Way to got, Raja. Now kick him in the face!
So I'm sitting here watching game 1 of the NBA finals. It feels like I'm watching the German Army about to roll into Paris. No matter how I try to convince myself that The Magic can win, I just don't think it's gonna happen. The bad guys are going to win this one.
I know, Orlando beat LA both times they played this year. And no one thought they would beat Cleveland. And LA hasn't exactly been overwhelming in the playoffs this year. But I just feel dread in my bones. I blame my sports pessimism on my love of The Jazz and BYU football. Both teams are usually good enough to get to a big moment, only to collapse when it matters most. Yeah, it's been beaten into my soul to believe that when it comes to really important games, bad things are going to happen. The Lakers are going to win the damn title.
And yes, that is a very bad thing.
It is important to note that this is just sports. As such, it is inherently irrational. Nothing could be more irrational than a grown man leaping off the couch in genuine triumph because far away someone that they have never met threw a ball into a hoop. I know that. I tell myself over and over that it is stupid to care so much about such trivial nonsense. And yet, when D Will pauses at the top of the key, toys with his defender, break them down, snaps their ankle and humiliates them on his way to an open lane, I am filled with elation. It is the same sense of victory that I would feel if I myself had just done that. Perhaps not the same level of intensity. But the feeling is the same. And it is this notion of vicarious accomplishment that makes being a sports fan both exhilarating and insane. Intelligent, clear thinking adults make heroes out of out strangers for having a specific skill. Heroes! That's rediculous. Like I said, it is inherently irrational. And where there are heroes, there are villains.
Now before I go on, it is important to stress that when I speak in these admittedly absurd terms of "heroes" and "villains" (suddenly I have The Beach Boys stuck in my head), I am not referring to the actual people involved. This may be a cop out, but when I say, "I hate Kobe Bryant" it's like saying, "I hate Billy Zane's character from Titanic." ( In fact that's a perfect comparison. Wealthy, smug and evil.) It's not the flesh and blood human being named Kobe Bryant that infuriates me, it is the character he plays in the drama of the NBA. They are two different things. If I saw Kobe Bryant walking around town, I wouldn't feel the need to beat the hell out of him anymore than I would want to punch Billy Zane in the face if I saw him at the airport. "That's for handcuffing Leo, you bastard!"
Likewise when I say, "I hate Laker fans." I am referring to a crowd of faceless people wearing the same inexcusably ugly yellow shirts. Many of my good friends are from Southern California and are Laker fans. Which is to say they like the Lakers enough to talk shit when they're winning. But I have no actual hatred at all for them as individuals. They are my good friends.
In this strange mindset of vicarious victory and defeat, it's okay to hate. It really is. Because no matter how die hard a sports fan may be, we all realize that it really is just a game. And even though the hatred is real, (and it most definitely is) it is directed at an antagonist that doesn't exist in reality. When you love a team or a player with such devotion and passion, it is almost required to hate those teams and players that stand in their way. Vicarious competition. It's a weird thing.
Now, with that disclaimer out of the way . . .
I hate the filthy Lakers. I hate their ugly ass yellow jerseys. I hate their arena. I hate their pompous asshole of a coach. I hate that every national broadcast includes shots of crappy celebrities pretending to not be bored. Jack Nicholson hasn't been good in a movie since "A Few Good Men". That was in 1992. Stop showing the reaction of the star of "The Bucket List" to every damn play! The old man is irrelevant. *
Back to my mouth foaming diatribe: I hate Laker fans. Oooo, how I hate their fans. Entitled, arrogant, apathetic frauds that lack any sense of integrity. They do not deserve the success that they have. You can only truly call a team yours if they have broken your heart. And I have never met a Laker fan that has ever been hurt by the Lakers losing. They don't care. But the second it looks like they're back on top, they pound their chest and talk shit. They are the spoiled rich kids in high school that drive to school in a brand new Mercedes daddy bought them and then snicker at your pickup that you bought with your own money. (Yes, the Utah Jazz are a beloved pickup in this analogy.) Is a Mercedes a better car than a pickup? Sure. But do they deserve what they have? Do they appreciate it? Do they love it? No, they just love that it's better than what you have. Assholes.
And I hate their players. I hate Vujachich (I refuse to look up the proper spelling of his name) and his girly hair and his sour face. I hate Walton and that stupid ring around the rosies tattoo. I hate Ariza and the fact that he couldn't miss a 3 against the Jazz (Actually, I would love to have Ariza on the Jazz but as long as he wears that nasty yellow, I hate him). I hate Gasol and his sweaty half beard and the bullshit trade that brought him to LA. I hate his greasy Spanish basketball team. I hate the fact that he looks like the bastard son of the Geico Caveman and Jafar from Aladdin. I hate his flopping bullshit and his flying elbows. Hell, I hate his brother for having the same last name.
