At first glance, it's sort of absurd that we need to have a discussion about whether it's okay to make fun of the L.A. Lakers. The team has five of the 13 titles awarded since the turn of the millennium, and has been to seven of the 13 NBA Finals series. The team always makes the playoffs -- there's been one season since the mid-90s that they've been in the lottery -- and usually does well there. Lakers failure is so rare that, for those of us who root for current or former Lakers rivals, it becomes an event to cherish. To ask people like me to keep a straight face when the Lakers struggle is like asking amateur astronomers to calm down when a comet comes into view.
But we're sophisticated sports fans, right? We're supposed to be above simple trolling, agitation and the cheapest jokes. We don't pile on the Bobcats, we don't find joy in the Mavericks' ramshackle season, we don't dance on the grave of the Suns, we don't make insensitive comments about the Kings' plight.
Those unspoken rules of decency disappear when the Lakers are involved. I am as guilty as anyone.
Now line up those two paragraphs, and you start to see it from my perspective. I'm above expressing glee at failure ... except when it's that one team that's been tormenting my favorite team for decades.
Some Lakers fans would be mad with or without that justification. Like this pleasant e-mailer.
Those guys are always around. You mention that Kobe Bryant has long flirted with the line of dirty play after he's felled by a dirty play ... and the defense mechanism kicks in, and now you root for the Nut Sack Town Queens. No one would seriously consider this person representative of anything but the lowest common denominator of sports fan.
But there's that group of sophisticated fans -- fans above the base, basic pap. And that's where I run into trouble.
Because, again, most of the time I am above expressing glee about failure. It's only the Lakers that draw it out. The points about Kobe specifically expressed no happiness at the turn of events; they sought only to put the play in broader perspective than the core "dirty or not?" question that dominated discourse in the immediate aftermath of the play. That involved pointing out some things that did not flatter Kobe: his history of offenses, his conscious image-building, the awkwardness that would envelope the team if he were to miss substantial time and the club went on a run.
In a way, I feel as though my omnipresent Lakers schadenfreude dusted those emotionless points with the essence of glee. That's a reasonable consequence of my regular schadenfreude, and something folks like me need to guard against.
At the same time, this is the Lakers. We all know this downturn is short-lived. It's always short-lived. This is our comet, and asking us to act all sober and respectful just because the Lakers' superstar got injured seriously for the first time in eight years is very assistant principal of you.
This isn't to say that happiness over Kobe's injury is okay -- I believe that it's not okay to root for injuries; no man deserves pain on account of his athletic exploits -- but on occasion of the injury, should we have to shut off the schadenfreude faucet altogether? That's where the central disagreement between sophisticated fans who root for or against the Lakers seems to be. In the face of an injury, is it still okay to take comfort in the failure of a team?
Reasonable people can disagree on this. I obviously cannot muster up much sympathy for those who are lucky enough to root for the dominant team of the past three decades. Maybe that says something dark about me, but I've watched that Forum blue and gold and sometimes white jersey break my heart too many times. It's like when a longtime tormentor finally gets his comeuppance. You can't really blame me for withholding tears, can you?
The injury is unfortunate. I remain unconvinced that it will keep Kobe, who always comes back quickly, out for any length of time. I understand that Lakers fans are feeling anxious about that. I would, too, were I a Lakers fan. But I'm sorry. I'm not going to get too broken up. I won't cheer the swelling on, or hope for setbacks, or smile if bad news breaks. But I'm not going to loan Goliath my heart.
I think the best we can all do is be more clear about the points we're trying to make (which is where I struggled in my 7 thoughts piece) and make accusations of trolldom only as a last resort. When fans working at a level far above Mr. Nut Sack Town break out the name-calling, we're all falling down a rabbit hole it's hard to climb back out of. If that means I need to be more kind to Lakers fans, that's something I ...
... that's something I can do. I think.
[Thanks to J.D. Hastings -- aka @basquiatball -- for helping me work through some of these issues that 99 percent of basketball Twitter does not remotely care about.]