Something has been eating at my conscience since the beginning of the summer, something so dark and terrible that I've barely even been able to admit it to myself. After all this time, I can't keep quiet any longer. I must humbly make my confession and submit myself to the judgment of the experts most fit to render a verdict: the loyal contributors of Sactown Royalty.
See, I consider myself a faithful and passionate Kings fan. Though I can't claim the 25-year longevity that some of you can boast, I remember the days of pinning my hopes on Olden Polynice and Mitch Richmond. I remember the excitement of 1998 and the crushing experience of taking Utah to five games only to have our hopes doused by Stockton-to-Malone. I remember the joy of watching Jon Barry and Scot Pollard give all that they had to give on the court and I remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw Scot and Vlade carry Chris Webber off the floor in 2001. And I remember hating the Lakers, despising Fox, Horry, Shaq, and Kobe. The “Beat LA” thread before the first game of last season drew me out of two years of Sactown Royalty lurking. I hate the idiotic arrogance of Laker fans and Phil Jackson's condescension.
But here's my confession: this past June, I found myself rooting for the Lakers to beat the Celtics in the Finals. Let me explain.
I'm sure I could come up with a whole list of little reasons, but really, it came down to two big things: I like the current Lakers' style of play better than that of the Celtics and I like the current Lakers' philosophy of building a team better than that of the Celtics. Let me start with the team-building philosophy.
See, the Lakers' core was built around high, risky draft picks that turned out very well (Kobe, Bynum), lower draft picks that became very nice complimentary pieces (Farmar, Turiaf), and reclamation projects that other teams had given up on (Odom). The Gasol trade which put them over the top seemed to me like a wise use of an expiring contract and a little bit of young talent to acquire a good player from a team that was looking to shed salary and rebuild. I really respect a team that's built primarily through smart draft picks and smart trades. Aside from Paul Pierce, I don't feel the same way about the Celtics. They had a number of veterans (Cassell, Posey, Brown, wasn't there someone else?) who signed deals for well below market value in hopes of getting a ring-- a move that's always bothered me (especially when Payton and Malone signed with the Lakers) because it feels anti-competitive. The Garnet trade didn't feel like a smart move by the Celtics, it felt like a former Celtic (McHale) was helping his old team to the detriment of his current team. Once again, the move felt against the spirit of competition, and I don't like teams that build that way.
Even more significant, in my eyes, was the contrast in styles of play. The Celtics were (according to Hollinger) one of the greatest defensive teams of all time. They played methodical, pounding basketball that was very effective, but no more enjoyable to watch than the style played by the Spurs. The Lakers had a fast-paced offense with creative ball-movement and multiple athletic scoring options. Which style should a true Kings fan prefer to watch?
So, here's my question: Have I committed some sort of Kings apostasy by rooting for the Lakers in the finals? If so, is there any statute of limitations on how long we need to hold a grudge against them? When do we bury the hatchet? Personally, I felt like we had even more reason to hate Utah than LA because the Jazz played dirty; the Lakers were just good and helped by a little shady officiating (which was not their own fault). But haven't we all moved on from hating the Jazz? Their current team holds no resemblance to their Stockton-to-Malone incarnations (despite Kirilenko's continued presence), so we've moved on. Though the current Lakers team still has Kobe, the overall feel of the team seems totally different from the incarnations I hated.
Is it time to move on? If not, when?
I, for one, look forward to the day when I can shake the hand of a decent, knowledgeable Laker fan (assuming any exist) and say, “We had some good battles back in the day, didn't we?”