The Art (and Artest) of Being A Fan

Kurt —  July 6, 2009

A fan’s relationship with a sports team is something like his or her relationship with their family — there are times it is strained, times of anger, times of frustration, but ultimately you almost always come back to them because, well, they are your family. The bond there is strong, built up over years and decades, one too strong to be broken for anything but the worst of offenses.

The signing of Ron Artest has had me thinking about all that this past weekend. Any regular visitor to this blog in the last couple years will tell you I have been ardently opposed to the Lakers getting Ron Artest. I am rarely someone who thinks in terms of absolutes — that something is all good or all bad. But on this blog, Artest was about as absolute as I got, I didn’t want him here. In the past few days I have had to step back, look at myself and that stance, compromise in my mind and move forward.

There are things that are very different than when I ranted against Artest in the past. First, the talk at the time was trading Odom for Artest, something I would still oppose. But that is not what has happened here — this essentially turned out to be a swap of Artest for Trevor Ariza. And Artest is coming in here at what only can be described as a fantastic price for the talent. It’s hard to be unhappy at a good deal.

Still the loss of Ariza saddens me. It has been amazing to see on this and other boards people dismissing Ariza — those people must have a foggy memory of the playoffs and finals. The Lakers would not be champions without Ariza, who hit timely threes and did things on defense like frustrate Hedo Turkoglu that nobody else had done to Orlando before. And he was a player that had really grown on the court in the past year, we (or at least I) have a very fond spot for players we watch mature and develop in our team’s uniforms. While I intellectually understand what happened, there is a bit of a mourning process.

But we have to move on as fans.

Ultimately, it will come down to me accepting Artest, someone I had preached against the Lakers getting. While I don’t like to be wrong, this is one of those moments for he as a fan when my heart must overrule my head. I have to root for Artest now, and that is an adjustment mentally.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand on paper just what a great fit Artest is in the triangle — he adds another very versatile weapon to a team and system predicated on versatility. He can drain the three and should get more open looks to do so. He can post up almost any three in the league (and you can’t move your four over to cover him unless you want Pau Gasol in a mismatch). He is the kind of physical defender the Lakers need so Kobe Bryant isn’t spending all game playing ball-denial defense on LeBron or trying to keep Carmelo out of the post.

But I don’t think you can follow his history and just dismiss it as the meaningless past. I don’t see how you can watch how he played in Houston (yelling at PGs to get him the ball regardless of the hot hand, shooting them out of games against us) or Sacramento or Indiana or Chicago and say with certainty be different this time. Change happens but it is almost always a tumultuous process. Like all of us, Artest is the sum of his past experiences, and at this point I think Artest largely is who he is. I’m curious to see how a guy who posts cell phone conversations with his agent on Youtube fits in with the rather button-down management of the Lakers.

I cannot just ignore or dismiss my concerns. That he has been an offensive black hole coming to a team that is about ball and player movement. That he could struggle to deal with being offensive option three or four on the court at any given time.

But sometimes, whether it be as a fan or a family member, we need to move on from what is done and embrace the future. Embrace the possibilities. Embrace the hope. I’m a Lakers fan. I want the team to win. And that means as of today I am an Artest fan. I have his back. I can see the positive possibilities and I will cheer for them. I hope he gets a ring as a member of the Lakers.

I have hope that it can be so. For once I don’t want to be right.