I didn't expect to truly enjoy watching the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors play live on Saturday. Of course I was looking forward to it--after all, like pizza, goings to STAPLES Center is good, even when it's bad. But in my head, I went envisioned a full-on worst case scenario: Klay Thompson establishing another career-high, Stephen Curry calmly hitting unimpeded set shots from the arc, David Lee dusting an immobile Pau Gasol in his tracks and Andre Iguodala leaving a crotch imprint on Jordan Hill's face. I was looking forward to the game, simply because I love NBA basketball, but in terms of seeing my Lakers? I knew it could be a painful night.
But then again, I didn't anticipate sitting in front of Nick Young's parents on Friday.
Throughout all four quarters of a surprisingly enjoyable 102-95 Lakers win over the Golden State Warriors, listening to the Swagy Parents commentary track was an exercise in unbridled enthusiasm. In many ways, it was like going to a high school basketball game again; a mom shouting encouragement at her baby, a father yelping muffled exasperation at bad shots and the two of them exclaiming "just keep shooting"...a statement which explains more about Nick Young than I'd ever expect to learn. It's easy to forget that regardless of the money, the outfits and the unrelenting, unmitigated #SWAG, he's still someone's son, which means that two people out there are going to care about his every move, only as parents can do. It's an unbridled enthusiasm (they actually called him "Swagy" on several occasions) in which someone can be so invested in what's happening on the court, and yet ultimately simply be happy that it's happening at all. Even though a Lakers victory was a relatively stunning development last night, I was taken aback even further by just how the Young family personified the Lakers fan base at large.
It's a fairly common misconception that because of the late arriving crowds, the ever-enduring contender status of the team and courtside celebrity residency that the Lakers fanbase isn't as dedicated as in other NBA cities. Having lived all over the country as well as Los Angeles, it's simply not the reality. It's an intelligent fanbase that despite a heritage of Showtime offense, knows what good basketball is and what exactly to cheer for. Expectation is often more realistic than the artifice the city itself is often composed of, a result of a group of fans that truly understands the game. No, they're not as passionate as the success-starved New York crowd, as aggressive as a New England audience or as rowdy as in Chicago, but they're not often far behind. So to think that Lakers fans are generally delusional in regards to this season is as misguided as the notion itself.
Going into STAPLES on Friday, listening to conversations and talking to those around me, I found the tempered expectations surrounding the 2013-2014 Lakers pleasantly surprising. Yes, there is the odd outlier than think this team can go to the Western Conference Finals or Kobe Bryant will make 1st Team All-NBA. But for the most part, it was a crowd that was largely dubious of the early season results and even more cynical about the future of the team. They recognize that Xavier Henry might never be a NBA regular and that Steve Blake isn't a borderline All-Star, but rather a reserve that's playing out of his head for the moment. There is a general air to the Lakers fanbase that I haven't seen very often in my lifetime, at the same time disconcerting and refreshing. There's a void of true disappointment, a realization that for the first time in six seasons this team isn't expected to contend for a title. But with that, there's also a genuine appreciation of things like effort, hustle and grit--qualities that often get taken for granted when the team is on a trajectory for expected greatness. The level of play isn't always clean but the energy and determination is there. The crowd eats it up.The little things on the court seem to matter more than they have in nearly a decade.
All of this sentiment seems to be distilled into the couple sitting behind me. Like Nick Young's parents, the Lakers fanbase has is a genuine passion and love for this team. They applaud Jordan Farmar like a conquering hero returning home, and have openly welcomed former draft busts like Wesley Johnson and Henry. Even with the specter of Kobe's return looming, there was a unexpected satisfaction with the team on hand, as if the crowd was simply happy to watch a NBA team playing it's heart out on every single possession--not something that could be said about even the championship teams in the past 15 years.This Lakers squad plays even harder in person than can be perceived on the TV or computer screen. They scrap for every ball, body up opponents on every attempted stop and can't afford to stop moving for fear of a wasted possession. As spoiled as many perceive this LA audience to be, they seem to be generally grateful for this scrappy, overachieving squad. Just like two parents watching their son play at the highest level of basketball in the world, the Lakers fan base is invested but realistic, just happy to be there. In a season where expectations have been tempered, the crowd at STAPLES blew away mine.
Good job, Lakers fans. I'd expect no less.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino