I have a confession to make: I’m a Laker fan who’s unhappy we signed LeBron James.
It’s not that I’m against watching my team contend for titles for the next four years. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll make peace with my discontent, don my Ronny Turiaf mesh jersey and cheer as much as ever for this iteration of the Purple and Gold. But it’s not how I wanted to do it.
First, let me preface this by saying I am not Kobe stan. Do I think he’s the second-best shooting guard of all-time? Definitely. Do I think he’s the reincarnation of Achilles with a better sneer? Not quite. I don’t rank Kobe as the best Laker ever (Magic) and I couldn’t care less about the ridiculous concern consuming some corners of Lakers Twitter that King James is here to threaten the Black Mamba’s legacy.
So here’s why I’m out:
I’m not starved for success, and therefore not starved for player like LeBron. I’ve celebrated five NBA championships in the past 18 years, not to mention several other near misses. Derek Fisher’s buzzer-beater over the Spurs with 0.4 seconds left might’ve been the definitive franchise highlight for half the league; it happened in the Western Conference Semifinals, and the Lakers didn’t even win the title that year, 2004.
The Knicks have won nine playoff games since Shaq and Kobe’s first Finals run.
Sure, there are spoiled Laker fans who accept nothing less than annual championships, but to me, fandom is about more than sheer winning. The view from the top of the mountain is ever more breathtaking when your breath has actually been taken away by the climb. (I know, I know, insert Kobe helicopter joke here.) Our 2009 title over the Magic, and especially our 2010 summiting of the Celtics, felt so good because of the flameout in 2008.
Reason #2 that I’m LeBummed about LeBron: It feels weird to have to root for a guy I’ve rooted against forever, especially when I’m his sloppy thirds. Ever since The Decision and James’ early-Miami villainy, I’ve been on the anti-LeBron bandwagon and I haven’t gotten off. Cheering against LeBron somehow became an irrational part of my basketball identity. (What about sports fandom is rational?)
Now I’m supposed to just flip the switch? I’m supposed to enjoy eating mushrooms all of a sudden because my parents bought a truffle farm?
Over the past few years, I’ve really come to appreciate LeBron, both for the expanding brilliance of his game and the growing impact of his social consciousness. But appreciation does not equal adoration. It took a crippling injury for the Mighty Ducks to fully embrace Adam Banks. I wish nothing of the sort on LeBron, but right now he’s a cake eater, and I can’t anticipate what will take me over the hump.
Finally, I loved our young core, probably more than I should have, and I liked the idea of growing with them, trying to figure it out with them, come what may. They were maddening but exhilarating. The occasional Lonzo Ball triple-doubles and Kyle Kuzma three-point explosions, to say nothing of Brandon Ingram’s quiet blossoming, made up for every dumbfounding defensive lapse.
Warriors fans seemed especially galvanized by their pre-Kevin Durant title because they drafted Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Those were their guys, born and bred, who struggled through injury and uncertainty before becoming a juggernaut.
In arguing the competitive future of these baby Lakers, I became fluent in comparing Lonzo’s rookie year to Jason Kidd’s (nearly identical) and Ingram’s second season to Paul George’s (favorable). I believed this team—with some minor procedures instead of this radical heart surgery—could’ve developed into a championship contender. It probably would’ve been a roller coaster, but I wanted to take that ride.
Now, I’m forced to ride in a chariot hitched to LeBron. The road may be smoother, view mostly open skies, but it feels like I’m headed away from home.