As long-time readers know, I am a Spurs fan living in Los Angeles, and a former Laker fan myself. As a result, I have had a first hand view of the evolution of the Spurs – Lakers rivalry. In the 2000-2010 decade, while I was a fan of both teams, it was the best of times. One or the other of my teams was in the Finals nearly every year and often won it all.
Things changed in about 2012, when the Lakers shifted gears and became a team of one-year mercenaries. After I attended opening night, I wrote the following:
During the first quarter, one Laker guy in a Laker jersey passed to another Laker guy in a Laker jersey, who dunked. While there was much celebration in Staples Center, there was probably as much confusion. Who was the guy who dunked? For the first time in decades (if ever), a Laker guy scored in a game and I had no idea who he was. We later figured out he was a fine fellow named Xavier Henry, Kansas U grad, who was on the Pelicans last year (formerly the Hornets).
And Xavier (number 7 for your future reference) was three times as famous and familiar as another guy in a Laker jersey named Shawnee Williams – who started at power forward. Where did Shawnee play last year? Good question. The answer, as far as I can figure out: Nowhere in the NBA. And he is now starting for “my team”. And there is another guy named Johnson who I wouldn’t recognize if he was sitting in my office. This guy named Johnson was also out there wearing a Laker jersey. One guy I did recognize is Chris Kaman. Probably a perfectly nice guy, certainly a competent if uninteresting basketball player – and now is he another guy wearing the uniform of “my team”. Finally, a guy named Nick Young, who shot every time he touched it, just as he did for the 76ers last year, and USC, when he played there. He, too, is now on “my team”.
After that game, I just couldn’t be a Laker fan any more. Good timing, because that season’s team was terrible, as were the Laker teams that followed. At the same times, the Spurs were in the process of perfecting the Beautiful Game, which resulted in the Redemption Finals win in 2014.
Later, I wrote a piece about the death of the classic Spurs – Lakers rivalry because the teams were no longer on the same level. Unfortunately, when LeBron James joined the Lakers, that coincided with the Spurs fall from contention. As a result, the rivalry remained unbalanced, but for a different reason.
All of which led to last summer, when the Lakers chose to again become a team of mercenaries. This led to the following exchange with my buddy Mike, a devout Laker fan for life. Mike is also hopelessly optimistic, like many Lakers fans. This exchange happened shortly after the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook, the Trade That Will Live in Infamy.
Me: “If LeBron and/or AD get injured (again) and miss half the games, do the Lakers make the playoffs?
Mike: “There’s plenty of great stories on this new assembled group of Lakers. Russell, Ariza, coming home. Can Russ become his best self under LeBron? Ariza doing just enough to help win a second chip with Lakers? Will THT (homegrown) take a major step to become a big part of our success? Does Melo have anything left to be a McAdoo type bench contributor and get that allusive chip? Will AD stay healthy and remind everyone why he is the best two way player in the league? Can Bazemore, Ellington, Monk, Nunn play the roles necessary to give us some explosive depth?
“I say yes! Also, we have some exciting youngsters on two-way deals that might provide some unexpected punch.
“Can’t wait to see my Lakers go to the finals!! Go Lakers!!!”
Later that week, long-time friend Tony joined in:
“I’ve been looking at the team that the Lakers have put together and, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think I agree with Mike. I think the Lakers have a chance to be very good. In fact, I think they play the Nets in the Finals.”
All of which made the past week so sweet. Spoiler alert: The Lakers will not be in the Finals.
My guess is that no one other than me predicted that the Lakers and Spurs would once again renew their rivalry, but this time at the bottom of playoff bracket, not at the top. And I was one of the very few who predicted that this Lakers squad, picked by Mike and many others to make the Finals, would instead be on the outside looking in. Even better, while the Lakers’ season will be over, and they’ll be on the outside looking in at the Play-In games beginning on Tuesday, the Lakers will looking right at the Silver and Black.
Maybe I should not send this post to Mike and Tony.