At one point last week I spent about 30 minutes arguing with strangers about the effect of Kobe Bryant’s absence from the Lakers. Some thought LA was actually better without him, some wanted him never to return. I pointed out the general ridiculousness of this sentiment — the team was 10-9 before Kobe returned, nice with the talent available and totally average, a pace that, if it continued, would represent one of the worst records in team history. This didn’t happen with a fellow subway rider or with someone holding a sandwich board in Times Square. All of this took place in the comfort of my apartment, as I sat on my couch with my computer on my lap. It was another night spent on LakersGround.net, one of the main messageboards for Lakers fans, and a spot I frequent with alarming regularity.
I spend entirely too much time contributing to three sites in particular: D3football.com, where I chat about Saint John’s football and make up rumors about the future employment of Glenn Caruso. Through my interactions on that site I’ve connected with SJU grads I never would have met otherwise, owing to my otherwise hermit-like nature when it comes to my alma mater. Sportsjournalists.com is another favorite, where I chat writing, journalism and everything else in the world. SJ has allowed me the chance to meet people who have become good friends and proven great for networking. Then there’s LakersGround. I’ve never met anyone from there in real life, as far as I know. It’s all been online, all anonymous. And if I hired a life coach the initial report would suggest I stop where I am now, just south of 4,000 posts on the board, and reevaluate what I want to do with myself.
But it’s too much fun to give up, even though I’ve done just that on a few occasions, avoiding it for a few weeks or a month. It’s a strange place, but anyplace filled with talk about Lakers old and new will always draw my attention.
It’s not like only outsiders occupy the board. Larry Coon is one of the most respected NBA writers when it comes to the salary cap and is a longtime member, as is NBA writer Eric Pincus. A guy named nonplayer zealot — that’s what the Internet knows him as — has a longstanding offer to participate in a Q&A because he knows more about the history of the Lakers than anyone I’ve ever seen, and runs my favorite YouTube channels, one of the best NBA channels. And among the other anonymous monikers are surely other well-known names. Otherwise it’s a collection of usernames like “32” and “GasolBynumKobe” and “Kobee 2.0” and fans young and old, some of whom understand proper spelling rules. There are fans who watched Baylor and those who started only when Kobe & Shaq won their first title. Some fans of visiting teams become regulars — there’s a Rockets fan in particular who’s very knowledgeable and apparently masochistic — but otherwise it’s people bonded by the Lakers, brought together by love, sure, but often sustained by hate, of players in the purple and gold, opposing coaches and stars and even the front office.
So what’s life like on LG? A tour.
LAKERS GROUND MEMES
Like any forum, LakersGround developed its own traditions and memes, particular lines or themes that continue to crop up and continue to amuse me, years after their expiration date. Particular favorites include, “Do it Mitch!” which crops up when someone wants Mitch Kupchak to make a move. It started with someone being serious about that declaration but now it fits any scenarios. Trade Wes Johnson for Lebron? Do it Mitch!
Over the years LG had a peculiar love for middling journeyman point guard Marcus Banks, with many fans convinced his quickness was what LA needed to vault back to the top of the league. For years people wanted Banks until it eventually became even more of a joke than the original desire to see him in purple and gold.
“Kobe shots to much” started with someone complaining about Kobe’s, yes, shooting. People quickly latched onto the grammatical disaster and ran with it. Create your own: Kobe tears Achilles to much. Kobe passes to much. But it’s tough to top the original.
Other favorites, as quoted in the linked thread:
Volt! OR Put this in the Volt
Sarcastic response to an EPIC failure by the original poster
A thread was started with the title “From the volt Kobe verses the warriors wit Mj watching”.
When the poster was confronted with his spelling error (Volt/Vault) he become irate.
The resulting schadenfreude achieved legendary status.
A thread was started titled “Tracy McRady too the Lakers?”.
The misspelling of McGrady’s name, combined with the odd language used in the post produced many LOLs.
Poster A: Who else should we sign!
Poster B: I hear McRady is available
WES JOHNSON…FAN FAVORITE?
Minnesotans know him as a failed draft pick and a better shooter than Kevin Durant (at least according to one bizarre NBA players’ poll). Lakers fans see him as a Michael Cooper, a Trevor Ariza or a “young Shawn Marion.” They’ve been impressed with young Wes who, at 26, older than Durant, really isn’t all that young. And I’ve been happy with his play — for what it is and what I was expecting. He hustles, plays nice D, can get on the break occasionally, knock down an occasional three. But he’s basically the same as the guy who took two years off my dad’s life while playing for the Timberwolves. He’s not Michael Cooper or even Ariza, who was only 22 when he arrived in LA and thrived with Kobe and Gasol. Fans are coming to terms with the fact Johnson is unable to penetrate with the dribble in any type of halfcourt setting.
