Pretty much any fan of the Los Angeles Lakers will tell you that the last three seasons haven’t been very fun, with the 2012-13 season falling much closer to painful than joyful on the experience scale.
“We were stacked and it was an epic failure,” said Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist and Lakers super fan, Flea, in a recent podcast with LandOLakers.com. “For me, it was the most disappointing Lakers season of all time and not even close to any other season.”
From the embarrassing ending to Phil Jackson’s final campaign, to the uninspiring Mike Brown era (L.A. topped 100 points just 24 times in the 71 regular-season games he coached), to the utter disaster of last season, the return on investment of time, money and emotion spent by Lakers fans has not resulted in any sort of payoff.
I know what that life’s all about, having grown up as a Philadelphia sports fan. Losing and frustration and disappointment come with the territory.
If I went into every season with a championship-or-bust mentality as a fan, I would have given up watching sports a long time ago and probably would be really into cooking shows and have some random additional skill, like being able to play the piano.
But, I kept watching and I keep watching. And even though there’s been only one Philadelphia championship in my lifetime (the 2008 Phillies) and I have that Jerry West in me where I hate to lose more than I love to win, I have conditioned myself to still be able to find enjoyment as a fan in a season, even if there is no ring at the end.
Now, the Lakers have 16 championships in their history, compared to just five for the three major pro sports teams in Philly (three for the 76ers, two for the Phillies and zero Super Bowl wins for the Eagles I’m not an ice hockey guy). So that fact alone might naturally lower my expectations. But is being a Lakers fan all about rooting for rings and nothing else?
What if those expectations were removed? What if you forgot about the history for a second and, instead of focusing solely on the team’s quest for No. 17 or Kobe Bryant’s fight for No. 6, you took in each game for what it is? What if a loss in January wasn’t a referendum on how the team could potentially perform in June, but rather something the team could learn from in February?
Take my Eagles, for instance. Have you seen them under Chip Kelly? I came into this season thinking that an 8-8 record would be pretty much their ceiling after a dreadful 4-12 mark last season. Two weeks into it and they’re 1-1, so that’s right in step with my instincts. But there is nothing mediocre or ho-hum about how they got to 1-1. If I wanted to view everything in the specter of their Super Bowl chances, then I could focus on how they almost let a 26-point lead disappear against Washington and how they were 7.5-point favorites at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 2 and lost to San Diego.
But if I forget about Lombardi for a second, I can appreciate what’s going on here. Back-to-back 30-point games? Last season, the Eagles scored 30 or more in just one game all season -- a 38-33 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. LeSean McCoy putting up 184 running yards in Week 1, Michael Vick collecting 428 passing yards in Week 2 and DeSean Jackson hauling in 297 receiving yards over two games? This is silly stuff. And wildly entertaining. And all I could ask for as a fan.
So, how about it, Lakers fans? What if Mike D’Antoni gets these guys to reach the 110-115 points per game that he promised at his introductory news conference? What if there is chemistry and growth and a few upsets along the way -- both from the Lakers beating a team or two that are better than them and falling to a few inferior opponents?
The knee-jerk reaction from some of you I’m sure will be, “Well, we had ‘Showtime’ already AND we won.” And you’d be right on both counts. But even though this season’s Lakers will be wearing the same purple and gold uniforms as those teams from the 1980s, everything else has changed in the NBA they’ll be competing in. You can still honor the past without making it an unrealistic standard you hold the present to. Plus, it’s all about context. Comparing this aging Bryant/Steve Nash/Pau Gasol-led team to Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/James Worthy in their prime isn’t a fair fight. But comparing it to the squad that had an injured, unhappy Dwight Howard on it last season? Or to the team that slogged up and down the court under Brown? It would have to be better than that, right?
I called up Paul Coro, who covers the Phoenix Suns for the Arizona Republic and got on the beat one month after D’Antoni got the job as head coach of the Suns. How did Phoenix fans accept the 7 Seconds or Less era?
“When he took over the team, [there] was kind of free rein because there wasn’t any expectations,” Coro said. “Everything about it was great. They were winning beyond anybody’s imagination. They were doing it in a way that was innovative and thoroughly entertaining. It just blew people away how much fun it was. Immediately, they had big crowds -- sellouts early in the season. I think they ended up starting a sellout streak that carried on for a few years. It was nothing for them to be up in the 110-120 [point range].”
Albeit the Suns have never won it all, having lost to the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 Finals and to the Boston Celtics in 1976, so you could say that they never knew what it was like to root for a championship team like L.A. The point is, though, that those D'Antoni Suns teams were worth it for the fans. They were memorable. They were thrilling. They were fun.
A healthy Bryant, Nash and Gasol, with additional playmaking from guys like Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wes Johnson and Steve Blake, plus Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman playing big down low and Jodie Meeks and Ryan Kelly or Shawne Williams spreading the floor outside can be fun, too.
I'm excited about watching the next Eagles game. Do I think this will be the best season ever for the Birds? Nope. But they could surprise me. It's a nice feeling.
Wouldn't it be nice to feel that way about the Lakers again?