The 1980s were golden years for L.A. sports fans, especially because most of the world still cared about the NBA. Recap: The Raiders won one championship in Los Angeles, the Dodgers won two and the Lakers won five, two of them against the Boston Celtics (pronounced sell-ticks).
A few things have happened since then that have made me less in tune with the goings on in Los Angeles. One, I couldn’t claim to live there since 1986. Two, not only do I not live there, I now live in a place that makes getting there more than a 10-hour drive. Three, I really love where I do live.
That said, I still maintain my allegiance to the Dodgers. The Lakers, not so much. During the 1990s they became a team of thugs and crybabies and I was living in Utah. I started rooting for the Utah Jazz, because I wanted to see Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton get a championship. They were already Dream Teamers, but wore no NBA rings. The Lakers, young and cocky, were roadblocks on the way. The Jazz blew their shot. The Lakers got better at a time when the NBA was full of personalities I couldn’t stand. We lived near Portland for a couple of years at a time when the Blazers were known as the Jailblazers. So L.A. won a few championships at a time when I wasn’t watching the NBA much.
To make matters worse, we moved near Seattle and during Nate McMillan’s last year here as a coach I grew to have an affection for the Seattle Supersonics. Then the team let Nate go to Portland and the new owners made a sham show of trying to stay here, when everyone except David Stern knew the intention all along was to move the team to Oklahoma City.
Seriously. Oklahoma City. I’m not kidding about that.
David Stern, the NBA’s jefe, has been a complicit worm in the entire deal. Now we’ve got court cases in which the former owner is trying to void the sale. He may have a case, because the new Sonics owners were stupid enough to send congratulatory e-mails to each other when things got bad for Seattle basketball fans. So a city with a 40-year history with the league is struggling, causing some a-holes from Oklahoma to celebrate and David Stern is on their side? Yeah, that’s my story. So why should I care at all about the NBA?
Well, here’s why. One of Seattle’s good guys, Ray Allen, got traded to Boston, where he joined two other superstars and suddenly the Celtics were good again. Not only were they good, they’re great, the best in the NBA. I’ve been rooting for them all year. As much as deep in my heart I’d still like to see the Los Angeles Lakers with as many banners as the Celtics, I have a real appreciation for Allen, who wanted to make it work here in Seattle. So I paid some attention to how he and the Celtics were doing, not at all aware that the Lakers were winning. Now we’re a few games from a Lakers-Celtics finals and it has caught me completely by surprise. Actually, the money now would be on a Lakers-Pistons finals, but if the Celtics win one on the road that goes back to the former possibility.
When the reality-struck that it could be L.A.-Boston, I suddenly realized that I didn’t know who I’d root for. More alarmingly, I realized that I actually cared. I hate the NBA, but it matters to me which team is the best in a league I despise. If the Lakers were only Kobe Bryant, the choice would be easy. But he has changed as a player, which partly explains why the team is two games away from the finals. Plus, they’ve got some good guys on that team. So maybe I never did lose my love for the Lakers. I guess I’m conditional. I was glad for Shaq when they won those earlier championships, because I thought he had matured as a player. Overall, if the guys on the team are decent guys, my default team might still be the Lakers. Then again, I like the Celtics. And if the Sonics were any good and still in Seattle, well then maybe they’d be my team.
The immediate reality here, though, is if it’s a Lakers-Celtics finals, I’m certainly going to watch. That’s good news for ABC. If it’s Lakers-Pistons, then I’ll probably watch. If it’s Celtics-Spurs, then I might watch. If it’s Pistons-Spurs I won’t watch. I won’t care. That I would care under any circumstances is news to me.