The "hard" is what makes it great

With the Indiana Pacers in town, I spent part of Sunday afternoon perusing True Hoop's outstanding Eight Points, Nine Seconds blog to better familiarize myself with Granger and the boys. My attention was grabbed most, however, by a post partially focused neither on the Lakers nor the Pacers, but rather the Miami Heat. After Dr. LeBron James diagnosed the super team's sickness as a lack of "fun," E.P.N.S. host Jared Wade felt The King was either missing the point or Freudian-slipping.

Yes, sports are supposed to be a fun time, which attracted us to them in the first place, and achievement while slogging through a grind is difficult. But athletic success at the highest level is fueled by more than the power of a smile. Hard work is mandatory, and sometimes work isn't fun. But in many ways, that's what makes a title chase worthwhile in the first place.

Wade was reminded of Jimmy Dugan's speech to Dottie in A League of their Own, when his star catcher wants to quit because baseball got too hard: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."

AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson

Cheer up, rainy faces! You guys have conquered tougher stretches than this one.

These words recently hit me again, albeit in a different context.

With the Lakers now on a four-game skid -- the worst since April 2007 -- fan sentiments on the blog, chats, or various 710 ESPN radio programs have been tinged with doubt; concerns about a three-peat in jeopardy. Perhaps the Lakers aren't as good as we thought they were. Perhaps they lack the requisite "championship fire." Well, I'm here to remind y'all, we've been down this road over the last two title runs, and we'll inevitably end up walking it again before the season is done.

As much as Laker fans rightfully expect continual greatness from their franchise, that doesn't change the fact it's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

This isn't to downplay what has happened over the last four games, or even the last couple of weeks, when the Lakers have been erratic at best. Performances haven't been up to snuff. Issues exist on both sides of the ball. The focus and concentration have waned. But these struggles shouldn't be treated as an inability to keep the championship train rolling. The Lakers may not three-peat, but that won't be due to irreversible problems exposed by this streak.

These are merely struggles of the moment. Struggles brought about in part because of circumstances outside of their control, like the multi-faceted effect of Andrew Bynum's absence. And struggles self-induced, like failure to move the ball on offense or rotate towards shooters on defense. The struggle to work as a unit or honor a game plan, even when the opposition isn't making the task that much more difficult.

The latter scenarios may strike fans as more laziness or complacency than legitimate obstacles, particularly for a championship team. But human error, along with the universal human nature to slack, can't be avoided. As much as fans have a right to demand effort from their players, it's also impossible to do your job at peak efficiency 24/7, even for those passionate about their trade.

I take my employment as a writer very seriously. I care deeply about my choice of words. At the risk of sounding pretentious, writing is an art form, and this blog appeals to my creative side. Plus, I happen to care deeply about the team I cover, so this gig is anything but an exercise in clock-punching.

Still, I have trouble focusing at times. I get distracted by the television, the Internet, our cat, garden-variety shiny objects, etc. I can miss horrible typos or glaringly better ways to phrase a sentence. Sometimes I just don't feel like being at work, so the temptation to take short cuts and hope I get by well enough rears its ugly head. And then there are times when I do my absolute best in earnest and still struggle because, quite frankly, writing is hard.

Sound like a team you've been watching?

If the Lakers are struggling, it's because, on a certain level, they're supposed to, because that's ultimately part of the process. I'll bet money it won't be the last seemingly inexplicable struggle before it's all said and done, either. Like Jimmy said, if this were easy, every player and team in the NBA would be elite. They're not, and to a certain degree, that's because the "hard" serves as the ultimate equalizer.

At the end of the day, however, this team has demonstrated a willingness to push through periods of the "hard" and come out on the other side. Nothing we have seen over these last four games has signaled a change in that attitude, and without tangible evidence otherwise, I'm willing to bet the "hard" won't ever be too much for this Lakers team to handle.