Lakers fandom is an agony and an ecstasy that few sports fans will ever know

Drawing of Lakers player looking on from the bench, a towel draped over his head.
“Tale of Two Cities,” 2013.
(Bradley Ward / For The Times)

This story is part of “Discourse,” a fresh look at the dire state of the bicoastal conversation — free from corniness and cliches. Check out the whole issue — the “New York” issue, if you’re reading between the lines — here.

I am addicted to winning. It’s air and water for me. Larry O’Brien trophies are necessities of life for me and millions of other Lakers fans. I am sick. There is no solution for me. I am lost.

Lakers fandom is an agony and an ecstasy that few sports fans will ever know. We have sustained a level of greatness that’s unprecedented in modern sports. Wilt and Jerry. Kareem and Magic. Shaq and Kobe. Kobe and Pau. LeBron and AD. The stars come in twos and the championships come in bakers’ dozens. We are all trapped in a feedback loop of championship glory, fallow rebuilding and yet more gold to add to the trophy case. It’s sick, and no one should be forced to live a life like this. Perhaps you think I’m being facetious or glib in some way. First of all, if you know me, that’s a fair assumption. But no, I’m being serious. The Los Angeles Lakers are cursed. This team, and their loyal fans, were doomed from the moment their moving trucks arrived in the Southland back in 1960. Yes, we are all cursed. Cursed with the unenviable burden of sky-high expectations.


Winning does something to you as a fan. You’ve already seen the miracle. Something about its aura is lost. Fandom is an article of faith. No one, not even Knicks fans, supports a team expecting to lose. There’s an expectation that your devotion will be rewarded in some way. A parade at the end of the season. An overpriced hat with a drawing of a trophy on it. But if your favorite team wins consistently, with a metronomic regularity that resembles the second hand on a finely constructed wristwatch, there’s a good chance you might lose your sense of satisfaction completely. Yankee fans don’t get it because the last time they won a championship, I didn’t have a driver’s license. Patriots fans don’t get it because they were horrible for decades. Even Celtics fans don’t get it! They won most of their championships before the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. Knicks fans certainly don’t get it.

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Aug. 14, 2023

Seventeen NBA championships, won across seven different decades. Two repeats. A threepeat. A historic championship won during a pandemic, with no home court advantage for anyone. Since the creation of the Western Conference in 1970, the Lakers have been in the Finals at least once in every single decade. Sure, we were horrible in the 2010s, but that is not the crux of our pain. Imagine expecting to … no, demanding to go to the Finals every year. Now, gene-splice that hubris with a roster composed of Nick Young, Roy Hibbert and Robert Sacre. The only thing I remember about Robert Sacre’s tenure on the Lakers is this commercial for Hollywood Suits. It’s not even a particularly good commercial. He puts on some clothes, flips a basketball into a trash can and threatens to go to Hollywood Suits “for the rest of my life.” It’s terrifying.

In Sacre’s final season with the Lakers, 2015-2016, the team went 17-65. That is their worst record in franchise history. Sure, teams like the Hornets, Mavericks, Clippers and 76ers have all had worse regular season performances. The tears their fans shed were surely legitimate. And yet, none of those fan bases know what I know. They don’t understand what the ambrosia and nectar of the gods truly tastes like. I live on Mt. Olympus, which means I don’t want to be slumming it at a Holiday Inn with free danishes and an over-chlorinated pool.

An illustration of the heads of two men
“Lakers fandom is an agony and an ecstasy that few sports fans will ever know.”
(Bradley Ward / For The Times)

Winning makes you jaded. It deprives you of the joy of accomplishment. Not that you accomplished anything. You sat there in your unflattering replica jersey and ate nachos. But fandom has always been a vicarious thrill, an emotional cuckolding at the hands of a group of perfect physical specimens. I don’t spend sleepless nights wondering if the Lakers will win another NBA championship in my lifetime. Instead, I casually speculate on when. On the occasion of a Lakers loss, I shrug my shoulders, mutter “next time” and actually mean it. You might think that makes me a “bad fan,” that my emotions are not wrapped up in the fortunes of my favorite basketball team. Wrong. My emotions are deeply intertwined with the Lakers, it’s just that I’m so gorged on winning that I want for nothing.

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When the Lakers put the pieces together in 2020 and made their run inside Disney World, I felt something less than elation. Sure, I sipped on a cheap bottle of champagne. I played “I Love L.A.” one too many times on Spotify. But it felt … hollow. Not because of the quarantine or the bubble. Those were immutable elements outside of anyone’s control. If anything, winning under that bleak cloud should have made it more joyful. The Dodgers’ 2020 championship made me cry.

All the 2020 Lakers championship made me do is think: “We just need one more to pass the Celtics on the all-time list.” I was already looking ahead to the next season, the next mountain to climb.


I envy Knicks fans. I look over the white picket fence that separates us; me in my lavish, marble-appointed castle and them, with their quaint Craftsman that could maybe use a fresh coat of paint and some landscaping. How simple it must be. How satisfying it must be to have a full-blown street festival after winning a single playoff series. The optimism of Knicks fans in the face of reality is remarkable. The famous Sidetalk Knicks video that birthed the “Bing Bong” meme was shot after the 2021-2022 regular season opener. That was after the first game of the season. If the Knicks ever won an NBA championship again, the NYPD might illegally declare martial law.

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Oct. 23, 2021

I want to feel that, but I can’t. I’m numb. My misery is not just the years, like this last season, where the Lakers come up short. My misery is that even winning isn’t enough. The Lakers have won nine times in my lifetime. What does one more even mean? Somehow, it means both everything and nothing at all. Light work.

For all the Angelenos out there who became Clippers fans during the Lob City era and are now wondering if it was worth it, I must tell you this: stay right where you are. You bought the ticket, now take the ride. If you ever win a championship, it will feel like being born again. You will float above the ground and flirt with the clouds in the sky. It will be heaven on earth. Meanwhile, I’ll be foaming at the mouth, ranting about “getting No. 18.” And I’ll do it with a Lakers flag on my car because the curse of excellence has no cure.