Haters Gonna Hate
I, of course, am a Lakers fan. This is as it should be, as all right-thinking people are Lakers fans. Hating the Lakers, I thought well into my mid-thirties, is like hating sunshine.
Turns out, there are a lot of people who prefer their dank little caves instead of a day at the beach. Even people who aren’t from Boston!
It honestly took me a decade and a half of Lakers fandom before I realized that there are people out there who genuinely dislike the team. Even now, almost ten years on, I’m a little flabbergasted by that. The Lakers so dominate the Los Angeles sports biosphere that even with a competing team in town the lop-sidedness in enthusiasm is overwhelming. I didn’t even realize it was possible to hate the Lakers, like it’s not possible for something with mass to travel at the speed of light. It’s just a law of nature, the way the universe works.
But if the Internet is good for anything, it’s good for discovering that there’s a lot of bad craziness outside of your little geographic bubble, even when your little geographic bubble includes Hollywood. The level of vitriol is bonkers.
And I don’t get it. I’m very well-versed in borderline sociopathic sports hatreds, and I don’t get it. Yes, the team has been very successful. Yes, Jack Nicholson has good seats. Yes, the current players aren’t exactly lovable, with the possible exception of Mr. World Peace.
But none of that is about basketball or how the team plays it. They don’t cheat, they don’t hold TV specials to announce career plans and they only rarely end up arrested. Sometimes they’re lazy and sometimes they’re sloppy and every once in a while, they sort of deflate and bow out and let the freakin’ Mavericks win a championship. But when it comes to basketball — averaged over the years — they’re still the best there is.
I learned to love the Lakers during Showtime, when the cool, austere Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was practically assaulted by the effusive, excitable Magic Johnson after their first game together. How could you not love that? There was so much talent, so much enthusiasm, that the whole city caught fire — and not in the way that Los Angeles usually catches fire. This was sports as it should be: joyous.
Who could hate that?
They’re not the Jordan-era Bulls, when a flashy ball-hog dominated a team sport and people cheered. They’re not the thug-era Pistons, when Bill Laimbeer only needed to color his faceguard black to complete the Darth Vader impression. They’re not the LeBron-era Heat, when we learned that bad karma is something you wear around your neck like an albatross, and it will mess up your shooting game.
Those are teams you can hate — one-offs populated by the greedy, the self-centered, the bullies. Not the Lakers. They’re a storied club, rich in tradition, the essence of the game. Think of the Celtics, but, y’know, with wins in the past two decades. They’re rivals to my team, but honorable ones.
Is it jealousy? Is it frustration? Is it profound mental illness? Nutbags have invented conspiracy theories to justify the Lakers’ success, everything from fixed drafts to biased refs to the influence of alien technology. They pick on who the players marry, how they take care of their kids, what they change their names to, who they might possibly have raped.
And ten years into the sad realization that it is even possible to hate the Lakers, I still don’t understand how people justify it. Hate losing to them, sure, but don’t hate them. Over the past thirty years, nobody has done basketball better, smarter, cleaner, more elegantly or more successfully.
The Lakers are basketball. You can’t hate one and truly love the other.