For the Ages

I often feel defensive as a Laker fan. Everyone hates the Lakers, probably because, as Wilt once said, “No one roots for Goliath.” But it gets to me. I can’t stand it when people with no team affiliation of their own root AGAINST one, let alone mine. When people at a bar or whatever applaud every play against the Lakers, I react in an almost visceral way. After Fisher and 0.4, someone in my apartment complex at UCLA screamed, “Fuck the Lakers!” I bellowed back, “FUCK YOU!” They laughed, but I meant it. Fuck off.

There’s a great line from the underrated film The Soloist, in which Robert Downey Jr., as LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, notes of Jamie Foxx’s character, “I’ve never loved anything the way he loves music.” I’m the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of passions in this world, but sports definitely provides one of the exceptions. One of my first and most vivid memories of a televised sporting event was Sam Perkins (Big Smooth) hitting the game-winning shot in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals.

Basketball was king in my household. My dad, my uncles, my cousins… I was usurped into Laker fandom at an early age. I watched those ‘91 Finals in the tiny rear house where I lived with my family, as neighbors with my aunt and uncle. That was 20 addresses, a divorce (…not mine), and honestly – a lifetime ago. I sometimes struggle to express why I care about sports so much, but in some ways, it’s simple. How many things have I genuinely loved for 20 years? How many things have I held onto since I was 5 or 6 years old?

When my mom used to set up shop at swapmeets, she would let me buy these custom Lakers hats from other vendors every once in a while. I couldn’t wear them to school or anything, but they were ubiquitous in every other aspect of my life. In those early years of my youth, I attended a church for Chinese language lessons every Saturday – and I would wear those hats there every single week. To church. To lunch, to the arcade, to the comic book store, to the movie theater afterwards. I loved those hats. They were unique. They were cool. And they were Lakers hats.

I remember showing off my collection of basketball cards, and being so happy that my cousin seemed genuinely impressed that I had acquired two or three Nick Van Exels. I remember hours upon hours of NBA Jam, never choosing anyone besides the Lakers. Worthy and Divac; Divac and Worthy. I remember rare trips to the Great Western Forum, and the feelings of guilt and fear alternately in the backseat as we maneuvered cautiously through decrepit Inglewood from the 110.

And the games themselves. There was one night when a Spurs fan got into a fight that broke out after the game in the men’s restroom. It happened in the stall literally next to mine. Our shared wall shook, as bodies banged into it from the other side. I remember how terrified I was in that moment. I hurriedly finished up and flushed, and got the hell out of the bathroom as four or five of their friends ran in for backup, then four or five ushers and security guards behind them for order. I was so relieved to be out.

I was so frustrated with the Kobe airballs in 1997, was flabbergasted along with the commentators that Del Harris could draw up season-determining plays for an 18-year old. I “watched” the Robert Horry shot between my fingers covering my face, off a mirror that reflected the television because I was such a mess. I recall my heart sinking in the moments immediately before Fisher’s 0.4; it was the worst moment in the world. Middle school, high school, college. I cried when Chick Hearn died, cried when I saw Rick Fox tear up during the funeral, and cried every time I watch the Fox Sports retrospective when it shows his last broadcast – the three-peat. He said something like, “God willing, Stu and I will be back with you next year.” God willing.

I screamed at a television in a bar downtown last night until my voice was gone. I punched the wall when it looked bleak during the third, cutting my wrist slightly. I managed to find a contact that fell out onto the ground, then watched the second half of the fourth quarter with just one good eye. I drank until I was completely full, having fit all the alcohol I could around the five fish tacos I had through the course of the night. I celebrated with my best friends and plenty of strangers, high-fiving, jumping, pumping my fist, hugging – just exulting in all of it. Game 7.

I saw a bunch of people rushing away from the impromptu dance floor; a fight had broken out. Roger moved over to the bar, suddenly bleeding profusely from his cheek – the victim of a wayward glass shard. Maany took him to the ER, while Todd and I waited to sober up. I sat in the car as Todd pissed in the street … three times. Rog got called in just as we arrived at the hospital. We sat, with his dad nearby, with the television in the background, with others waiting to be tended to. We sat for three hours. He finally came out, the worst for wear, with a few stitches. But he was fine. He and his dad headed out, and the rest of us stopped by Tommy’s for a burger. I got home around 2:30 am. The entire night was so surreal. It was all so utterly unforgettable. Champions again. Another chapter.

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