In TV and print media coverage of sports, broadcasters and writers love to talk up every potential for professional sports dynasties, be it those of the 49ers in football during the 80s, Yankees in late 90s baseball, or in a current case, the Lakers in basketball. The assumption is that this is something extra special to behold as a pinnacle of excellence. But as a fan, I get so sick of it.
I like competition, especially when it breeds situations where a number of teams not only can, but do win titles--even those from small markets. And while outright parity can be a bore if no truly great teams are able to come together, it is at least a relief sometimes to not have a case of one rich, big-market team or another continually grabbing the ring year after year.
Granted, my hatred of the Los Angeles Lakers is born from jealousy and resentment. The PortlandTrail Blazers (my team) have suffered a lot of very bitter defeats at their hands. So I'm not exactly objective about this. Nevertheless, I believe Laker titles in this era have long since begun inevitable. (Yes, even though the Spurs won last year.)
First, the Lakers wooed Shaquille O'Neal from Orlando as a free agent, made easier with LA's financial and cultural appeal. But what really brings out the conspiracy theorist in me, is the story of how Kobe Bryant came to Los Angeles.
An article in today's Oregonian by John Canzano recalls the 1996 NBA draft, in which current Blazers general manager John Nash was then the Nets' GM. Nash is from Philadelphia and had heard all about how a 16-year-old kid there was holding his own against Jerry Stackhouse in pickup games. Nash wanted to take Bryant with the 8th pick. But the Lakers also wanted to take Bryant. Allegedly adidas wanted him to be in Los Angeles as well, so as to make their signee a bigger star. Then Bryant's agent began to insist that Kobe would refuse to play anywhere but LA. So Nash was pressured by the Nets into not taking Bryant, which allowed Charlotte to take him at 13 with the intention of trading him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Kobe now says he would have played anywhere.
If Nash's version of that story is true, it goes to show that a mild sort of conspiracy theory is actually true. There is no small handful of people pulling the strings in the sports entertainment industry, but in some subtle and not so subtle ways, the system is conducive to teams like the Lakers winning championships. (I'm deliberately setting aside the issue of Kobe's sexual assault trial -- a discussion for another time.)
Now, traditionally I've been a New York Yankees fan, which seems very inconsistent. And it is. But I became a Yankee fan as a child years before I understood their unfair advantage. Does that make me exempt? No, but this was never about questioning whether people had a right to root for those teams for other reasons, such as living in the teams' home cities or an affinity for a particular player. Besides, in a pure basketball sense I love Kobe Bryant's game more than that of any other player. It's just seldom that I can look past the uniform.
Anyway, this is all written an hour after the Lakers came from behind to win Game 2 of this year's Finals. Detroit had a six-point lead with a minute left and choked, letting LA force overtime and eventually losing the game to them. So often it seems the Lakers have been on the ropes over the years, to Portland or Sacramento or San Antonio, and come back to win. And win. And win. And win. Ah, I long for the brief days of Nick Van Excel and Eddie Jones leading LA to a first or second-round playoff exit. A brief respite between Magic and Shaq.