The weird frog pointed to observations from Peter Vecsey written after a foreshadowing Game 2 ugliness, but prior to yesterday’s destined finish to the least watchable season of Laker basketball in living memory:
This might very well have been the final live look at their homeys . . . and Jackson. You’d think some fan appreciation might be in order? In spite of the lousy result, you’d think the crowd, all of it, would’ve stayed to the end and applauded the Lakers long and loud for what they’ve accomplished over the last four seasons.
It’s time to switch franchises and move back to Minneapolis . . . give L.A. fans what they deserve, a heavy, prolonged dose of the Timberwolves.
Yes, that would be justice, except that the Timberwolves -- a team with nowhere to go but up and one of basketball’s unique young talents in Kevin Love -- would probably be more interesting to follow than an all-star team playing like the 2010-11 L.A. Lakers.
The fans were responding to what they were shown, but their failure to root, root, root for the home team also confirms that psychological exhaustion had infected the entire “Laker nation.” I noted in earlier discussion how the Staples crowd had failed to put on a patriotic show when TNT broadcast the national anthem prior to that same Game 2. It was May 2 -- unofficial nationwide Ding Dong OBL Is Dead Day -- and the producers had apparently expected to get the same kind of flag-crazy demonstrations seen earlier in Chicago and at baseball games.
Both patriotism and team-fandom express symbolic belonging to a defined community in a world that otherwise seems random and anomic. Team, like nation-state (or tribe, or religion, or any spectacle) is a vehicle for communal mediation between the individual and all the greater things and even greater non-things beyond. Athletic spectacle constitutes the great symbolic collective, open to all and opening to the all, and this opening outward is or should be in the highest sense erotic and supremely inclusive. The striving toward championship ought to represent the striving toward infinitude and transcendence, with those defeated also brought progressively into the all-encompassing circle of love and victory, but, instead of agglomerating the fan ideal into the national-family ideal and the very ideal of ideals, the Staplers just sat and watched a precocious 14-year-old do a professional-quality rendition of a song.
The L.A. fans had turned back, or had been turned back, into what they always have had a greater tendency to be -- the pampered passive consumers of entertainment product. They don’t really need new success, or, if they do need it, they didn’t see it represented in this team achieving a mere additional championship. Now, Mr. Miller may have thought the Anthem Fail was Laker fandom’s proudest moment. But he’s a Clipper fan. (We’ll see, perhaps, how much trouble he has coping with another team like the ‘Wolves, a perennial loser and laughingstock, with even more potential actually to have a season worth caring about next year or whenever the NBA solves its labor problems.)
As for Phil Jackson, we’ve learned over the years that fish don’t really rot from the head, but basketball teams and other human enterprises do often take on the character of their leaders. It goes without saying that Phil Jackson had a great career, but in this last exhausted run into the ground, his “Zen Mastery” finally took the form of passivity and disinvestment. It worked before as a negation of whatever spot-lit glaring high-stakes, big-money, strong-personality overpressure, and its conversion into the background hum of the game played as an end in itself, toward perfection. By this season, the resistance it needed had disappeared, and the attitude instead stripped away the last appearances of will to win, to the unwanted and laming revelation of the game’s banal absurdity: Winning at all was a bit beneath Phil, and there was no one on the team who was both good enough and driven enough to reverse “Phil-osophy” dynamically, and turn it into a formula for victory. This game didn’t really matter, that game didn’t really matter, showing up for the big Christmas match against the Heat was just a pain, the whole thing was just a tired joke all year -- a “last stand” for someone who didn’t care one way or the other about anyone’s last true measure of athletic devotion.
The Game 4 debacle was in some ways the most satisfying ending possible to the long season’s journey into totally don’t care -- not just embarrassing and depressing, but, by way of the cheap shot from Andrew Bynum on Jose Borrea, well into shameful. I like Bynum, but I think he should spend some time in jail -- the real jail, not just the suspension doghouse -- for such out and out thuggery. I’ll now mind a lot less if his disappearance is part of turning the franchise around, which to my mind doesn’t mean getting back to the Finals next year, but putting something on the court that is beautiful, both an end in itself and a model of human excellence and the creation of meaning.