Growing up a Lakers fan in a city that bleeds Red

Zach Rivera

Zach Rivera is a Lakers fan living in Chicago. Since Kobe Bryant was drafted back in 1996, Zach has repped the purple and gold in a city in love with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

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Ask any basketball pundit the simple question of “Who is the best NBAer of all time?” and aside from a slight few trying – and failing – to make a case for someone else, the consensus answer is MJ. Yes, the slight few might say Russell, or Bird, or Magic. And with the inclusion of Wilt, these said players are universally accepted as a top 5 list. (I know I didn’t include Kareem.) You can’t intelligently argue that MJ isn’t first or second. 

If you again ask the same expert who is MJ’s closest duplicate, I believe even MJ himself will say Kobe. They share many of the same basketball related qualities: otherworldly competitive streak (ask Drexler about MJ or ask any of KB’s teammates about his), a desire to win that is unparalleled (except for the other), an ability to score at will on anyone (ask the 92 Blazers *Shrug* or the 06 Raptors), a misunderstood persona (again, they both don’t care about anything else except winning), off-the-court controversies (gambling/rape charges), and most importantly…they both have the hardware to back it up (6 for Mike, 5 for Kobe).

While MJ has far more scoring titles (10-2) and MVPs (5 reg season/6 Finals compared with 1 reg season/2 Finals), my argument here is not that KB is better.

It is simply that if Michael Jeffrey is the best basketball player ever, Kobe Bean is the closest we have come to seeing another MJ (with Wade a far second). And let us not forget that MJ only has one scoring title where his per game average is higher than KB’s (37.1-35.4).

Now over the course of any NBA season, 1.7 points more a game comes out to 140 points, and that could very well be the difference between a couple more wins versus a couple of losses. And besides, if MJ is the best of all time, this also means he is the best 2 guard of all time…so why can’t KB be the second best 2 guard?

The purpose of this comparison is that MJ will always be synonymous with winning championships and terms like “G.O.A.T.” Kobe will always be winning championships and terms like “G.O.A.T.S.M.J.” (Greatest of all time save MJ). Mike will also always be connected to Chicago. As will Kobe forever belong to LA. So what is one (me) to do when I live in a city that belongs to Mike, but I spend every day rooting for Kobe?

I have lived in Chicago my entire life. I will always live in Chicago. If the latest Transformers movie comes to fruition, and Chicago is taken over by machines, I will still be here. Chicago is the only place I have ever loved. And rooting against each and every single local sports team is an activity that I have been participating in since I was old enough to pick a side.

Friends, foes, strangers and randoms are shocked when they find out that I root against the Bears, Bulls, Hawks, and White Cubs (I don’t care enough about baseball to consider them two different teams. They from Chicago? Then I ain’t liking em.) To be fair, I always say that I don’t dislike Chicago TEAMS; I just despise Chicago fans. They are just obnoxious and they are proud of it. Which, truthfully, makes me respect them just a little.

The only local team that has ever caused me direct pain was the 93 Bulls. For reasons unknown, I was a huge Barkley fan. Don’t ask how it started. I do remember growing up with a poster of Barkley dunking on Godzilla on my door, but I am unsure if the poster came first or my infatuation with the Round Mound. I remember watching, as a 7 year old, Jordan take on Barkley. My father was a police officer at the time and I did not want MJ to win because I did not want my dad to go out on the streets to stop the riots. But, obviously we know what happened. And from that day, after I was done crying (either because Barkley lost, or because my dad was walking out the door, but probably both), I matter of factly did not like the Bulls (and MJ). “Yeah he is talented. So.” “Yeah I know I went to Michael Jordan Camp as an 11 year old but I didn’t have fun” (that was a lie).

There are two types of sports fans. There are the ones that are born into their loyalties. And there are those that choose them. A few years after that June night, I chose Kobe Bryant. I was 10. He wasn’t much older (18). The Lakers were winners. The Bulls were winners. And I picked my team. And for 16 years (and counting), I have been there for every trophy hoist as well as every early playoff exit. And I wanted my new team to take out my most hated. They never met in the Finals so I was never given that opportunity to cry tears of joy. MJ still owned my tears of sorrow. But. MJ retired. Shaq and Kobe began their run. And I was rewarded with the joy of knowing my team is the last one standing.

This lasted a few years and I walked around Chicago proudly. I wore my jersey, my Lakers hat, or my Crazy 8 shoes. I was the outsider in the gym. Everyone rocked Jordan’s (and later Rose’s) and I maintained my dedication to the purp and gold. 2000 miles away from Staples. But I turned my living room into a luxury suite every Lakers game. As I got older, and I went to bars to watch the games, I was that guy who asked if the Lakers game could be turned on. 

In 08, when they blew a 24 point lead to the Celt’s, I was smack dab at a table in a crowded bar, and I took my beating like a man. Two years later, when the Lakers beat the C’s in game 7, I was right back at that same bar, doing flips.

It doesn’t matter what team you root for. It doesn’t matter where they are located. Or how long they have been around. It doesn’t matter if you are a new fan. Or if you have a favorite player who went to a new team. People try to explicitly state rules of being a fan. While I agree that to suffer with your team makes that triumph that much sweeter, I will stay rather have my parades every few years than to have one spanning 50.

Across three sports - NBA, NFL, and College ball – my teams have won 9 championships in 12 years (Lakers in 00-02,09,10. Steelers in 05,08. And Duke in 01, 10). People have called me a front runner for this. A friend once said, “I’m sure you love the Yankees and Manchester U as well”. But I am not a front runner. I just happen to root for teams that win championships. In a city with its own set of die hards. Sue me.

Again, it doesn’t matter what team you root for. Just root for them with everything you have. Unless it’s the Bulls. Then you are crushing the dreams of 7 year old Zach.

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