Growing up, I was a huge Allen Iverson fan. I wanted to play just like him, get his jersey, shoes and would spend countless hours trying to imitate his moves. The best time to be an AI fan was in 2001 when the Philadelphia 76ers were in the NBA Finals. I just knew The Answer was going to get his ring alongside Eric Snow, Dikembe Mutombo, Keith Van Horn and the rest of “the crew.” But that year, and the only year AI would get that far in the playoffs, they faced the Los Angeles Lakers.
Being born and raised in California, the Lakers were the “it” team. From Kareem to Magic to Shaq and Kobe, they were the face of California basketball (though we had other ball teams, but they didn’t count). Anyway, as history would have it, the Lakers went on to win the ‘ship with a 4-1 series. Watching the game with die hard Lakers fan family members made it even worse because the trash talking was never-ending. That was the point, despite my California roots, I began to despise the Lakers.
Over 10 years later, the hate has been transformed into concern and pity. This Lakers franchise that has more championships than several teams combined certainly isn’t what it used to be. It’s almost the polar opposite. The team is 6-16, the team vibe is tense and Kobe Bryant, the franchise player, has expressed his not-so-nice feelings on the current state of the team. Even though the season is just really getting started, being in the Western Conference, the Lakers probably won’t see the playoffs and if they do, it’s highly unlikely they make it far.
But, what happened? When did it all change? The last championship the team won was in 2010 and the chance of that changing anytime soon is far-fetched. The great Dr. Jerry Buss has passed and Phil Jackson is now part of the New York Knicks franchise. The franchise I loved to hate after that faithful 2001 finals appearance has come and gone.
Is there a chance they can get it back? Sure. Before Bryant retires? Not likely. It’s going to take a thorough rebuilding of both the Lakers and the 76ers to get back to playoff talks, let alone the championship. With many different teams trying to build their own dynasties, the ante has been upped. But who knows? Maybe some day, the team will be a force again and some little girl from California will go against her family and root against the Lakers in a potential NBA Finals playoff series. And with something so simple, that will be the moment she discovers a passion and love for the game.