And I hate Kobe Bean Bryant.
I hated his Marge Simpsons afro and I hate his pointy bald head. I hate his constant sneer, I hate his phony smile. I hate that he gets every damn call imaginable and I hate that he still has the balls to bitch to the refs when they don't bail him out. I hate that he screwed over his fans by changing his number just so he would sell more jerseys and I hate that his fans were too stupid to notice. I hate that he brings his kids to post game interviews in a transparent exploitation to appear likable and I hate that it actually works. I hate that the overwhelming majority of NBA players that know him personally hate his guts and yet they pretend to be his buddy because the NBA PR people convinced them it is their interest to do so.** I hate that his own coach can't stand him and yet they realize the mutual benefit of tolerating each other. I hate that ESPN, Nike, Vitamin Water and McDonalds are committed to transforming him into marketable Jordan 2.0, international nice guy regardless of the fact that his arrest report for rape is on the internet for all to read. (Guilty or not, read that and tell me he isn't a self involved dirt bag.)
Most of all, I hate the fact that he is so damn good.
But this isn't anything too out of the ordinary. Everyone hates Kobe Bryant. It's like hating the Ebola Virus. He's a petulant, contemptuous, phony pile of human garbage. And yet in many ways he embodies all of the characteristics I admire most in professional athletes. Despite his off the chart talent, he works harder than anyone else in the league. He almost always performs his best when it matters the most. There is not better big-moment-assassin out there. Given my favorite teams' previously mentioned tendency to collapse under pressure, that is an enviable quality. All that said, he is also a destructive, selfish cancer that will happily tank an elimination game to prove a point. Man, I can't even give him two compliments in a row without instinctively crapping on him.
Now that I have gotten that off my chest, let me reiterate the hypothetical nature of this malice. Again, these grievances aren't with the actual human being named Kobe Bryant. They are with the fictional character we sports fans have created, named Kobe Bryant. The rape allegations from a few years ago seem confirm that the actual Kobe Bryant is in fact a horrible human being. I certainly wouldn't disagree with that statement. And it seems okay in my mind to hate someone that is so destructive and unaccountable. But, if I am going to allow that standard to apply to my personal sports nemesis, integrity demands that I apply it to my personal sports heroes as well. And that can be a hard reality to face.
Karl Malone inpregnated a 13 year old girl when he was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech (20 years old?) and has refused to acknowledge his son either personally or financially to this day. As despicable as Kobe's rape allegations are, I would say that Malone's secret shame is probably worse. And yet I love the Mailman. Does this revelation seriously taint my image of him? Hell yes. I have no desire to hang out with the guy. But I never loved him because he was a great father with impeccable integrity. I love him because he built the only pro franchise of my home town. I love him because he bled on the court for 18 straight years wearing my team's jersey. I love him because he's the second all time NBA scorer, the best power forward of all time (suck it, Duncan) and he belongs to me and my team and my town. Like all Jazz fans, I do have a conflicted view of him. As great as he was, he collapsed when it mattered most. But I don't let the fact that he was unable to beat Jordan (no one did) cancel out his greatness.
However, in an attempt to justify a hatred for the actual person Kobe Bryant, I can't apply a standard of personal behavior to one character in the NBA drama, as reasonable as it may be, and then selectively ignore that standard for a character I like. I can't burn Kobe Bryant at the stake, no matter how good the reason and then disregard the disgraceful reality of Karl Malone. To hate one, is to hate the other. Of course, for anyone outside of LA or Utah, that's not a problem. Everyone hates Malone. But whoever your favorite player may be, odds are he's pile of shit.
My point is, as sports fans the only way to make this insanity work is to keep all the extreme emotions contained within the quasi-fictional sports world. When D Will crosses over Chris Paul, I feel a sense of personal victory even though I know I didn't do anything. When Kobe Bryant hits an impossible three pointer against perfect defense, I feel a personal sense of injustice. (Seriously, no one makes that shot. It isn't fair.) But I know all the crazy emotions that make sports so compelling to follow are ultimately fabrications. Just like the characters we love and hate.
Damn it, I hate you Billy Zane!
* The NBA needs to figure out a sliding scale to determine who sits where. That way the biggest fans who care the most, get the best seats. So you may have paid $1,500 for floor seats but after a quick brain scan determines that you don't know a single player on the opposing team, you are banished to the nosebleeds to make room for the lunatic father and son tandem with painted faces who paid 15 bucks each for their ticket. This will mean less fake boobs in the first couple of rows, but I still like it.)
** A completely unsubstantiated statement that you can't convince me is false.
JUNE 15 th UPDATE: Shit. Shitty shit shit. Damn Lakers.