Incendiary start: I’m glad I’m not a Lakers fan.
Their roster screams of someone who has left the ‘Force Trade’ setting on in NBA 2K13 and isn’t afraid to use it. The motor behind the seven-seconds-or-less offense, one of the best international players ever, two former defensive players of the year (one of whom is arguably the best center in the league), and one of the best shooting guards of all time are all now part of one body. A starting five for all to covet. They’ve stashed away a former Sixth Man of the Year winner and one of Philly’s most cost-effective pieces from their playoff run last year, who together will attempt to tread water while the starters take a rest.
It isn’t the roster that makes me glad not to be a Lakers fan; there is nothing in the assembly of this team of which to be ashamed. It’s a matter of sheer wizardry on the part of Mitch Kupchak — and whatever members of the family Buss are still involved in the organization — to not only have acquired this much talent, but also to align their finances perfectly with Kobe Bryant’s potential retirement.
But here the edge of expectation is sharp, the cliff face steep, and the gravel loose at best. For the organization and, more importantly, for the fans, only a championship season will satisfy. How can Kobe say, even in a whisper to his mirror before anyone else is awake, that he is the best off all time if he cannot lead this squad to glory? In the minds of some, falling at all short will counter carrying that 2006 team by himself.
Barring a miracle of science or an unforeseeable opportunity, I will never be an NBA basketball player, nor an NBA GM. But as an NBA fan, I can acknowledge the predicament of the Lakers faithful on the eve of this regular season. The Lakers have won nearly one third of the championships awarded in my lifetime. The expectations have always been high. But perhaps more dangerous to that fandom is their history of success; for the Lakers, there is nothing left to surpass. What must happen for the Lakers fans’ elation to exceed that of the past? What would be the value of this championship win, should it come to pass?
I was one of those that survived the 90’s as a Mavericks fan. We were frail, huddled in bunkers, our pale skin would have burnt had we been so bold as to show our faces in the sunlight. I remember the scant few highlights: Jamal and Jimmy each scoring 50 points in a game in a single month, Jason Kidd winning co-rookie of the year. Pretty sure that’s about it. It was a rough decade.
Whether I was bereft of hope due to the recent drafting of Cherokee Parks, the Rockets’ recent title, or something else of that nature, my fandom was forged in the fires of a questionably run organization. I learned to draw joy not from championship trophies, but from George McCloud tying the record for most three-pointers made in a half. The playoffs had never been close enough for me to touch them.
But seeing the bottom made the slow ascent to the top all the better. I still remembered how to find the joy in a loss, but in 2011 that final loss never came. Did my years of losing, only to find glory against the team that had toppled us before — the team that was supposed to win more than 72 games — make that victory sweeter for me than the 10th championship in a Lakers fan’s lifetime?
Before Austin Rivers went down in the preseason game between Dallas and New Orleans last week, the hopes of the Hornets fan base was already a far cry from those of the fans that wear the Forum Blue and gold. Those that root for the Hornets will find their solace in Eric Gordon’s return to form. They’ll find their joy in a 20-rebound game for Anthony Davis. Watching new players mesh together as a unit, finding their place in the NBA spectrum: this will be their season. There is a beauty to the malleability of fandom.
These Mavericks lie somewhere in the space between these other two teams. A roster with players who may not have reached their full potential, combined with veterans who have dominated in the past. A combination fresh enough to be entertaining, but still good enough to have a puncher’s chance. The Mavericks fans imagination can simmer upon the revelation that Collison to Wright alley-oops will be unstoppable, while the team still can transcend the prospect of the season and not be defined by the statistics in the game day program.
The value of a 50-win season may be diminished to a Mavs fan who doesn’t remember an owner before Mark Cuban, but I recall a time when the 50-win mark took three seasons to catch. With experience and expectation, each game will resonate differently; amidst streaks of double-digit losses, a single win is as glorious as a making it out of the first round.
There will be ups and downs for those Hornets fans, as there will be for fans of all rebuilding teams. Some will fall away when a future first-round draft pick fails to live up to potential, and others may simply tire that the rise doesn’t happen fast enough. But those who stay the course will someday get their turn of the tide — their very own Calvin Booth layup. I’m glad I’m not a Lakers fan because of what that might mean for those singular moments that would otherwise be eclipsed by the glimmer of another title. What would it take to satisfy me and my allegiance after all this time?
With experience and expectation considered, I see more upside in following a team like the Hornets — with the entire journey ahead of them — than one like the Lakers. But really: I’m just lucky to be a Mavericks fan, positioned directly in the middle, and without the burdens of either extreme.
Shay Christian Vance is getting his feet wet in writing, here at The Two Man Game. Follow Shay on Twitter at @shayseph.