Well, shall we say...a different way to end the season.
It's an interesting time.
I and my fellow fans, blessed as they come, have not experienced such an early playoff exit in a while. You would have to rewind all the way back to 2003 to find another Laker team with championship aspirations failing to reach the Finals. Yet that brand of sustained excellence, perhaps equaled only by the Yankees in all of sports, acts as fuel to the hysterical fire. There's a reason why Lakers supporters are the most hated in basketball. Losing is not accepted well here in Los Angeles. Minutes after the final loss—hell, during the final loss—"fans" clamored for change. Pau Gasol? Get rid of him. Phil Jackson? Utterly overrated. Kobe's legacy? Forever tarnished. The entire team? Blow it up. (Hey Magic, chill out.) To quote someone I follow on Twitter, "There isn't a single fanbase that overreacts to everything as much as Lakers fans."
I observed the mass panic with a certain sense of detached amusement and shame. Of course I was upset. I shared in the pain. But it's genuinely baffling to me that the majority of fans can be so short-sighted. Nothing lasts forever, you dolts. We lost. Thankfully it doesn't happen often, but we lost. There's always next year. (Man, it feels weird saying that.) It's not like the Lakers won't re-tool. They will be back in the hunt soon enough, perhaps refreshed and re-focused after a badly needed long summer off. In the meantime, take a step back, reflect on the level of success our team has achieved in our lifetimes, and revel in the fact that such consistency is the envy of millions. Your passion is great. Use it in a positive manner. Except when discussing Shannon Brown.
Again, it's an interesting time.
This loss just feels so final. Our longtime coach, the greatest in history, is not coming back. The Mavericks exposed serious flaws in the current roster and tweaks, if not an outright overhaul, need to happen. And Kobe, for all his bravado, is showing serious signs that he's finally slowing down.
There are more subtle signs beneath the surface. Getting not just beat, but swept. Watching your seasoned, veteran team self-destruct in as classless a manner as possible. Hearing words like "trust," "bond," and "team fabric" used negatively during interviews. Tabloid-worthy rumors of extracurricular WAG activity affecting chemistry between the two best players. I pause to speculate (SO trying my hardest to be that "rational" fan), but has this team reached its breaking point? Four-plus years of an aging core, constant scrutiny, and immense expectations proved too much to overcome this season. It may prove too much to overcome, period.
The NBA landscape, as we know it, is about to change. Old stalwarts like San Antonio and Boston (and of course, the Lakers) are on their last legs. Young upstarts in the Bulls, Thunder, and Grizzlies look like the real deal. Who knows what this lockout and subsequent collective bargaining agreement will bring.
I hope, I pray the Lakers will find a way to stay on top. (Oh, Dwiiiiiiiiiiiight?) I hope Brian Shaw or whoever the new coach is can provide a smooth transition. I hope Pau ignores the doubters and regains his confidence (as well as his fiance). I hope Kobe will gracefully accept his slow decline and morph into a more efficient role. I hope we find a point guard who can stay in front of JJ Freaking Barea. As a fan, I don't know if any of these things will happen. All I can do is hope.
What I do know is that the league, flooded with young talent and more popular than ever, is entering a new golden age* and I will cheer my darnedest for my team during it. But I will also marvel at how Chris Paul keeps his dribble alive. I will fear Tony Allen's defensive ferocity. I will laugh at Kevin Durant's skinny arms and then wonder how he sinks effortless jumper after effortless jumper. I may even find it in my heart to appreciate Lebron James.
I will, and will always, love the game of basketball. I will, and will always, love the Los Angeles Lakers. Getting to win championships is just the cherry on top. If you're a Lakers fan, remember that. If you're not, well, uh, be jealous that we have to remember that. Yeah.
Cherish the ride we had. Look forward to the one ahead.
Oh, and Phil? Thank you. You were one-of-a-kind.
|The good ol' days.|
*Of course this all depends on the new CBA, whether owners like the Maloofs will still be allowed to operate, if we can curb overly enthusiastic refs from dominating games, international goaltending rules not being instituted, yadda yadda yadda. Sigh. Remind me why I love sports again?