[Editor's Note: This was written by a friend of mine who runs the terrific blog Searching for Slava. Check them both out, but be willing to politely disagree. He IS a Laker fan, after all. -jrw]
The Accidental Tourist
I lived my life alternately on the east and west coasts, until I moved to Austin. I drove from Cape Cod, after the last section, three years on a sand bar, alternately golden and gray. It'll be four years in August. It wasn't unpleasant until I hit a wall of heat called Arkansas which continued unabated into Texas, and for weeks afterward. A relentless oven that sucked the air out of my lungs. But there was reason to be here.
I've never really experienced pure team hatred, that unabashed scorn. Maybe it's a function of wholesale change. I grew up south of Boston, loved the local teams. And moved across the country at the age of 13, an all-summer journey in a VW camper van, with my mother, older brother, a dog and an all-white cat named Picasso. And we somehow discovered La Jolla, California, and decided to stay.
New friends, new beaches, and ultimately new teams. Up to the Forum in Charlie Cole's ancient Volvo station-wagon during high school, and later, moving to L.A., and punk bands and you could be anybody and dig the Lakers. And adulthood and parenthood - left to right on the radio dial with Chick Hearn, driving home from work. The first Phil Jackson years in Los Angeles - incense, pots and rings.
In somebody's warped post-lockout brainstorm, the three Lakers/Spurs battles come in the final eight games. Two are in San Antonio. The Lakers come to town having won one in a row. The Spurs had won 11 before Monday's night game in Utah. Coach Pop declined to send his big three, explaining, "it's a no-brainer." Popvich has always reminded me of a badass Bill Murray.
Kobe's also been sitting, but not of his choosing, missing the last two games with an inflamed tendon in his left shin. It's his first time off this season. He tore wrist ligaments and played until he deemed them self-healed. During the All-Star game, he was clocked from behind by Dwayne Wade, resulting in a broken nose, concussion and soft tissue damage in his neck. He finished the game and kept it rolling when the season resumed, wearing a mask. Like Gregg, he's a badass too. Popovich should have been his coach. It would have bought him a couple extra years in the league.
Coach Brown could sit his own big three instead of sending them into the O.K. Corral. He won't, of course. He's burned his starters out all season long. How exactly was he influenced by his time with the Spurs? If Kobe can stand, he'll probably play. He and Tim Duncan are the only ones left from their earliest playoff battles. Duncan never seems much impressed by stuff like that. He just stares that million mile stare.
To be fair, Mike Brown stepped into a hellish void when he signed on. Phil Jackson limped into the sunset and Jim Buss cleared house of anybody who wasn't directly related to him or his bartender Chaz. And the season sputtered to life and they jettisoned Lamar Odom, and later did the same with union president Derek Fisher, dumping his paltry salary on Houston. Fisher of course, bought out his own contract and signed with OKC. He might get that sixth ring after all.
There are match-ups, assuming both teams play. The Spurs are a disciplined, impeccably coached monster this year - they seem to be peaking at just the right time, with a balanced game and sublime HEB supermarket commercials. The Lakers play in fits and starts, acclimating to life after the triangle. When they're firing correctly they play a dominant low post game, powered by Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. You'll finally see some pick and roll, with new arrival Ramon Sessions running the point.
If Kobe starts, he'll do Kobe things. If he doesn't, he'll be replaced by Devin Ebanks, an intriguing prospect who's played a total of 330 minutes in his two NBA seasons. Manu will use him like a napkin.
My two favorite teams are the Spurs and the Lakers but only one is my true child. In a perfect world, they stun the Spurs at home and this post serves as a maddening reminder until it slips under the surface and floats to the bottom. Anne Tyler's accidental tourist, Macon Leary, said the traveler should only bring what fits in a carry-on bag. I no longer feel so alien here. But I do have my team.