Last night, one team we watched during Rockets-Lakers will only go as far as its star will take them. The other was the Lakers, and boy, was that fun. We might’ve witnessed the birth of a new era, or we just were able to catch one of the few fun games this unit will play together. We have no idea, but boy, I can’t wait to find out.
Think of things you legitimately love. Not people or pets, obviously, that’s not quite the same thing. Think of books, of movies, TV series, whatever. You know what most those things have in common? You bought in early. Something caught you at the very beginning, made you invest on an emotional level and you grew alongside it.
Series especially (whether it be books, TV or movie), capture and nurture this kind of relationship. You invest years into characters. When those series end, you can’t help but feel as if there’s a hole you feel the need to fill as soon as you possibly can. For me (and millions of others), it was Harry Potter. Somehow, I found myself relating to a completely fictional, wand-wielding character from the very beginning and on throughout the series even if I’d never ridden a broomstick, let alone a thestral. Sports are no different. We might root for laundry at the macro level, but it’s the minutiae along the way that draws and keeps us in.
The Lakers haven’t exactly left its fan base needing for major moments to enjoy. Great players, great teams, exciting characters — you name it. All that greatness has something in common: A smaller beginning. For every Magic Johnson, there were a few Javaris Crittentons. For every Shaq, we endured our share of Travis Knights. Before we could get to Phil Jackson, we had to survive Del Harris. We can’t enjoy the first halves of those sentences fully without experiencing the second.
So, between “Showtime” and the three-peat, there was the scrappy collection of up-and-comers that defined the 90s.
Funny thing is: That group got me to fall in love with the Lakers. I threw goofy punches like Nick Van Exel would after a big three. I drove baseline and dunked on my Fisher Price basket a la Eddie Jones. Hell, I even managed an imitation of Elden Campbell’s weird running style that made it look as if he couldn’t turn his head. I cried actual tears when Anthony Peeler, Sedale Threatt, et al. were no longer Lakers. Point being: I loved everything about that team and didn’t care at all about their ability to win a championship. I might actually remember more about that group than those that won rings.
This Lakers team offers that same release. It’s the kind of group that can ignite a lifelong passion for the Lakers or reignite a flame that might’ve waned in recent years. We’re only a game in, but these kids are pretty easy to love.
They’re new. They’re fun. They make stupid mistakes. We have no idea what might be coming, but no matter what it might be, it’s about the journey. We’re here for what’s next, whether it’s D’Angelo Russell reminding everyone what pulses through his veins or throwing an ill-advised behind-the-back pass on a crucial possession. Some kid out there is awkwardly impersonating both while falling in love with this team.
It also makes no sense that I’d look back on an era of Lakers basketball in which they had minimal chances of winning a title as the era in which I fell in love with the franchise. But again, here we are. Does it make sense, then, that a single game might convince me this team has the capability to do the same for the next generation of Laker fan? Of course not. But that really wasn’t the point.
As much talk as there might be of returning the franchise to greatness, the sights should be set a little lower, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t just as important as the macro-level goal. You have to be good before you can be great, anyway. And if we do get to those levels of greatness, noting the milestones along the way should only draw you closer to the process itself.
Last weekend, my wife and I went to Harry Potter World for my 30th because of the relationship described above. It makes no sense seeing as it was my 30th, but here we are. Last night, we read the first chapter; watched the pilot episode. Let’s enjoy the present and, hopefully, grow alongside these young Lakers.