Amidst a sprinkling of purple and yellow, my nephew and I made our way from the parking structure to USC’s Galen Center where the Lakers were hosting an open scrimmage.
The events that had transpired in the last week—the trade for Chris Paul, the nixing of such trade, Lamar Odom’s hurt feelings and eventual trade to the Mavericks, the Clippers winning the CP3 sweepstakes, and Kobe Bryant’s pending divorce—could all be felt in the air upon arriving at our seats.
A proud fan base seemed downtrodden and emotionally spent by recent events. The proclamation by the media at large that there was a new hot ticket in town is not something the fans, nor the Lakers organization, were prepared for. The ever flourishing purple & gold roses were finally wilting and even the forced cheers from the fans at Galen Center could not undo the reality of a declining superpower.
Red T-shirts and jerseys were even spotted in the upper sections, an immediate sign that affirmed the tectonic shifts of perception—the wearers standing with dignity, no longer suffering from ailments of ridicule; decades of shame wiped away with one trade and in its places winds of envy and misdirected anger.
As the players meandered onto the floor, the crowd’s spirits picked up. The excitement built up as fans looked towards the tunnel, patiently waiting for their beloved Lakers, looking for any sign that everything was going to be okay.
Metta World Peace was present, as was Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. Kobe, of course, received the loudest welcome, but his demeanor radiated disappointment and a lack of interest—not exactly the type of body language fans were looking for to refill their confidence canisters. The core of the team was essentially the same, and yet it felt and looked like a lesser, unfamiliar team because of Lamar’s absence.
It wasn’t all bad news, however. Once the scrimmage finally started, fans were treated to something different than what they’ve been used to ever since Phil Jackson took over as coach: a point guard. For as long as I’ve been watching the last iteration of Lakers championship caliber teams, I never quite enjoyed it. With the exception of Shaquille O’neal’s dominance during Kobe’s youthful prime, the rest has been a dull, half-court, triangle-offense style of play that has produced results at the cost of enjoyment.
With Mike Brown as the new coach, the team appears to finally be on board of allowing the point guard to run the floor. This created a more dynamic, faster and fun style of play. Add to that the arrival of a few fresh and athletic legs, and for a couple of quarters, we all forgot about the red and white elephant in the room.
Devin E. Banks, Josh McRoberts and Zach Andrews all looked eager and able to play—I’m hoping this athleticism transfers over to regular season games, if it does the Clippers v. Lakers games will be extremely fun to watch. Jason Kapono put his three-point efficiency on display as he hit four times from downtown. Luke Walton looked goofier than ever and continued to surprise the sporting community with his employment as a professional basketball player (I refuse to believe there aren’t better basketball players for hire, I fully expect ESPN to do a 30-for-30 on it).
Andrew Bynum‘s knee looks fragile and made me worry every time he put pressure on it. The knee-brace didn’t help. Given his history of injuries, compounding it with a shortened schedule that favors youth, and no longer being able to plug-in Lamar Odom in his position is definitely a concern for the Lakers.
Pau? Pau was just Pau. Consistent. It’s too bad he also knows his head is on the chopping block should the Magic agree to move Dwight Howard.
Oh yeah, “Metta World Peeeeaccceeee.” That’s what it sounded like when he was first introduced and the crowd loved it. I couldn’t help but chuckle every single time his name was called. That part should be fun for the entire league.
Kobe Bryant, having entered the twilight of his career, has started taking on shades of MJ circa ’96. The explosive step now gone, he appears to be resorting to smarter play. More fadeaways, less flair, but competitive as always. At one point he elbowed Kapono (playfully?) on the chest after having lost a ball to him. I hope this was a sign of his black mamba pedigree and not an indication that off-the-court marital problems could decay the foundation and heart of this team.
While it remains to be seen whether the Clippers will, indeed, live up to expectations, it is undeniable that Lakers Nation has suffered an unexpected wound that even Kobe can’t undo. The Lakers may not be a sure thing like years past, but they still maintain an above average roster capable of competing and entertaining, anchored by one of the greatest and most competitive players to have ever played the game.
So take it easy, Laker fan. You may not get a chance to prominently fly your Lakers mini flags from the windows of your cars, and maybe you won’t have as many chances to bombard my newsfeed with “suck it” messages after every Lakers victory (or maybe it’ll get worse because it won’t be as easy), but at the end of the day just know that you’ve never experienced what it’s like to be a Clippers fan.
If there’s ever been an organization and a fan-base worthy of some Karmic justice, it is the Clippers. Instead of misplacing your hatred for Stern onto the other LA Team, you should be happy that there will finally be a rivalry in the best sport that LA has to offer.