Monday, May 9, 2011

And My First Blog In Two Years Is About...Basketball

So Myfanwy and I were up in Pozo, California for the weekend.

Her sister lives on a really lovely little ranch in Pozo, which is in the hills over San Luis Obispo. Myfanwy’s mother and father were driving down to Pozo to have a few extravagant Mother’s Day weekend meals, so we decided to drive up to Pozo and join the whole party.

We ate lots of amazing food and drank amazing wine and had amazing company and were surrounded, blissfully, by trees and quiet and evening breeze and stars you can see again…

But this isn’t a blog about that.

This is a blog about hating the Los Angeles Lakers.

After we said goodbye to Myfanwy’s family today, we started driving the 4-hour drive back down to LA, and abruptly realized that we were totally, totally starving. How about um Taco Bell or something, we wondered. We put that into the GPS, but it looked like it was too far away. What about like Jack in the Box, we wondered, but there weren’t any of those around, either.

“You know what would be nice right now?” Myfanwy said. “Round Table Pizza.”

I, feeling strongly about the greatness of pizza and beer at any time of the day, punched that into the GPS. It found one, a few miles away, in downtown San Luis Obispo, but now we needed Pizza, so off we went.

When we arrived there…it was no more. It looked like it had recently closed, and was being turned into something else.

We sighed. We really still wanted some pizza.

So I typed “Pizza” into the GPS again…and it found a place called “Woodstock’s Pizza.”

Hmm. Name rings a bell.

I had visited San Luis a handful of times during college to visit a few college buddies who were going to San Luis…maybe that was why.

We shrugged and hoped they had beer and drove over…and they had beer!

I walked inside, and stopped.

Hmmm. This place is REALLY familiar.

I’ve definitely been here before. But when?

We ordered our pizza and breadsticks and pints of beer, and I walked over to a table to put our stuff down while Myfanwy went to the bathroom to wash her hands.

I noticed a lot of TVs on the wall, which were all showing a basketball game.

I haven’t really been closely following basketball in a few years – I’m a staunch Sacramento Kings fan, and their collapse from being one of the greatest teams in the NBA (almost a decade ago now…geez) to once again the bottom of the NBA totem pole has been…hard.

I still watch games here and there, and check their place in the standings from time to time, and look around during draft time to see if they picked up anyone good, but I’ve been busy and they’re been hard to watch, so I haven’t followed them closely in a while.

But basketball is basketball, and if a game is on in front of me, I’ll watch it.

So I looked up…and the Los Angeles Lakers were playing the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA playoffs. It was game four. I peered at the monitor, and saw that the Lakers were down 3 games to none. In a best of seven game playoff series, this is a big deal – no one comes back from a 3-0 or 3-1 deficit.

Huh. That was ringing a bell too.

Holy shit.

Suddenly, I knew when I had been in Woodstock’s before.

In 2002, I was up visiting friends in Cal Poly, and the Kings were making a run at the NBA championship. They had the finest team that they had ever, in the history of the franchise, assembled. Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie and Bobby Jackson were like the heroes of a Disney sports movie: all second or third tier NBA stars, who had failed or fizzled with other NBA teams, and all ended up slinking to the Kings with heads held low.

Once they all got there, though – they fused into a monster powerhouse. Everyone was taken by surprise, and suddenly we had gone from one of the worst teams in the NBA to frankly, the best.

There was only one team, in the whole NBA, that was about as good as the Kings that year.

The Los Angeles Lakers.

The Kings were rag-tag, polite, excited to finally be an important part of a winning team, courteous in the media (except for Vlade sometimes, but even he was pretty mellow), like I said the good guys in a Disney sports movie – the Mighty Ducks! The Sandlot boys. Or, in another type of movie, they were Luke Skywalker.

The Lakers were like Darth Vader.

The Lakers are ALWAYS one of the best teams. They are ALWAYS loaded with superstars and great coaches. And this year, they had some of the biggest mouths and worst attitudes in the league.

Shaquille O’Neal said something ignorant and hateful in the news every day. Kobe Bryant was young and mean and arrogant (he’s still arrogant, but seems to say less mean stuff these days).

…and the Lakers had Rick Fox, who must be one of the ten largest assholes in history of the NBA.

We, as Kings fans, HATED the Lakers.

And frankly, it was wonderful to hate the Lakers. Every great story has a really foul bad guy, and the Lakers were that guy. Trash-talking, surrounded by movie stars and arrogance and a franchise that has won a billion championships, they were the perfect nemesis to the polite, scrappy, small market, not-a-single-hall-of-fame-player-on-the-whole-team Sacramento squad. We loathed the Lakers.

And we loved loathing the Lakers.

In May of 2002, when I was up visiting in San Luis, the Kings had met the Lakers in the playoffs.

There wasn’t a single other team in the NBA that could touch either team. Everyone knew that the winners of this series were going to win it all.

Trailing two games to one in the series and facing Game 4 in Los Angeles, the Lakers were down by as many as 24 points in the first half of that game, and we, the only four Kings fans in a bar FULL of Lakers fans, were rubbing it in the faces of everybody.

Every time the Kings scored, we were all OVER Woodtocks, hi-fiving, cheering, chanting “Kings, Kings, Kings!” to the hateful stares of all the Lakers fans in the room.

If the Kings won this game, the Lakers would be down 3-1 in the series, heading back to Sacramento. And NOBODY comes back from a 3-1 deficit.

But then, the second half happened.

The Lakers cut the lead to 99–97 with 11 seconds to play.


We weren’t cheering so loud anymore.

On the final possession, Lakers Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal missed consecutive lay-ups. Sacramento center Vlade Divac knocked the ball away from the basket in an attempt to run out the clock.

The ball bounced to Laker Robert Horry, who hit a three-pointer as time expired.

The Lakers won Game 4 100–99.

Instead of being down 3-1, the Lakers had tied the series at 2 games apiece.

The whole crowd turned on us, cheering and jeering until we ran from the bar.

It was the most heartbreaking moment of my entire life as a sports spectator. The Lakers went on to win the series, and later, the whole NBA championship.

The Kings never really recovered from that game, and within two years were back at the bottom of the NBA standings.

That game was in this same Woodtocks that I was sitting in today.


Myfanwy came back from the bathroom and I told her the story. She came around and sat on my end of the bench.

The Lakers were getting the crap beaten out of them.

Peja Stockavich, one of those same Kings who had lost to Robert Horry’s demoralizing shot, is now on the Dallas Team, and they…well, the were making it rain on the Lakers.

I’m not even a Dallas fan. I enjoy watching a few of their great players – Dirk Nowitski, Jason Kidd, and Stokavich are all amazing in their own right.

But that’s not why I enjoyed the game so much.

I enjoyed that game today because I had just accidentally stumbled into a game four of the NBA playoffs in the same pizza restaurant where I had watched another game four with the Lakers – except this time, the Lakers didn’t win.

At all.

They were crushed – embarrassed. Dallas had won the first three games, and in this crucial game four, Dallas looked unstoppable - raining three pointers on the Lakers, who looked helpless and timid the whole game.

And this time, there was no comeback. There was no Robert Horry.

There were just the Lakers getting pulverized.

I know I’ve spent the last few years in Los Angeles, and I should have welcomed the chance to support a great basketball team. I could have become a Laker fan – and enjoyed the luxury of supporting a winning team every single year.

But, sipping that delicious cold beer in Woodstocks today, I realized that I would be a Sacramento Kings fan forever.

I sat there, a Los Angeles resident, and watched the Lakers get the crap kicked out of them.

And it was really, really fun to watch.