Laker Fans & Global Competitiion
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Laker Fans & Americans: A Simple Analogy
The new basketball season is around the corner, and as usual, only a few teams have any realistic chance of raising a championship banner in 2011. Barring any major injuries, the Lakers should have their easiest trip to the finals in years. We may have reached a point, in fact, where the eastern conference is at least as strong as the west. Still, only three teams in the east seem to have a decent chance of facing the Lakers: Miami, Boston, and Orlando. Will the Lakers have another “threepeat,” or has Lebron finally gotten himself onto a team that is stacked enough to win a title? Or will the ultimate nightmare scenario unfold: another Lakers and Celtics final (God help me)?
Laker fans like me have little reason to complain if our team ends up falling short this year. I have personally seen the Lakers win ten championships in the last 30 years, and they have been in the finals 16 times during that span. (The Lakers have been in about half – 31 – of the NBA finals ever played.) Meanwhile, 16 of the NBA’s 30 teams have never won a single championship, and some of these teams have never even been to the NBA finals. It’s no wonder that only the Yankees evoke as much hatred from opposing fans as the Lakers.
Anyone with any compassion or desire for justice should have been rooting for the Phoenix Suns last year. Their loyal fans have never seen a championship, and Phoenix has only made it to the finals twice in its history. (Plus, they are stuck out in the desert, and illegal immigrants are apparently “invading” their state.) Steve Nash, the team’s leader, has been one of the most skilled and classy players in the league for years. He currently holds the record for appearing in the most playoff games of all players who have never made it to the finals. And yet, in spite of these obvious facts, I wanted the Lakers to crush his team in last year’s conference finals. Was personally witnessing nine titles (as of that time) not enough for me? Should Boston fans have also felt bad for spoiling the hopes of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that was trying to bring a championship home to a city that has not seen one in any sport for decades? The answer to both questions was simple: “no damn way.” Real sports fans want their team to pound all others into the dirt year after year. And I can guarantee you that if situations were reversed, Phoenix Suns fans would want another banner, and they would happily cheer as Kobe Bryant (in this fantasy) was prevented from that first elusive trip to the finals.
The dominance - some would say the injustice – of the Lakers (and Celtics) serves as a good metaphor for a world that has been dominated by certain nations and regions for decades. The United States, in particular, has been on a hell of a long winning streak. Standards of living have long been much higher here, on average, than those of most peoples and nations. But in spite of these obvious facts, we Americans constantly demand more. For much of the world, the United States’ current problems must seem relatively minor. Complaining about 10 percent unemployment seems analogous to a Lakers fan complaining because his or her team “only” made it to the finals.
Now some would say that an analogy between a sports league and the world in general is flawed. In the NBA, like all sports leagues, there will inevitably be one team left standing. This is not necessarily true in our world. Isn’t it possible that all of the world’s people and nations can cooperate in an effort to improve the standard of living for the whole? As the global economy becomes more advanced and interconnected, opportunities can seemingly be created for everyone. This is a nice utopian dream, but I am not sure if it is possible. From what I can gather, the lifestyles of the citizens of wealthy nations are dependent somewhat on the exploitation of the poor, with underdeveloped countries providing low cost labor, cheap resources, and markets for high-end consumer products. Real economic development in poorer nations could lead to reduced opportunities and a lower standard of living for the wealthy, sacrifices few Americans are willing to make.
In addition, it may not be possible for the planet to sustain an American lifestyle for the billions who have not yet achieved it. Can enough food, fresh water, and energy be generated without wearing the planet out? Sure, technological innovations that we cannot currently foresee may appear and create a world that is productive and sustainable enough to pull most people into the modern age. Clearly, however, we are not there yet. So in the foreseeable future, competition will most likely be the norm.
Rallying together as a member or supporter of a sports team, interest group, political party, or nation can sometimes bring out the best in people. It can lead people to sacrifice for the whole, experience a feeling of camaraderie, and rise to the occasion. It can also, however, bring out some of the ugly parts of our nature. Politics and sporting events can put on display human selfishness, competitiveness, and good old-fashioned tribalism, with hatred for “the enemy” often a more powerful emotion than love for “your team.” Serious sporting events are basically wars without all of the dead bodies. (Although you might get a few dead bodies after soccer (football) matches in certain parts of the world.)
If you were to ask my kids when they are most likely to see me get angry, they would instantly respond, “during Lakers games.” (Fortunately, they have not seen how I occasionally react after losing close racquetball or Scrabble games.) Last year, things could have gotten especially ugly because I have such an irrational, almost pathological hatred for the Celtics. It’s strange. I respect most of their players, but I can’t stand the uniform. It may be biological. My dad watched the Lakers lose to the Celtics so many times back in the 1960’s that it may be programmed into my DNA. This is why I generally avoided watching the games live. Stress took the joy out of watching, and yet I still felt this compulsion to flip on the TV or check the score on “NBA.com.” Maybe I should have just watched and released some of that ugliness that is apparently inside of me. Or maybe I should get some therapy or go “cold turkey” in 2010-2011 in an attempt to break my addiction. I have a feeling that this problem will someday solve itself. In a few years, both the Lakers and the Celtics will suck, and then I will no longer have any desire to watch. Then I will have more time for healthy and productive activities. (But in the meantime, “threepeat” baby!)
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