A new twist in the Spurs-Lakers rivalry

As long-time readers know, I’m a Spurs fan living in Los Angeles and also a former Lakers fan. As a result, I’ve gotten a first-hand look at the evolution of the Spurs-Lakers rivalry. In the decade 2000-2010, while I was a fan of both teams, it was the best of times. One or another of my teams was in the Finals almost every year and often won it all.

Things changed around 2012, when the Lakers changed course and became a one-year mercenary team. After attending the opening night, I wrote the following:

During the first quarter, a Lakers kid in a Lakers jersey passed another Lakers kid in a Lakers jersey, who made a dive. While there was a lot of celebration at Staples Center, there was probably a lot of confusion. Who was the guy who dove? For the first time in decades (if ever), a Lakers player scored in a game and had no idea who he was. We later found out that he was a nice guy named Xavier Henry, a graduate of the University of Kansas, who was on the Pelicans last year (formerly the Hornets).

And Xavier (number 7 for your future reference) was three times more famous and familiar than another guy in a Lakers jersey named Shawnee Williams, who started out as a power forward. Where did Shawnee play last year? Good question. The answer, from what I can understand: nowhere in the NBA. And now he is a starter for “my team.” And there’s another guy named Johnson who I wouldn’t recognize if he was sitting in my office. This guy named Johnson was also wearing a Lakers jersey. One guy I recognized is Chris Kaman. He’s probably a perfectly nice guy, certainly a competent if uninteresting basketball player, and now he’s another guy who wears “my team” uniform. Finally, a guy named Nick Young, who shot every time he touched him, just like he did with the 76ers last year and USC when he played there. He is now on “my team” as well.

After that game, I couldn’t be a Lakers fan anymore. Good timing, because the team that season was terrible, as were the Lakers teams that followed. At the same time, the Spurs were in the process of perfecting the Beautiful Game, resulting in a Redemption Finals victory in 2014.

Later, I wrote an article about the death of the classic Spurs-Lakers rivalry because the teams were no longer at the same level. Unfortunately, when LeBron James joined the Lakers, that coincided with the demise of the Spurs. As a result, the rivalry remained lopsided, but for a different reason.

All of which led to last summer, when the Lakers opted to go back to becoming a mercenary team. This led to the following exchange with my friend Mike, a devoted lifelong Lakers fan. Mike is also hopelessly optimistic, like many Lakers fans. This trade came shortly after the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook, the trade that will live in infamy.

I: “If LeBron and/or AD get injured (again) and miss half the games, do the Lakers make the playoffs?

Miguel: “There are a lot of great stories about this new group of Lakers coming together. Russell, Ariza, coming home. Can Russ become his best self with LeBron? Is Ariza doing enough to help earn a second chip with the Lakers? Will THT (homegrown) take a major step towards becoming a big part of our success? Does Melo have anything left to be a McAdoo-type bank collaborator and get that allusive card? Will AD stay healthy and remind everyone why he is the best two-way player in the league? Can Bazemore, Ellington, Monk, Nunn play the necessary roles to give us explosive depth?

“I say yes! Also, we have some interesting young men in two-way deals who could provide an unexpected hit.

“I can’t wait to see my Lakers make it to the finals!! Come on Lakers!!!”

Later that week, long time friend tonium United:

“I’ve been looking at the team that the Lakers have put together and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I agree with Mike. I think the Lakers have a chance to be very good. In fact, I think they play the Nets in the Finals.”

All of which made last week so sweet. Spoiler alert: The Lakers will not be in the Finals.

My guess is that no one but me predicted that the Lakers and Spurs would once again renew their rivalry, but this time at the bottom of the playoff bracket, not the top. And I was one of the few who predicted that this Lakers team, chosen by Mike and many others to make it to the Finals, would be on the outside looking in. Even better, while the Lakers’ season will be over, and they’ll be outside watching Play-In games starting Tuesday, the Lakers will be looking straight at the Silver and Black.

Maybe I shouldn’t send this post to Mike and Tony.

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