Knowing What You Have: Why I Love Basketball, the Lakers and My Mom

Sometimes  in the midst of loss we are loathe to remember the good times. We get so caught up in a moment of heartache that it blinds us to everything that was once was great, and probably still is.

The 2011 Lakers season was a series of missteps and false starts. It was filled with bouts of inconsistency and sporadic excellence and ultimately, disappointment. Now, mercifully, it has come to an end.

The Mavericks, by way of stifling defense and torrid shooting, ripped the Lakers hearts out on Sunday afternoon in what can only be described as a massacre. And that was just the first half.

In truth the stunning sweep marked not only an end to the season but also to a specific dynastic period in Lakers history.Phil Jackson is gone, Kobe is aging rapidly and the potential for a core altering trade looms with the summer approaching.

As a Lakers fan all I want to do is crawl in a hole for the next four months and come out hoping things look a little brighter when training camp arrives. But that’s not an easy task with so many critics in a frenzy taking shots at your team’s demise. Case in point:

Whenever I am disposed to take the aggregate temperature of Lakers haters at large I look no further than the Twitter account of Bill Simmons. As L.A. fell apart on Sunday and the frustrations boiled over, Simmons delighted, “Wow! I never thought the gutless walkout of the ’91 Pistons would be topped but it’s happening!” Nice. I bet he’s been waiting 20 years to rattle off that gem. But you know what, at least with Simmons you know where you stand. A Boston homer through and through he is practically obligated to spew venom at L.A. based teams. It’s a birthright thing. Yet there are others.

There are people who never seem to have a rooting interest yet insist on kicking you when your team is down.  You know them. They are your co-workers. Your neighbors. Some friend on Facebook who you met once then never talked to again.  They are men (and women) without countries. Ships without ports of call. Because they know no allegiance they are apt to sway like willows in the wind, never fully owning victory but always quick to stick the knife in when tragedy befalls a soft target.

I feel sorry for these folks because they will never appreciate the joy that accompanies being a true fan. They’re not willing to put themselves out there for a team so they’ll never experience the payoff when a season ends not in disappointment, but in jubilation.

But it’s just sports, you say. At the end of the day it’s just a stupid game where ten sweaty men (or women) try to throw an orange ball through a  raised hoop. But you’re wrong. It’s more than that. So much more in fact that to illustrate my point effectively I will have to go back into history. My own history.

It was the late 80’s and I was just a little kid growing up in south Orange County. We lived in a nice suburb. My life was one without fear or worry but I also yearned to be christened with a knowledge of the Lakers. You see my father was very strict about our television viewing habits. We didn’t even have cable. No KCAL broadcasts, no Prime Ticket, no Chick Hearn.

In fact, things were so bad that even my time on the family computer was monitored. In order to earn hours playing computer games I sometimes had to read books then give my father detailed oral chapter reports, otherwise the privilege would be denied.

But man I was stubborn. I think one summer I tore through the entire Little House on Prairie series so quickly that eventually he just gave up. I loved messing around on that stupid computer. Still do.

Things changed in the spring of ’91. I was just starting little league. It should have been the best time of my life. One night my father became suddenly ill. He was rushed to the hospital and quickly lapsed into a coma.

I was only ten years old and really had no conception of what was going on, other than I desperately wanted him wake up and get better. Unfortunately, he never did. Two weeks later he passed away.

It was only after his death that my brother and I learned the true nature of my father’s illness. Years earlier he had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. The medication he was taking to treat the virus caused his pancreas to rupture. The guy never had a chance after that.

Next: Living Through Heartbreak and Learning About Life
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