When the NBA’s 2011 playoffs started, I had little love for the Lakers in my heart. I appreciated their history, their rich tradition, and their role in the NBA, even as my envy produced a simultaneous loathing. I won’t catalog their laurels as is done in the tales of old because that is pointless; these things are known. The omission is not a slight; it is a compliment, hard as it is to say for someone as grumpy and impish as I can be.
To be quite plain: I want to thank the Lakers.
No, more than that: I want to thank all things Lakers.
I never thought this day would come, frankly. I have done my best to avoid Lakers games, though they were forced upon me at times. I’ve heard too many cheers for them in my seat in the Arena and seen us come up short (rightly) too many times. I’ve seen victories by the good guys, but I’d assume take the lot and flush them all away. At least, that’s how I felt.
So why the change of heart? I think the playoff series with L.A. was VERY fun, united Hornets fans in their darkest hours, and, possibly, saved NBA basketball in New Orleans as we know it, perhaps including keeping Chris Paul. Taken together, some expression of gratitude is the classy thing, if not a prescription of Xenia.
Going forward, I will take as given that these are our darkest hours as New Orleans Hornets fans, and it was darker than any other teams’ hours, even Cleveland’s last year. If you don’t know why, we’ll post some links.
The franchise-level effects will be hard to measure in some cases, as the basis for comparison is the road-not-taken, which is also a road-that-can’t-be-taken in our quaint corner of the multiverse. Epistemological limitations aside, I think it’s clear that by playing the Lakers, even in the late TV slots, we maximized our national exposure. Also, by splitting the first 4 games with L.A. to the surprise of most pundits, true experts, and casual fans, the Hornets were able to use that exposure beyond all reasonable expectation to generate some well-deserved respect. The circumstances around these victories, with David West being out and L.A. having won two straight titles, add to this.
The local fanbase was completely stoked and packed the Hive for 3 playoff games. Only of these was a victory, but that victory contained one of the top playoff performances in the space-time continuum. The fans were energized, and it has shown, among other places, where it counts: season tickets. The Hornets sold around 500 season tickets during the 6 games run, putting their total up around 8,000 at this point.
As far as the team is concerned, they got to focus completely on one of the best teams in the NBA (ever) with the most talented coach in NBA history, with the most legendary of active players, and see how they stacked up (without D West). The results, as mentioned above, were quite favorable. We saw what we could do, what we couldn’t do, and how the best go to work. This is exactly what the players needed. They needed to see that they could beat the Lakers in a game or two, that they could rise to the occasion, and that some very specific changes could launch them into contention for a title themselves . . . well, for some of them.
More abstractly, we are witnessing the end of an era in the NBA. It won’t have a sharp line, but the era is ending. Coach Jackson is leaving the game. After that, Kobe Bryant will worsen to great, then down to good. Either James and Wade will jockey for the title together while they form a new Showtime . . . maybe Starz? . . . or the CBA will end such things, and we’ll never see anything like the Lakers again. To be a part of that ending is an honor, even if we were only significant wall in the way of a legendary warrior on his way to his final battle when we were supposed to be a mere paving stone on his road.
Last, but not least, I had a blast. Not only were the games just fun, but we also threw great watch parties where we got to hang out with the wonderful people of Hornets247, Swarm and Sting, Hoopdat, At The Hive, and HornetsHype. Those watch parties, I believe, were the first real gatherings of crowds that large organized by the fans themselves for the expressed purpose of watching the Hornets on TV. I think that is important. I think that is the start of a new age of Hornets fandom.
We all now have some important memories involving former strangers. Holy Cow became a Bee Zany. We all recognize SuperHornets’ SuperCar. The Purple Hornet got us fired up more than anyone else when he was on the Arena’s screen leading the Bee-Fense chant because we broke bread . . . er, crust . . . with him. There were so many more personal moments and stories, I know.
We all cheered together. Some of us cussed together. Something more than having a good time happened, however, and it will continue to happen. It was the NBA version of the monolith appearing, bringing the tool-concept to the pre-humans. We are different now. We very subtly changed the world for Hornets fans, and the world, pesky little minx it is, changed us, too.
We even had a great exchange with silverscreenandroll. These sorts of interactions between fans of the opposing team among are the hidden treasures of the playoffs, and we got to share in that. Wonderful.
So . . . that’s all well and good, but why thank the Lakers? What did they do besides wear the jerseys some champions wore, and then beat us with the legends on the $90,000,000-player-payroll and who-knows-what-they’re-paid-coaching-staff?
I’ll tell you what they did. The put a bull’s eye on us. They aimed for us. They knew we were the best match for them, and that they could control the matchup if necessary. So they made all this possible by trying to sneak into the second round through some secret door in the Quarter. So this series didn’t just happen; L.A. chose it from the available options.
On top of that, Coach Jackson insulted us and our city many times, only adding to the villainous persona of Lakers, putting single face, voice, and message to the opponent. Nothing binds people like a common enemy, and nothing attracts a crowd like crowd. The Lakers provided those and more.
Thanks, L.A. You game me some great memories, and you just may have done enough good for basketball in this city to ensure a trip to the Big Easy every year. For that, I will always hold a little thanks in my heart.
Perhaps it’s fitting that a team from near the source of the Mississippi River, relocated to a city where the name has little real connection to the region, would perhaps give something back to a similarly-relocated team that needed a little pick-me-up in a city situated near the mouth of the Mississippi, where the waters that gave them both a name and life are inexorably drawn, providing much of the essence of a city so dear to so many in the world. The waters from Lake Itasca flow right by my house a few miles before they flow right by the Arena. There’s a beauty in that, a poetry in the coincidences of language and circumstances of history, at least for those who want there to be. I do, because I see the good that has been done.
I would like to close by saying I’d take you off the bottom of my list of teams-ordered-by-preference, but you were never there. I hate Dallas. Go L.A.? Yes . . . how it pains me . . . Go L.A.!
At the risk of sounding greedy or ungrateful: Help me 4 more times. Please.