A few months ago, I traveled to Toronto to watch the Lakers play against the Raptors. The Air Canada Centre was sold out as fans came out to support both teams. Indeed, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, the Lakers have a multitude of fans in every city.
But that was a road game; it couldn’t possibly match up with the ambiance of the Lakers playing at home. And after attending a home Lakers game in L.A. let me say this: if you have never been to a home Laker game, make sure to plan the trip at least once in your life to catch them at Staples Center.
On Sunday, my friend Karim and I went to watch the Lakers host the Trail Blazers and were left quite impressed by the whole experience. The lights in the crowd were dimmed, thus adding extra emphasis on the bright court. The pregame introductions displayed some fantastic highlights from this season. The kicker? This wasn’t displayed on the Staples Center jumbo screen; instead a movie like banner fell from the rafters (it ranged from the Staples Center jumbo screen all the way down to the court, needless to say it was big). The player introductions then ensued and it was game time.
The one thing that stood out from the game was how every possession seemed to be like a life and death situation in the crowd. From the moment the game started, fans were already excited and invested in the game, cheering every great play and also showing tons of support for their team on defense.
This one lady that sat next to us just kept screaming Derek Fisher’s name over and over again, as if he was having the game of his life, and yet he only had 4 points and 1 assist at the time. And that’s when it all became clear: being a Lakers fan (especially in Los Angeles) isn’t about supporting a basketball team; it’s about fraternity, community and family. From the moment one understands that concept, it’s easier to grasp why Laker fans are so emphatic in their statements about the purple and gold.
For instance, this one guy had trouble sitting down because he had his food in his hands and couldn’t put down his jacket and food at the same time. So Karim (rocking a Kobe Bryant jersey) offered to hold his food for him so that he could be seated. Once he sat, he offered Karim some of his nachos and guys around us casually struck up Lakers conversations (by the way, it seems as though Laker games equate to date night; every dude came with their main squeeze) with us.
It would appear that is the “Laker way”. But much like a fraternity and family, there is a definitive hierarchy about the treatment that Laker players receive when playing at home.
Kobe Bryant has spent his entire career in Los Angeles whereas Derek Fisher has been there for most of his career (made a stop in Golden State and Utah). These two are exempt from criticism or second-guessing regardless of how poor their decision-making might have been on a particular play.
Ron Artest has been a Laker for about a year and half, and thus fans occasionally complain about his play and seem to often be miffed about his mind state.
Lamar Odom is one of the most tenured Lakers now. He arrived in 2004 as part of the Shaq trade and fans have since embraced him and his incredibly versatile game. They will throw out words of encouragement his way, but if his play isn’t up to par, they’ll let him know about it.
The one that seems to often get most of the blame is Pau Gasol. It’s actually quite fascinating. For instance, Gasol posted up LaMarcus Aldridge in the third quarter and got off a decent hook shot that missed, but some fans felt as though he should have made it and thus begged for him to play better.
A few possessions after, he was in the high post to try to offer the offense a pressure release point against Portland’s zone defense but Laker fans were unhappy about his positioning and yelled for him to go post up. Kobe Bryant then shot a contested 3-point shot with the shot clock winding down (still same possession) and this time Pau got the blame for failing to post up thus forcing Kobe to take a tough shot (for the record, Kobe held the ball for about six to seven seconds just scanning the defense).
Later during the game, the Mamba took an extremely difficult one legged shot (still a makeable one for him) but the shot missed and somehow Gasol was once again the culprit for not getting the offensive rebound.
The impression I was left with is that they accept Gasol but see so much more for him. It’s like that one family member that got the opportunity to go to college when the others didn’t; if he were to drop out, the whole family would come down on him because of the amazing potential that they feel he is squandering away. That part is completely understandable, but nonetheless, with three straight Finals appearances and back to back to championships, perhaps Lakers fans should cut him some slack and appreciate just how talented this big man is.
Unfortunately, Andrew Bynum missed the game due to a flagrant foul he administered to Michael Beasley last Friday, which resulted in a two-game suspension.
The bench for the most part, it seems as though fans are happy with whatever they get from them.
The game itself was quite a good one as it came down to the final possessions. Once we hit the 2-minute mark in the fourth quarter, fans stood up and stepped up their intensity just as the players stepped up theirs. Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant made crucial plays down the stretch that sent the fans home happy.
For one day and one day only, I lived through the eyes of Lakers fans, and I have to admit, it was so much better than what I expected. Los Angeles is truly the city of angels but also the city of dreams.