My favorite time of the year has officially begun: basketball season.
Having grown up with my father – a sports writer – I generally dislike most sports. It isn’t that I have a misunderstanding of sports, or that I prefer girly things to the sweaty, meaty masculinity of it all. It’s that I feel like I have been overexposed. My father has written numerous books, countless academic journals and encyclopedia entries, and has published more newspaper articles than even he can count. And the sports he has covered (and thus overexposed me to) have not been discriminating – growing up, I was forced to attend and be an active part of almost every sport you can imagine (with the exception of ping pong). I will never forget the Chicago winters when Friday after Friday I was bundled up to sit for hours in the locker room with my eyes covered; as well as the countless sunburns I got sitting in the aluminum bleachers. So to say that I have been “overexposed” is probably an understatement. Much to my own chagrin, I know more about the ins-and-outs of most sporting events played in the United States than I want to, which is why I generally dislike the majority of them.
Except – of course – basketball. Something about basketball stuck with me through the years. Possibly it is my love of the Chicago Bulls. Very likely it is all the things other than the ball that the game represents. Whatever it is, I love it and now that the lockout is over, the season is upon us.
If it sounds like I’m bragging or rambling – I’m not. Possibly I’m rambling, but really I feel the need to qualify. In my experience, sports have and always will be male-dominated; that includes in the commentary. (And for those of you planning on commenting off on a rail about some random female sports reporter showcased on ESPN: spare me. A few women – bombshells, I might add, for the mainstream male audience to salivate over – does not change the unambiguous fact that sports in America are relatively male dominated.) Even at home I feel like every man in the room pompously believes I don’t understand or know anything about what’s on the television – even when they know my experiences with my dad as a sports writer. Nothing makes me laugh more hysterically (inside, of course) when someone tries to explain to me something about sports as quite a few have referred to “in layman’s terms.” I don’t mean to be as pompous as them and act like I know everything; I mean it is hilarious that I get stereotyped as someone who would know nothing and need to be talked down to.
So we’ve established: I’m at least marginally qualified to talk about this. On to the Los Angeles Lakers, in layman’s terms.
One of the reasons why I love basketball so much is because of the potential it has to help guys get off the streets and out of gangs. You can always tell when a guy has gone from “rags to riches” in the NBA – not only because of the PR campaign telling you about it, but because of the amount he gives back. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing these big, lovable guys giving back to the communities from whence they came. Unlike a lot of other sports, basketball combines more qualities than are even imaginable. Where other sports require skill and passion, basketball is a combination of skill, finesse, agility, talent, personality, respect, philanthropy, and passion. And while the players make an obscene amount of money, and the franchises do need funds to run the teams – the almighty dollar really has little to do with the sport, itself.
So when I see teams like the Los Angeles Lakers – a franchise that is way too big and far too wealthy for its own good – I thoroughly expect to see a good deal of generosity, philanthropy, and (at the very least) fairness in their activities on as well as off court. And while many of them as individuals (e.g. Gasol, Fisher) are among the better people playing in the NBA right now, it is undeniable that the team and the franchise is not any of those things. When I moved to California, rather than seeing an awesome powerhouse of a team that combined skill with general goodness, I saw a bunch of numbskulls cheating on their wives, shouting homophobic slurs during the game, doing very little for the community, and all-around acting like big, overpaid babies.
So what’s new that we can we file under ‘Reasons to Hate the Lakers,’ you ask? Simple: the CP3 scandal.
If you were awake at all yesterday, you know that there was a bit of a scandal over the Lakers franchise deciding to trade Odom and Gasol to acquire Chris Paul (otherwise known as CP3). Of course this was discussed for a while and – while Paul has questionable knee problems – this still seems relatively good for the Lakers, primarily because it would put them in the position of potentially acquiring Dwight Howard as well. The question that was on the tip of my tongue, though, when I learned of this trade was simply: why would the Lakers trade two guys formerly considered ‘franchise superstars’ for one guy that is only so-so?
I’ll tell you why: money and unfairness.
A part of the post-lockout deal was that money paid in luxury taxes for player contracts would be diverted to smaller NBA teams to help even the playing field a little. It is no surprise that there are big teams and small teams and – much in the way our economy becomes more and more divided and seemingly unfair – money continues to create a larger gap between teams that may otherwise be excellent contenders against one another. So while I don’t doubt that the Phil-Kobe franchise wanted to cut costs a little to make some wiggle room for the likes of Dwight Howard to come in, it cannot be denied that an added benefit to the Lakers was to weasel their way out of that $21 million luxury tax that was being paid out on Odom and Gasol’s contracts. As it stands, Dwight was not a given, and even more compelling is that the tax on his and CP3’s contracts would still have amounted to far less than Gasol and Odom’s. Trade two superstars for a guy people call “questionable” to save some money and keep the place on the throne of the NBA? Sounds like a good deal to me! (For the Lakers, that is.)
Of course this is all very conspiracy theory, or at the very least a little overanalytical of the situation. Such ideas wouldn’t come into play, though, if it weren’t for all of the other colossal reasons the Lakers are what is wrong with professional sports to begin with. If they didn’t have a laundry list of negatives (from Kobe’s blatant homophobia, to dirty playing, to acting like poor sports when they encounter a team unequivocally better than them, to Kobe referring to Michael Jordan’s record as “that aint shit,” to the fans that riot for no reason…the list goes on), then people wouldn’t jump to assume just more of the same from the team that has over 11 million Facebook fans, and yet not one unscarred thing about them.
The best part in all of this is that the Laker fans only know how to defend the Lakers and this bogus blunder of an attempted-trade on one of three levels.
First, they try and defend the capitalist aspect (“…well, if the owner wants to cut costs, he should be able to!”), which brings to mind a simple reminder that while basketball is business-like, basketball is and never has been a business (which means it doesn’t get to play by business standards).
When that fails, they move on to innocuous and illogical attacks on anyone speaking against the team – like “Laker hater in the house” or “you so stupid!!” Sure guys…
And then, as a last resort, Laker fans respond when someone says something that is in opposition to and/or is very likely the truth about their team by saying absolutely nothing. I have never heard more silence from Laker fans than when I’ve said something that is without a doubt a pejorative truth about the downsides of the Los Angeles franchise. Keep quiet, ignore the truth; and we never have to admit flaws in our beloved purple and gold.
As a result, I fully expect this blog to go uncommented. But what do I know? I am just a layman, and a woman to boot. I don’t have any experience with basketball, or sports in general at all . . .