The best point guard of his generation was switching teams, in his prime, to the Los Angeles Lakers … and only after the Celtics and Knicks failed to get him. Read that sentence again. It’s what Dan Gilbert and the other Overpayers Anonymous owners will never understand. In professional basketball, history trumps everything else. It’s not just about playing in Los Angeles. It’s about playing for the fucking Lakers. It’s about following the footsteps of Magic, Kareem, Wilt, West, Baylor and Shaq. It’s about Showtime, Nicholson, the yellow jerseys, the Laker Girls, even that awful Randy Newman song. It’s about that buzz before a big Laker home game, when the place is packed with celebs and eye candy, when you’re the best guy on the team, when you might as well be the king of the world. When these idiots complain about a “big market/small market” disparity, it’s almost like they never followed the league before they bought their teams. Of course there’s a disparity! What kid doesn’t grow up wanting to play for the Celtics, Lakers or Knicks?
Remember what pissed us off most about LeBron picking Miami over New York? It wasn’t just that he tried to stack the decks with a superteam; it’s that he walked away from New York, the city with the most basketball fans, the city with the biggest spotlight, the city that would have either made him immortal or broken him in two. He didn’t want it. He copped out. He could have picked loyalty (Cleveland) or immortality (New York); instead, he chose help (Miami). That killed us. We hated him for it. What was telling about Chris Paul’s choice was that he eschewed the Clippers (a safer basketball situation for him; he would have been able to grow with Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin) for the Lakers (a much more volatile basketball situation with Kobe’s miles and Bynum’s knees) for the simple reason that he wanted to be a Laker.
For the right players, it’s not about cities as much as teams, uniforms, histories, owners, fans, titles … and Chris Paul cares about the right things. He’s the best teammate in the league. As much as it killed me that my least favorite team landed him, the “basketball fan” side of me loved it. Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant … together? Playing across the street from my office? How cool was that? I remember when KG landed on the Celtics, one of my Lakers-fan buddies told me, “I hate KG and I hate the Celtics, but this is going to be cool.”
That’s how I felt about Chris Paul and the Lakers. If you love basketball — if you truly love it — you appreciated what was happening. And it had nothing to do with the Washington Generals. Believe me.
Of course, that’s not how December 8, 2011 will be remembered. Years from now, I won’t remember anything about that day except for David Stern losing control of his own league. Once upon a time, it was reassuring to look there and expect to see him, and darn, he was there. It was kind of neat. Those days are long gone. The National Basketball Association has lost its way. I feel like crying.
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