Editor’s Note: This is “Underdog Week” at SB Nation, so for the next few days we’ll be taking a look at some of the biggest underdog stories around the Los Angeles Lakers. First up is maybe the biggest one of all.
In a city with two professional basketball teams like Los Angeles, it’s not easy being the little brother. You constantly get compared to your more successful, established and wealthier cross-hall rival, and every victory or failure your team has is framed through the lens of how it affects your opponent.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s really tough to be the Lakers.
There is a common misconception that everyone loves underdogs, but that couldn’t seem to be less true in the case of the purple and gold. Even going into what looked set to (and has been) their best season in at least a decade, doubters in the media spoke about how it would be much harder for players with different skillsets like Anthony Davis and LeBron James to learn to play together than it would be for two wings who clearly have zero stylistic overlap like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, or how the Lakers would be more likely to miss the playoffs than to win a championship.
And you know what? Even with the Lakers eventually being the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff berth while James and Davis blend seamlessly, it’s hard to blame those skeptics for their initial doubts. The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in six seasons, while the Clippers have made the postseason in seven of the last eight years, even making it all the way to the prestigious Western Conference second round three whole times. That’s just a level of success that the Lakers can’t even dream of in recent seasons.
There is also the stability of the organizations. Over the course of that playoff drought, the Lakers have changed executives via hostile coup once, and then saw the guy that won that power struggle step down because he felt like the dude he brought in to work with him after said coup was backstabbing him.
Meanwhile, across the hall, the Clippers have been a picture of organizational stability, managing to win despite losing two franchise players via trades and simply acquiring two more in smooth fashion over the summer, even swiping one of them (Leonard) out from under the Lakers’ noses after the purple and gold felt optimistic they could sign him. That same star just won a championship last year, while the Lakers’ main star (LeBron) hasn’t even been to the Finals in TWO whole years.
But losing out on a proven winner like that was just another L for the hard-luck Lakers.
Now, to be completely fair to the Lakers, they do have a history of success. But that was decades ago, before things got so tough that they can’t even afford to put the gold in their purple and gold uniforms anymore. It’s just difficult for a mom-and-pop-style small business to compete with the Clippers’ new owner, Steve Ballmer, an actual billionaire and the 11th-richest person in the world.
While the Lakers have fallen on such hard times that they need a guy from their accounting department to suit up at backup point guard and only just this season saved up enough money to hire a shooting coach, the Clippers could afford to plaster the city with inspiring billboards to excite Los Angeles basketball fans with electrifying messages like “We Over Me” and “Street Lights Over Spotlights.”
The Lakers get fined for tampering for winking on Jimmy Kimmel, while the Clippers stealthily circumvent the cap by buying penthouses for their star players. The Lakers’ big free agency addition has to hawk pube shavers on Instagram, while the Clippers recent acquisitions get big-budget shoe ads. The only way the Lakers could be more of an underdog in this matchup is if Shaq was constantly yelling at them to put his attempts at catchphrase generation on a t-shirt.
But some of the fun of sports is rooting for the plucky little guys that may not have a shot, the Bad News Bears-like band of brothers that might finally be getting it together. The Lakers literally have all the character archetypes for one of those sports movies, too. The plucky leader who brings everyone together (LeBron). The deus ex machina-esque infusion of talent courtesy of an out-of-nowhere mid-movie acquisition (Anthony Davis). The comic relief that farts too much (Dwight Howard). The recipe is all there for an inspiring tale of overcoming the odds.
We don’t always get to watch a sports movie play out in real time, but this year’s Lakers team is as close as we’ve gotten in a while. If you haven’t jumped on already, now is the perfect time to get in on the ground floor before they resume their long-shot quest to defy the doubters, overcome their lovable loser archetype and financial disadvantages, and attempt to make some history as the NBA’s ultimate underdogs.
The preceding post was, hopefully obviously, satirical. The Lakers have won 16 championships and are the most successful franchise in modern NBA history. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.