When I was entering my junior year of high school in the fall of 2008, two things were true of my basketball fandom: I was a die-hard Lakers fan who loved Kobe Bryant, and I hated LeBron James.
Covering the team has dulled my fandom — although I still have a special appreciation for Bryant’s game — and over the years as I’ve watched more basketball I slowly grew to appreciate James as well, and came to the conclusion about two years ago that he’s the best player I’ve ever watched, and likely the best I ever will.
Still, I understand where some people’s primal urge to fight back against James joining the Lakers comes from, because that would have been me had he signed with the team ten years ago. I don’t know that I would have artwork featuring James in a Lakers jersey — I’m just a cowardly blogger, after all — but I would have understood why someone would do it.
“Why would the Lakers help him compete with Kobe’s legacy?” I probably would have asked. “I could never root for that guy. Kobe is the GOAT. We don’t need him.”
I don’t know if that type of mindset is behind the continued defacement of multiple murals depicting James in a Lakers uniform. There is no way to know, short of someone confessing and admitting why they did it. Still, I get where the urge comes from, even if I now know it’s wrong.
Not to make too much of a straw man argument, but for years, maybe even the last decade, Lakers fans were relentlessly mocked on the internet by those quick to prop up James’ accomplishments by joking about the warts on Bryant’s game. Sports are never presented as being able to appreciate multiple basketball players, they’re far more often construed as an endless argument in which only one player can be declared good while all others suck compared to them.
For Lakers fans who had spent years thinking of Bryant as the closest thing to Jordan, this wasn’t a productive way to sway their opinion towards James. There is also a small, vocal sect of the cult of Kobe that does the same thing, constantly bringing up James’ 3-6 NBA Finals record or minimizing his accomplishments because of how much help he received (never mind that Bryant won his first three rings alongside Shaquille O’Neal, a far more talented player than anyone James has ever played with).
On and on these arguments went, until now, where there are people in Los Angeles — likely Lakers fans, but potentially not — who are unhappy that the greatest player on the planet voluntarily chose to join the team.
But even if you hate LeBron, or think it was a bad signing, throwing some paint on a picture of him doesn’t hurt him. The only people that hurts are the ones who put in hours of painstaking work for no money to complete a passion project they thought could reflect the joy of a city that just signed the greatest player in the world.
Instead, what should be a unifying moment for Los Angeles has become a battleground, and the work of hardworking, passionate and creative artists, as well as the reputation of Lakers fans and Los Angeles as a whole have been caught in the crossfire.
Do you see what they’re saying about us? “See, Lakers fans don’t deserve LeBron. Look at these idiot residents of Kobestan.” I don’t consider myself a Lakers fan anymore, but I interact with them every day. The people defacing these murals are not the Lakers fans I know, who are some of the best, funniest, smartest and kindest people I’ve ever met, and it pains me to see them represented by the actions of a couple of a few outspoken idiots.
What gives me hope — and sadly seems to be going slightly underreported because it doesn’t click as well as negative articles, I’d imagine — is that people are fighting back. After the latest James mural was defaced, several Lakers fans helped the artist restore it:
That’s the Lakers fans I know — people who support others doing cool and original work about their favorite team. Even if they (and other Lakers fans) aren't responsible for the actions of a few idiotic attention-seekers, they went out and did something about it.
So can the rest of us. If you see people lauding this behavior on social media, drag them. If you know someone thinking of doing it, stop them. Do whatever you can to let these people know they don't speak for this fanbase.
Like I said above, I understand the primal urge a small-but-vocal minority of fans have to want to erase James’ signing from the books. I don’t agree with it, but I understand where it comes from.
But destroying art is not the way to go about dealing with it, and covering an image of James with paint won’t actually erase him. It won’t make him leave, and it won’t make those doing it right. It just makes all of us look bad.
So if you’re reading this and thinking of defacing a mural — I doubt the people doing this read much, but still — stop that shit. Los Angeles, and Southern California as a whole is better than this.
Let’s go show it.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.