I was born in 1984. The same year that Magic Johnson lost his first meeting with Larry Bird and the hated Boston Celtics, teaching a whole new generation of Lakers fans to hate the color green and Lucky Charms cereal. As a Lakers fan, I grew up watching a team with no stars. The year was 1993, two years after saying good-bye to Magic Johnson who retired in 1991, and the Lakers would draft Nick Van Exel with the 37th selection in the NBA draft. The team would later select Eddie Jones in the 1994 draft, complete a trade for Cedric Ceballos, and make the playoffs with one of the younger cores in the league at the time. It would take one more season before the Lakers signed superstar center Shaquille O’Neal to pair with the young but talented roster already in place, and trade for another young talent from the 1996 draft class in Kobe Bryant.
As a Lakers fan, I would go on to enjoy three straight NBA championships, and be reminded that this is what the Lakers did. They would draft well, they would make all of the right moves (GM Jerry West also traded away a few assets to clear up cap space and ensure O’Neal could be signed), and they won championships. Going back to the days of Magic Johnson, the trades for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the addition of James Worthy proved this was evident. Going back even further to the days of Jerry West, the trade for Wilt Chamberlain proved this was evident. Fans of other teams often mock Lakers fans for bringing up their team’s history, but when your history continues to repeat itself, it’s hard not to keep bringing it up to the uneducated masses.
O’Neal would eventually request to be traded in 2004, and I suppose all good things must come to an end. The team still had Kobe Bryant, and even after O’Neal forced their hand when he asked to be traded, the team was able to collect draft picks and a serviceable big man in Lamar Odom in obliging him. In 2005, the budding Caron Butler would be shipped to Washington in a bit of a head-scratcher for Kwame Brown, but in 2007, Brown and his expiring contract would be sent off to Memphis for All-Star forward in the making Pau Gasol. Again, this is what the Lakers did. The Lakers would go on to reach the Finals in 2008, only to lose in horrific fashion to, who else? The Boston Celtics. If Jesus Christ died for our sins, the Lakers lose to the Celtics and vice-versa to make us all better basketball fans (I’ll pat my own back for that one, thank you).
Revenge would be had in 2010, in a Game 7 at home no less. The last time the Lakers hosted the Celtics for a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, the year was 1969. Bill Russell and his Celtics would win the championship, repeating as champions, but it was the Lakers superstar shooting guard Jerry West who would be awarded the first ever Finals MVP trophy. This year would be the first year that the trophy would be named after Bill Russell himself. And he would be on hand to award the trophy to the Lakers current superstar shooting guard, Kobe Bryant, having completed a repeat championship of his own. Perfect harmony within the cosmos.
The Lakers would be swept by the Dallas Mavericks the following season, much the way Magic Johnson’s Lakers would bow out to another team from Texas, the Houston Rockets, and were in need of some re-tooling. The aid came in the form of superstar point guard Chris Paul. His price was steep, as it cost the team the services of Pau Gasol and newly christened Sixth-Man of the Year Lamar Odom, but with the assets available to make yet another move, it was thought to be worth the risk. Just like Chamberlain, just like Jabbar, just like Gasol, the Lakers always got their man.
However, an unseen evil would see to it that for once, the Lakers would not get their way. An outside force that could not be defeated on the basketball court (Nor in the courtrooms. Dude was a fucking lawyer, ugh) threatened the peace and serenity of our cosmos. He went by Stern, held the title of NBA Commissioner, and stood for nothing that basketball represented. His league owned the team that Chris Paul played for, and damned the basketball gods themselves, arrogantly stating, “basketball reasons”, when questioned what made the Lakers agreed upon swap subject to veto.
The reality was Stern used those special veto powers bequeathed to him as commissioner for his own gain, as the NBA was actively shopping for an owner to take the Hornets off of their hands. The original trade was the best haul that the Hornets GM could hope to get (Use the slide on this post explaining how the trade worked for all sides if you don’t believe me), and it kept the team competitive. Stern would instead opt to hit “reset” on the franchise, giving the potential new owner a clean slate with which to operate. This becomes glaringly obvious when you analyze the accepted deal offered by the other team from Los Angeles, the Clippers, who never had anything go right for them ever.
They offered much less than the Lakers did, but what the deal lacked in talented players, it made up for with expiring contracts. This made the team much worse, but granted their would-be owner the freedom to begin building the team as he saw fit, from scratch. It also helped that the ping pong balls just so happened to fall in the Hornets favor (miraculously), gifting the new owner the first pick in the draft and the cherry on top of their new ownership agreement, Anthony Davis (Seem far-fetched? Well, I’m certainly not the only one who believes it to be true, and Stern allegedly did the same thing when he first became commissioner of the league in 1985).
A heavy hand had disrupted the tranquility of the Lakers cosmos. In this alternate reality orchestrated by Stern, the greatest point guard in the league was in Los Angeles, but as a Clipper. And much to the chagrin of every basketball fan in Los Angeles (Save for the fifteen original Clippers fans. They should hang their selfies up in the stands instead). The Lakers would go on with their checkmate move of landing Dwight Howard for Andrew Bynum the following season, and their Plan D to add an aging Steve Nash to run the offense. Alas, this plan did not work, because Steve Nash was not Chris Paul, and the trade with the Phoenix Suns that the team agreed to make proved too costly. A future conditional top three protected pick was included in the trade, potentially haunting the team’s drafts from 2015-2017.
As a fan of the Lakers, I had to put up with two seasons when the team had missed the playoffs: 1993-94, and 2004-05. The difference between those two seasons and the seasons falling between 2014-15 and 2016-17 was that if the Lakers had just missed the playoffs, or finished middle of the way bad (which they did in both the 1993-94 and 2004-05 seasons, earning a number ten pick each time), I would have been OK with it. I wanted to see the team trying to do well, and Aww shucks if they didn’t. If this happened in between the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons? The Lakers would lose their pick. So, the fan base that had gotten so used to winning was suddenly being asked to accept and welcome failure.
The request was ridiculous. How do you expect any fan base to go through one terrible season, only to now not just expect, but pray to the basketball gods every night that their team lose as many games as possible for the next three seasons? Lakers fans were not used to this. They were used to winning championships. And when they didn’t, the reason was always epic: “The Balloon Game” A.K.A. Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals. Tragic Johnson and the 1984 NBA Finals. The 2008 NBA Finals and the Game 6 “Beatdown in Beantown”. Losing in the most epic way possible stung, sure, but losing all hope so early in the regular season was just… sad. Sad wasn’t a Lakers feeling. Sad was something that happened to the Clippers.
The Clippers, meanwhile, seemingly had everything the Lakers used to have. Budding talent in DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, and what should have been the heir to Magic Johnson’s point guard throne in Chris Paul. And it was the Clippers small but deserving fan base who were being treated to new and memorable moments, both good and bad: A heated rivalry with NBA champion Steph Curry and his Warriors. Losing the lead, Game 6, and the series to Houston in 2015. Chris Paul’s dagger to sink San Antonio in Game 7 of the first round those same playoffs. A streak of division championships and several consecutive playoff berths. Lob City. And, as further proof of what a topsy-turvy universe Stern had created, a 18-2 record (+15.4 point differential!) against their bully brother the Lakers, spanning from 2012-13 through 2016-17. It was hard for me to watch all of the good fortune the Clippers were experiencing, and not imagine what (should) could have been.
The Lakers and their fans were no longer looking forward to Opening Night, Christmas Day, or the NBA All-Star Game (even last season as it was held in L.A.). Solace couldn’t even be found in the off-season, since summer free agency became a joke. Starting with losing Dwight Howard a season after trading for him, continuing with Lamarcus Aldridge, and culminating with the signings of Timafey Mozgov and Luol Deng. They were at least somehow able to keep their lottery pick for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 drafts, selecting D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball, respectively. Whether it was cosmic karma, or newly appointed commissioner Adam Silver’s way of saying, “Sorry that last guy was such a dick to you”, all three lottery picks were kept and were desperately needed.
The change was drastic, and it took a few seasons for the basketball universe to right itself, but it eventually would. Chris Paul’s play would begin to decline, and he would no longer be the best point guard in the league. Unable to continue leading a team himself, he would join a much more talented team in Houston during 2017 free agency (Here come those Texas teams again…). Blake Griffin would be unloaded to Detroit mid-season, and DeAndre Jordan would leave for Dallas in the summer to follow (Another Texas team).
And while former Celtic and all-around prick Danny Ainge was building another juggernaut in Boston, the Lakers would look toward a familiar hero in Magic Johnson to right the ship, yet again. And they would go back to doing what they did best: They would draft well, they would make all of the right moves (New GM Rob Pelinka also traded away a few assets to clear up cap space, ensuring LeBron James could be signed), and they will (hopefully) win championships.
That’s why I can’t wrap my head around why any Lakers fan wouldn’t be excited that their team was able to acquire the biggest superstar in the league. Why anyone within the fan base would look to deface a mural celebrating what the Lakers as a franchise were able to accomplish. LeBron is bigger than a lot of franchises, but he is not bigger than the Lakers. LeBron is simply another star within the Lakers galaxy, a galaxy that the basketball universe seems to always favor. And his signing was a signal to all witnesses (Another pat, thank you) that the Lakers had returned to their rightful place within said universe: As basketball royalty.
The best player in basketball is a Laker.
Nobody is a Clipper.
And the Celtics are waiting.
At last, all is right in the cosmos again.
Follow me on Twitter, for more of my shameless Lakers gushing (which I try to keep to a minimum), as well as a few more takes throughout the NBA off-season. And yes, I hear you asking, “Hey Dan, what about Golden State?” The Warriors are an unintentional creation by David Stern’s constant tinkering with the size of the league dating back to the 1989 expansion draft and will need to be destroyed. There were talks from the players themselves that there were problems within the locker room last season. Hopefully the addition of talented headcase Boogie Cousins will backfire and make this all go boom come playoff time.