BREAKING NEWS, GOOD AND BAD
I learned about the Pau Gasol trade on LG. Good. I learned about the Lakers hiring Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson on LG. Bad. I often hear things on LG because its members patrol every relevant website and Twitter account and post things 20 seconds later. Last season, after the Lakers fired Mike Brown, I remember going to bed late on a Sunday ready to wake up to the news of Jackson’s hiring. Instead I saw a thread welcoming D’Antoni to the Lakers, along with threads ripping the selection. I stared in disbelief and even before going to ESPN to read the official autopsy report I read the reactions of the Lakers faithful. Often the LG anger is too much, the wails too ridiculous. This time I needed their anger and sadness.
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF GAME THREADS
Game threads are LG in its purest form. The anger, optimism, pessimism, overreactions, it’s all there, with each possession meaning the Lakers are bound for an NBA title or headed to doom. For the most part I avoid these, terrified to enter this world. Even when the Lakers were winning titles, the emotional fluctuations were too much to bear. A Pau Gasol turnover meant the Lakers had to trade him, now. Why doesn’t Phil Jackson call timeouts! Kobe’s too old. Lamar Odom is amazing! Lamar Odom is overrated! Posters who populate the game threads appear to be newborns, just out of the womb, with no previous memories or knowledge that basketball games are 48 minutes long. Everything that happens requires exclamation points. Nothing has come before, nothing will come after.
Thankfully, at the end of every game comes real analysis. A user named Dancing Barry, the Editor in Chief of LG who is not, I don’t believe, the actual man from the Showtime Days who proved to be one of the more annoying characters from the 1980s, breaks down each player’s game, possession by possession. Barry’s pieces are one of the great features of LG and all you have to do to read them is survive a game thread.
For conspiracy theory fans in every other NBA city, there’s little doubt that the evil David Stern manipulates the league to assure the success of the Lakers. Those people would be surprised to know that LakersGround is also home to conspiracy theorists, only these folks believe that the evil David Stern manipulates the league in an attempt to assure…the destruction of the Lakers. Forget Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. There are numerous threads that pop up “exposing” the plots against the Lakers. LA shoots fewer free throws than its opponents? Conspiracy. Lakers have too many back-to-backs? Conspiracy.
I enjoy occasionally venturing into these threads and arguing against these posters (don’t worry, I don’t think the Lakers are being victimized, just as I don’t think there’s a conspiracy to help the Lakers). Now, the league’s decision to void the Chris Paul trade was stunning and ridiculous. And the lopsided officiating in several games of the 2002 WCF that actually favored the Kings is forgotten too easily, especially by those who only scream about Game 6. And the reffing in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals remains shameful (LA shot 10 free throws. Boston shot 38. LEON POWE shot 13 himself). But…none of that means there’s an anti-Lakers conspiracy. But it’s entertaining to engage these posters, at least for awhile. It’s not like arguing against truthers or birthers; this is just basketball. You do have to admire the Lakers, though: I mean, the league’s against them and the franchise has still won 16 titles. Impressive.
When a Lakers player suffers an injury — sprained ankle, turf toe, ruptured Achilles, broken collarbone, jammed finger, concussion, flu — posters eagerly detail their own experience with the injury and produce an estimated return date for the player, along with a rehab schedule. “Farmar needs to take his time with this hamstring tear. A few years ago in my Sunday league, I felt something pull in my left leg. I kept playing and scored 11 points. But it kept hurting and hurting and finally my old lady made me go to the doctor. Turned out I tore the hamstring and can’t play for 14 weeks. Farmar has to ice this injury, especially in evenings, stay off it, give it time to heal or the same thing will happen.”
WHO’S BETTER? LET’S ARGUE — AGAIN!
Various debates that pop up every other week, carry on for 15, 20, 30 pages and then disappear, only to have the same cast argue the same points on a new thread.
Who’s better, Kobe or Magic? Who’s the greatest Laker of all? Who’s better, Kobe or Jordan? Who’s better, LeBron or Kobe? Who’s better, LeBron or Magic? Who’s better, Bird or Magic? Who’s better, Showtime Lakers or Kobe/Shaq Lakers? Who’s better, Robert Horry or Bob McAdoo. And on and on. While these debates can be frustrating, they’re also the most fun I have on the board because so many posters do have amazing knowledge of Lakers history and are great at arguing their viewpoints. I realize it’s pointless — no one’s going to change anyone’s mind, most likely. But it’s more entertaining than talking about Chris Kaman’s lack of minutes.
MAGIC’S COMPLICATED LEGACY
This is where I often break away from my LG brethren. He remains my all-time favorite athlete and does that ever change for any adult who worshiped someone as a kid? And Lakers Ground posters do respect Magic the player — even if some cling to terrible ideas that Magic would somehow be less effective today. It’s Magic the commentator that enrages them. Now there’s no doubt being a studio talking head or game analyst didn’t play to Magic’s strengths. But LG posters remain convinced that Magic goes out of his way to denigrate the Lakers. They also remain convinced that Magic is jealous of Kobe and takes shots at him whenever he can, worried No. 24 might eclipse No. 32 in the hearts and minds of Lakers fans. Or so the theory goes.
I’d call those ideas far-fetched but who knows, maybe there’s truth to it. Magic was competitive. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing Magic’s done in the 22 years since he left the court can erase everything he did in 12 years on it. I’d say more, but I have a 128-page thread about Kobe’s contract to visit.