Looks like the Lakers are on their way to another great year, old, creaky bones not withstanding. Tied for the best record in the NBA—and having beaten the tar out of the team they’re tied with--they look to make yet another run for the championship.
So, why am I not excited about it? It’s more than just the Kobe scandal, it’s been coming on for years.
Even during the happiness of the Triad years, I couldn’t get all worked up about these Lakers. (Sidenote: One of my friends, an LAPD motorcycle cop, says he hates it when the Lakers win a championship. Too much head-cracking.)
I don’t love these guys and I know why I don’t. They can’t compare to my “first love”—the Lakers of the eighties. Shaquille O’Neal is big and skilled but he isn’t Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kobe Bryant is extremely talented and skilled, but he’s definitely no Magic Johnson. (Has Bryant ever had more than five assists?) Until this year, these Lakers were two superstars and some guys.
It’s not enough to be great in your own right. The really great ones make everyone else look great as well. (There’s only one exception to this rule.)
The Showtime-era Lakers were love-inspiring. Magic, Kareem, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, A.C. Green and Kurt Rambis made you love them. Then there was the coach, Pat Riley, casually pacing the sideline, too cool to rant and rave at his players—he might mess up his hair/wrinkle his 1000 dollar suit and they didn’t require a tongue-lashing anyway. We loved him too.
Two superstars, three excellent players and two good players who played their roles well made for the legendary run. And no legend is complete without an antagonist, the anti-Showtime personified by the Boston Celtics, legends in their own right, headed by Beantown’s own inspirer of shock, awe and love: Larry Bird.
Perhaps that’s the problem. There’s no arch-nemesis for these Lakers, no Eastern Conference rivalry that brings out the best both teams; no great theater, no drama.
Or maybe I just miss the joy that Magic seemed to exude every time he stepped on the court. Or the way nobody messed with Kareem and the grace of his Sky Hook. Or the way the Forum would erupt with hoots of “Coop!” whenever sixth man Michael Cooper stepped on the floor.
These Lakers might become champions again, a hard thing to achieve. But inspiring devotion is even tougher.