Professional sports is the most impactful when we, the fans, actually care about the player(s) in our favorite team’s jerseys. At some point over the past year, I began to shift my allegiance from the teams I supported throughout my childhood to the players whose values I share.
That epiphany actually happened last summer when the Lakers decided Andrew Bynum wasn’t reliable enough to be their franchise player for the post Kobe-era, so they swapped him for Dwight Howard. Every Laker fan I interact with began to celebrate the trade. I had mixed reactions.
On paper, the Lakers had just upgraded their injury-prone center for one that had a much more impressive resume (he led his team to the Finals in 2009, 3-time Defensive Player of the Year, etc.).
The way Howard had forced his way out of Orlando made me sick to my stomach. He threw his head coach under the bus, got his general manager fired, opted back into his contract before the trade deadline before demanding a trade again in the summer, all the while blaming everyone but himself for the Magic’s shortcomings.
And we were supposed to cheer for this guy?
Anyways, this leads to me to current day.
Figuring out what to do with my evenings once the Lakers are bounced from the playoffs early has unfortunately become a re-occurring issue for me (and the rest of Lakers Nation) over the past three years.
This year I decided to watch the rest of the series between the Celtics and the Knicks for a couple reasons.
1.) No team in the NBA has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the series. I believed the Celtics had a chance to do it after the gutsy Game 4 win to avoid being swept at home. Like all sports fan, I watched for the potential of witnessing history.
2.) In Sun Tzu’s famous writings, the Art of War, he writes that “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.” As Lakers fan we’re supposed to come out of the womb with a disdain for the Celtics, so logically, I might as well watch the fall of the enemy even after the team we follow had crumbled. Misery loves company, right?
3.) Kevin Garnett. In February, the Big Ticket cryptically said that this past All-Star game was going to be his last before retracting that statement. After the Game 4 victory, Jason Terry furthered the retirement speculation by saying “I don’t want his lasting impression to be, okay we got swept.” Which meant that every game the Celtics played could potentially be Garnett’s last, that constituted as must-see TV to me.
As you all know by now the Celtics ended up losing in six games, the Knicks’ first playoff series win in over a decade. But the C’s didn’t go down without a fight: mounting a 20-2 run in the fourth quarter of Game 6.
Somewhere between Games 4-6 I developed an appreciation for Kevin Garnett, while also allowing it to foreshadow how it’d feel to watch Kobe once he returns from the brutal Achilles injury.
We hate the Celtics because they’ve been the final roadblock to the Lakers championship countless times (12 to be exact). We hate Kevin Garnett because the trade that brought him to Boston made the Celtics really good again right around when the Lakers had re-tooled by bringing in Pau Gasol.
Strip that all away for a second and you’ll see that Kevin Garnett represents everything we look for in a professional athlete: a leader, relentless worker in the off-season, loyal to his team to a degree and appears to care about winning as much as the fans do.
Compare and contrast the way Garnett’s career might have ended to how Dwight Howard’s season ended. Garnett left everything he had on the floor, albeit in a losing effort before being pulled out by Doc Rivers once the lead was insurmountable. Howard observed that the challenge that was placed in front of him was too great, and got himself ejected, leaving the game on his own accord.
Not sure about you but I’m a lot more proud of how the soldier in green and white went out as opposed to the one in purple and gold.
Throughout that same time frame, Games 4-6 of the Knicks/Celtics series, there was a sense of inevitably surrounding everything. Sure, even if Garnett and the Celtics had made history by reversing the sweep, he would’ve had 21 more games to play in his career, max.
Garnett’s been playing in the NBA longer than most kids in high school have been alive, for that to come to an end so abruptly, I wasn’t sure if I was ready.
We’re set to face an eerily similar situation with our own franchise player when the 2014 playoffs roll around. Kobe has flirted with the idea of retirement for the past while, saying that he is set to call it quits after his contract runs out next summer.
When Kobe’s season ended after sinking two free throws on a torn Achilles, we got an appetizer for what it would be like to watch the Lakers once he was gone; it felt a little like having breakfast cereal without the milk.
During Game 1 of the San Antonio series, the most competitive game of the four, I kept stubbornly thinking to myself that if the Lakers kept the game within striking distance Kobe could come to the rescue in the fourth. No such luck.
Having experienced what it’s like to watch basketball without him this postseason, I’ll be much more indebted to every game he laces up the following season; especially with the foresight that his awe-inspiring performances are soon to become a non-renewable resource.
If Garnett’s speculated retirement and Kobe’s Achilles injury has taught us anything it’s that we should cherish every moment as we never know when the goals we strive all our lives to reach can be taken away from us in an instant.
At the top of this piece, I hypothesized when the impact of professional sports is optimized. That, you can feel free to disagree with. What is irrefutable fact however is that Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant have been unforgettable in their own unique ways from KG’s pre-game head banging to the Kobe face, the two of them made us care no matter which dynasty you support, the Celtics or the Lakers.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out what Mitch Kupchak had to say about Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant!
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