In this week’s installment of Fans Who Love Too Much, we give you the Lakers of Los Angeles, Calif., who will march through the city’s core today in something resembling the liberation of Paris. Women will swoon, goons will cry. Not a dry eye in the place. Take the day off, L.A. You’ve earned it (well, some of you, anyway).
Man, we love our Lakers, and when I say “man,” I mean all of you — grandpas, grandkids, moguls, moms. Our little basketball conglomerate might be the one thing that unites us besides gridlocked freeways and a taste for dim sum. The Lakers are Los Angeles and Los Angeles is the Lakers. Beat L.A.? Sure, go ahead and try. For the second year in a row, no one could.
Frankly, for the most part, we just toyed with those other teams.
We have the best coach and the best player and quite possibly the best owner ever. Our cheerleaders can beat up your cheerleaders. It’d be like Ali vs. Quarry — so much blood you’d want to cover your eyes.
It shouldn’t work, this unlikely love affair. The Lakers play in our version of Versailles, a playground for the rich and ridiculous, housed next to that ginormous piece of costume jewelry, LA Live — where for a few hundred bucks you can always get a cheeseburger and a beer.
LA Live is as charmless a piece of real estate as you’ll ever find west of Dubai. It is so over the top, even God can’t see it.
Then there’s Staples itself. I’m telling you, that last game Thursday was the scene of scenes. Not since my white-trash prom have I seen this many bras so intentionally undersized. Like clown cars, these things. Honestly, the only thing Staples lacked Thursday night was stripper poles.
Yet it all seems to play out OK, for in the glitziest of towns, these Lakers teams still bring a working-class mentality. They aren’t divas — well, at least most of them. One is a Kardashian by marriage and one used to drink at his locker at halftime. Their best player recently dressed like Garbo for a magazine shoot. Huh?
But we forgive them the way we do any family members, because they do something for us no one else can. They have heart. They persevere. And in a town of broken promises and feckless politicians, they give us a very precious commodity — sheer glee.
“It’s the only thing the people can trust,” Magic Johnson explained to me the other day. “They trust the Lakers.
“When I first got here, it was a Dodger town,” Magic said. “We went on that incredible run, and the town changed and they fell in love.
“Now, when you think about it, all those young fans are parents now, and so we have a second generation of Laker fans.... And we owe it all to Dr. Buss.”
Let’s not forget Philip Douglas Jackson, the coach who has sort of reinvented the father figure in sports. Jackson has become for us a Zenny version of Ward Cleaver — a voice of reason, a calm center within the Lakers storm.
Even Kobe loves him. Everybody loves him. And somehow Jackson turned Ron Artest into a winner.
Artest had his Jerry Maguire moment the other night, rising to the occasion in front of the biggest possible audience. Then, remembering that he was in L.A., Artest made sure to thank his shrink.
All by itself, Jackson’s handling of Artest was masterful. They shouldn’t give Jackson an 11th ring, they should give him his own movie studio. There are plenty around, most prone to misuse.
Or run the guy for governor. Come on, you don’t think he’d make mincemeat of Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown? Sure, we have a few tough issues: freeway gridlock, money problems, most of all that miscreant Charlie Sheen. In two years, Jackson would solve them all.
But today isn’t a day for looking forward; it’s a day for looking back. It’s a day of reflection and thanks in a city usually too big and busy for such delicacies.
Best of all, today is for those other Lakers fans, the ones who never get inside Versailles. They’ll call the boss, fake the flu, fight the traffic from far-off places.
Up and down the parade route, they’ll put their kids on their shoulders, prepping another generation of Lakers lovers. They’ll cry out for Kobe, for Fish, for Pau and for Lamar. Go, Lakers.
Yep, just when you’re stone-cold sure there’s no thing that could ever unite this city of a million voices — of dawgs and dimwits, of storytellers and hucksters — along will come these Lakers, the sort of feel-good flick this town used to churn out like popcorn.
And, as Magic said, the only thing we trust.
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