Thursday, June 18, 2009

Saludos Lakers, Campeones Mundiales

This is a rare post about sports. Those who know me know I'm a Lakers fan. I come by it honestly, living for 13 years in LA during the height of the Magic-Kareem era. Despite my travels since then, I've retained an allegiance to the purple & gold.

So I'm jazzed the Lakers won the NBA championship this year. I have to say, though, that any feelings for or against Kobe, so prominent in media coverage, had little to do with it. I love what Kobe does for the Lakers, I admire his abilities, and I root for him. But I don't find Kobe all that appealing as a person, and the style of his game doesn't galvanize me. When I was a kid we called players like Kobe "hot dogs," and it was not a compliment. Nowadays every above-average player is a hot dog, and the league is the worse for it.

So these days I'm actually more interested in two other kinds of players. One is the non-hot-dog, the guy who plays (seemingly) without arrogance but with excellence. My two favorite non-hot-dogs -- let's call them hamburgers -- my two favorite hamburgers are Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. It's always good to see hamburgers get rings.

The second kind I like is the big man. My heart has always been with the big men of the Association. The first team I ever loved and rooted for in the NBA was the Philadelphia 76ers of 1967, with Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer, Matt Guokas, coach Alex Hannum, etc. -- but mainly, if you were a kid like me, you noticed Wilt Chamberlain, freakishly large, a man among boys. Kids like the big men for the same reason they like dinosaurs, and if you need any further explanation, then you don't get it. I've never grown out of this, and my favorite players have been the giants, like Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Yao, even Rik Smits, Ralph Sampson, Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley. I want to see them succeed and amaze me while they're doing it. (No, Dwight Howard isn't in this category. He's just not tall enough. Good player, though.)

On the Lakers, there's only one big who fits in this superhuman category, and that's Andrew Bynum. He's shown flashes of greatness, but he's been hampered by injuries. But he's the guy that really interests me. I hope that the Lakers make it back to the Finals next year, with Bynum performing superhuman feats of dunking and blocking, helped by a couple of hamburgers and, OK, maybe the one hot dog.