I hate referring to myself as a writer.
For as hard as I try to be that, and wish to be it, there’s a substantial pressure that comes with that title. This is why I feel it’s more aptly reserved for those whose work I have admired from afar, and those I have held close in the form of my favorite dog-eared paperbacks, annotated columns and everything else in between.
Those writers possess a talent that is both alien and angelic. Those writers have enough ideas in their back-pocket to propel a hot-air balloon on a moment’s notice, likely guffawing at the mere notion of “writer’s block” as they soar through the sky en route to their next life experience (in which will one day serve as the basis of their next book). Those writers are Writers. At least that’s what I have always imagined them to be.
For the last few years, I have tried igniting my own balloon by writing about basketball and, primarily, about the Los Angeles Lakers. This season I have been fortunate enough to blurb on a weekly basis about everything from bank-shots, floaters, a player who constantly crashes onto the floor and another player who is just looking for a chance to show that he belongs.
Although the team hasn’t played as well as many had hoped, it’s been an absolute joy to try to find creative ways to cover their trek throughout the year. Lately, however, as the season begins to fade to black and Winter inches closer to Spring and then Summer, I have found myself struggling to spark those juices that once came easy.
This is not because of the losing, although it certainly hasn't helped. At the end of the day losing happens. Even for a team as accomplished and heralded as the Lakers, they too have faced hardships as they are experiencing now and almost always bounce back. Campaigns like this come and go. They are ultimately necessary for evaluation, growth and paving the way for the next chapter.
What has sapped the ideas from flowing is instead the manner in which the squad continues to lose while merely existing, in some sort of basketball purgatory state where effort doesn’t exist. They have blown leads, been blown out and routinely crumble the second they tip-toe into clutch situations. Even worse however, is the obvious lack of buy-in they consistently exude. The players’ spirits nearly leap out of their physical bodies after each disappointing defeat, and the level of giving-a-damn on a possession-to-possession basis has bordered upon non-existent.
The result has been an on-the-court product and subject that in no way resembles fun or encourages optimism, but instead is a nightly two-and-a-half-hour display of awkwardness and tension so sharp that it cuts all the way through the television screen.
Maybe the best example of this has been the play and state of Russell Westbrook as a member of the Lakers this year.
Throughout his career, Westbrook’s game has been defined by his emotion. The visceral screams, scowls and smiles have served as much as trademarks as his triple-doubles and otherworldly athleticism. A rawness to the highest of degree from a player who was not been afraid to wear it on his shooting sleeve whenever he enters a game.
This season however, that fervor has subdued. With the team spiraling like it has, Westbrook’s struggles have been magnified, his flaws spotlighted and the jeers only echoing louder to a point of unacceptable standards.
He is a player who now routinely looks and sounds as uncomfortable as he does unhappy. And regardless of who is ultimately at fault as to why this is, observing Westbrook of all people, bearing something that resembles defeat on his face, is the epitome of the Lakers’ season up until this point. It saps you, wears you down.
I write all of this not as an excuse for the lack of a new, actual, basketball column this week, but instead, as an attempt to articulate what maybe many of you are feeling right now. The quality of basketball has nosedived, internal strifes are making headline news and mass changes are looming around the corner.
It is because of all of it that it’s difficult to be truly invested in something when the future is so uncertain and no one seems engaged. The Lakers may still make some noise in the playoffs if everything falls right, or they may miss the postseason altogether if their recent play is any indication. A big win over the Warriors was only to be followed up by losses to the Spurs and Rockets. One step forward, two steps back. Even if those steps may ultimately not matter.
But regardless of all of the circumstances surrounding the team, I will continue to watch, as I expect most of you will too. And if not, that’s okay as well. It would be hard to blame anyone for giving up when it’s completely and obviously clear that the Lakers have.
However, if you do continue to watch, perhaps instead pay closer attention to those slivers of intrigue that can often be easily hidden within the sandstorm of a loss. Because it is the discovery of— and an appreciation for — the little things that is often most rewarding, especially in a season like this when they’re more difficult to see. Everything from a new player quirk, eyebrow-raising play-design, or even just the experience of watching young players have that lightbulb moment, there are still things worth tuning in for. Because although it doesn’t feel like it now, there’s always something to enjoy. And to write about.
Even in weeks like these…when it feels like there isn’t.