Something funny happened last night during the Lakers-Golden State game.
I settled down to watch, I was of course expecting a loss. But more than that, I was hoping for one, just like I have been for every Lakers game for the last three years. And let me tell you, three years is a long time to root against your team.
I only root for two teams in sport, the Steelers and the Lakers and for the vast majority of the time, I pull for both of them every game. But once in a while, when the truth tells me my team needs to get some star players, because they are mired in Nowhere Town with no egress in sight, not a cab, not a buss, not a train, nothing, no hope to get out, I take that blasphemous fork in the fandom road and root against them, so they can reap the rewards of a high pick and hopefully, through that pick, a means of escape to a better place.
The year I did it with the Steelers the rewards were indeed great as our twenty year old and counting quarterback problem was finally solved by drafting Ben Rothliesberger and two super bowl rings followed in short order. That is of course the optimum result of a high draft pick.
And so, in order to get the Lakers back on track, to get some desperatly needed talent on board, to obviate the ridiculous trades moron Mitch Kupchak made I decided to root against the Lakers in a revanchist strategy to reclaim those lost number one picks Mitch has so blithely given away.
When I made my decision to root against the Lakers those long years ago, it was done with a heavy heart, but perhaps not for reasons you may think.
It wasn't because I felt sorry for the once great Kobe Bryant. Hell no. After the torture test he put the fans and his teammates through the last few years I found justice in him suffering through those last horrific seasons, while stars on other teams reaped the glory and press. A sort of fitting karma was finally meted out to Kobe for all the rotten things he did over the years. I enjoyed watching him get that dark reward.
Likewise I had no sympathy for Byron Scott. Although I lived through Showtime, Scott the coach was a martinet, in way over his head, totally unequipped to deal with shadow Bryant or the young players populating his team.
The reason I almost hated to see the Lakers lose, as much as I wanted those picks back was because Mitch didn't deserve to get them back. He deserved to strangle and suffocate at his own hands for the deals he did. If there was total justice in the sports world, the Lakers would have won enough to get none of those picks returned and Mitch would have fielded a dead team for another five years and gotten his just reward, being fired.
But of course, a dead team for five or more years for Mitch would also mean a dead team for us, the fans, and so, with heavy heart, I went all in on rooting against the Lakers. Every. Single. Game. For three years straight.
As we all know, things did indeed turn out lucky for us the fans and also, sadly, for Mitch. We got a high enough pick to secure Julius Randle the first year, we got our traded number one picks back the next two years and used them to take D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.
And now, after years of suffering, those three along with Clarkson, Zubac and Nance are the young core that looks like they can lead to a new era in Lakers basketball. A very good era.
Which brings me full circle back to that funny thing that happened last night during that Lakers-Golden State game.
I was very willing to root against this team for that one last year, to get back that final pick that we can that Mitch stole from us.
So here I was, sitting in front of the TV, ready to root Golden State on to the their inevitable blow out win. But it didn't happen. None of what I was expecting of the team or myself happened.
This is what did happen: I watched the young Lakers come out and dominate the defending western champs. Black was a force underneath, with scoring and defense. Randle was unstoppable on the boards and going to the hole. Russell was hitting his shot and running the offense, Clarkson answered every Golden State run with three point shots or marvelous drives. Ingram showed flashes of why his potential is so great. It all came together just like we envisioned it would when we drafted these guys.
And just like the Lakers, I found myself, from the get go, right from the start, not rooting against them, but for them, to keep extending that lead and send Golden State out of Staples shell shocked with a loss. For the first time in three years, I was rooting for the Lakers to win.
It felt really odd. To root for my team after three years. And it felt damn good.
Would getting that last draft pick back this year help us? Sure it would, big time. It might be the pick that makes them a title team in a few years. It could be just that important.
But as I watched that game, watched those young players and the vets, like Swaggy P who is so committed to winning he is one of the best defenders on the team, a player totally remade, as I watched young Coach Walton cajole and lead his team every step of the way, as I watched them try so hard, against all odds, against the super team, play with such brio, bring such a buzz that has been missing for so long, I realized, as much as I believe that pick could mean for us, I just can't root against this team. They are just trying too hard, they are enjoying playing together, finally, joyfully out from the iron fist of Kobe, able to express themselves and their games.
I realized my own personal Lakers nightmare may finally be ending, right along with the teams.
Do I think the Lakers will make the playoffs this season? No. Will they have games where they look like the worst team in basketball. Yep, more than a few I suspect. But one thing that won't happen is another season of me having to root for them to lose, for their own best interests and ours. I will be pulling for them every single game, happily.
A funny thing happened during that Lakers-Golden State game. I was allowed to return home again after a long, but badly needed exile to achieve the cure for what has ailed us for too long.
And I liked it. I want more.