I guess.
Illustration: Leila Lebreton