Until yesterday my favorite professional basketball team was the one playing
the Los Angeles Lakers. I watched all the Lakers games for one simple reason:
to see them lose. My animation was directly proportional to the humiliation
inflicted on the three-time champions. As with any puerile behavior, only
self-reflection could finally bring it to an end.
A conversation I had last night with a friend was the impetus for my epiphany.
As I expressed my visceral reaction to the Lakers, I realized how much I
sounded like the many Europeans I conversed with on a recent trip to the
Continent. They felt the same way about “Bush and his cronies” as I did about
Shaq and Company.
“I just hate them,” I reasonably told my friend.
“Have you always hated them?”
“No. Just recently.”
“Why now then?”
“They’re cocky for one thing.”
“Don’t they have a right to be?”
“Yes, but they will just isolate themselves. Everybody hates them now.”
“Well, not everybody.”
“Anyone who has a heart can root for the underdog.”
My friend stopped talking at this point. I was fighting for the little guys
now (the Clippers, Hawks, and Warriors), and he didn’t want to look like
a heartless jerk.
The interesting thing is that I didn’t hate the Lakers when they were losing.
In fact, I felt their pain after each devastating loss. Deep down I blamed
them for their losses (how could I not with Kobe throwing up all those air
balls?), but their struggle was my struggle. There were no words to express
my disappointment when they exited the playoffs year after year.
Remember 9/11? Well, our European friends felt America’s pain then, too.
Le Monde wrote on September 12 that, “In this tragic moment, when words seem
so inadequate to express the shock people feel, the first thing that comes
to my mind is this: We are all Americans.” More ominous words were buried
in later paragraphs. The faint blame-America first chorus that would later
develop into a symphony could be heard in lines like this, “If Bin Laden,
as the American authorities seem to think, really is the one who ordered
the September 11 attacks, how can we fail to recall that he was in fact trained
by the CIA and that he was an element of a policy, directed against the Soviets,
that the Americans considered to be wise.” These words make complete sense
if I use my Lakers hating as a comparison. I might have felt sorry for the
Lakers when they lost, but I blamed their selfishness and conceitedness --
which I had bitterly ascribed to each member of the team -- for their failure.
When six-time champion Phil Jackson took over the helm of the Lakers, there
was an immediate turnaround. The coach wanted to instill a system that he
believed in and that had proved successful in the past. His goal was simple:
to win a championship. My unease with him was simply personal. He seemed
so much more cocky and resolute than the previous coach, Del Harris, and
his confidence sometimes came across as arrogance. He turned out to be just
what the Lakers needed -- a true leader -- and they went on to win the championship
in his first year as coach.
Similarly, most Europeans weren’t comfortable when George Bush entered the
White House. Here was a guy who talked and walked like a cowboy and judged
the world in simplistic moral terms. He wanted to undo the damage he felt
his predecessor had done and set the country back on the path from which
it had wandered. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, President Bush
became even more focused and aware of his duty to defend America as Commander-in-Chief.
Much of the European elite regarded this as simply unilateralist machismo.
Herta Daubler-Gmelin, the German justice minister, declared, “Bush wants
to divert attention from domestic difficulties. That is a popular method.
Hitler has done that before.” Once again, I can completely understand Ms.
Daubler-Gmelin’s concerns. After all, didn’t I yell obscenities at the television
screen during Phil Jackson’s sanctimonious press conferences?
Before long the Lakers had become a dynasty. Three-time champions. No team
could beat them. Meanwhile, my hatred of them had reached its highest point.
I hated Shaq’s emotionless voice and wry humor. Every time Kobe licked his
lips during an interview I wanted to punch a hole through my television screen.
Rick Fox’s pretty boy smile was just too much to look at. I never considered
the fact that all of them were consummate professionals. That none of them
had ever been in trouble with the law. That they were good family men who
gave back to the community. I found myself cheering on thugs like Allan Iverson
and Chris Webber, hoping they would just beat the horrible Lakers.
Today, after the build-up and commencement of war in Iraq, the world seems
to be equally inverted. Millions of people in Madrid, London, Rome, and Paris
don’t come out to criticize the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, but rather
to attack the democratic country that will sacrifice so much to free the
people of Iraq. The Portuguese writer and Nobel laureate Jose Saramago summed
it up as only a novelist could, “We are marching against the law of the jungle
that the United States and its acolytes old and new want to impose on the
world.” But I suppose I shouldn’t blame him. After all, he is very angry.
Back home after the night at my friend's house I turned on CSPAN and caught
the beginning of a speech given by the former CIA director James Woolsey.
He was explaining how he looks at our current involvement in Iraq as part
of a much larger war -- one he calls World War 4. Hopefully it won’t last
as long as World War 3 (The Cold War), but it will be a tough fight. I switched
the channel with sadness and stumbled onto the Lakers game. They were struggling
as they had been all year long. I watched them in their purple and gold uniforms,
the same colors that legends like Magic Johnson and Jerry West had worn with
pride for such a great franchise. Kobe, Shaq, Fox and the rest of them were
fighting bravely just like our fine men and women are doing in the Middle
Hey Lakers: I hope you 4-peat.
Aaron is a teacher
in South Central Los Angeles. He has a degree in economics from UC San Diego.
His articles have appeared on CommonConservative.com, BushCountry.org, CaptoVeritas.com
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