Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that people I don’t like, or people who support a cause I don’t support, have qualities that I admire.
Last night I watched the Sacramento Kings play the Los Angeles Lakers (that’s basketball, for you non-sports people). The Kings won. They led by 31 points at one point, and ended up winning by 18. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Northern California sports fans, like me, do not like Los Angeles teams. That’s just the way things work. Also, these two teams in particular have a very tense history beyond the typical North vs. South rivalry. The Lakers are one of the most successful franchises in the histoy of the NBA, having won 16 league championships in their history. The Kings have only won one championship in franchise history, in 1951, long before they moved to Sacramento, and when the league only had 11 teams instead of today’s 30. Los Angeles, of course, gets much more attention from the media than Sacramento. And the Kings’ best chance to win a championship in Sacramento, in 2002, was cut short in a playoff game against the Lakers that featured so many biased calls from the referees, including no foul on Kobe Bryant after elbowing Mike Bibby in the face and knocking him bleeding to the floor, that it has spawned conspiracy theories about being fixed.
The Lakers have fallen on hard times in recent years, however. Last year, they had two games left, and they needed one more win to avoid having the worst winning percentage in franchise history. They finished their season with two games against the Kings, one in Sacramento (which I attended) and one in Los Angeles, and the Kings won both. Games in Sacramento against the Lakers are always tense, not only because of that history, but because there are a lot of Laker fans up here. Most fans of visiting teams who show up to watch their team play the Kings are pretty decent. They’re just there to see their favorite teams and players and see a good game. Most Laker fans, though, make a point of being the biggest thuggish foul-mouthed jerks possible. They boo the Kings and their star players. They act annoyed when Kings fans cheer for the home team, as if we have no right to be there in our own arena. And they keep rubbing 2002 in our faces. (Of course, I do know a few decent and well-behaved Laker fans. The next paragraph does not apply to them.)
As I said, the Lakers looked absolutely pathetic last night through the whole first half, trailing by 24 at halftime. They started to chip away at the lead later in the game, but the Kings led by at least 15 for the entire second half. The Lakers have not won yet this season (although they, like the Kings, had only played one game before Friday night’s game). You can’t spell LAst pLAce without LA. And yet Laker fans were just as loud and dirty as ever, putting down the Kings and cheering on their team that was getting embarrassed on the court. There was one two seats over from me, and, had the Lakers actually gone ahead in the fourth quarter, I probably would have had to ask my friend to restrain me physically from punching this guy in the face.
The point I’m trying to make here: You have to admire that kind of loyalty. Not that kind of behavior or attitude, but loyalty.
I don’t really see that kind of loyalty in a lot of Kings fans, at least not as a group. The building is rarely packed these days like it was in 2002. I know a lot of people who gave up on the Kings when the team started to fall apart in 2006, and who refuse to go to any more games because of the way the owners behaved in 2006-13, despite the fact that those owners are gone and have nothing to do with the team anymore. A few years ago, when it looked like the team was going to be moving, I knew people who called themselves Kings fans who said that they wished the team would hurry up and move just so the drama would be over. As Inigo Montoya might say, you keep using that word “fan.” I do not think it means what you think it means. This all makes me sad.
Real fans don’t give up on their team when the team is doing badly. And for as much as I don’t like the Lakers, and I don’t like obnoxious trolling fans who show up at the other team’s venue and act like jerks, I can’t deny that I admire them for sticking with their team even when they do badly.