April 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant (24) during the game against the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE.
There are plenty of reasons for us to despise the Los Angeles Lakers.
They're the Lakers. They took Jamaal Wilkes in the 70's. They beat us a couple of times in the playoffs in the 80's. Sleepy Floyd's "Superman game" was against the Lakers. They represent Los Angeles.
Make no mistake, Kobe still has his fair share of detractors. Bryant is consistently on the top of polls for "most hated players in the league", while simultaneously in the "most popular players in the league". He is booed in every single opposing team's building he enters, some more vociferously than others. As has been the story for his entire career, Bryant is still called out for his volume shooting, though that same part of his game has also helped him win five championships. Kobe is still the in-game perfectionist he's always been, demanding as much from his teammates as he does from himself. Unfortunately, that manifests itself negatively on the court, sometimes bordering on cruel and embarrassing. Moreover, Bryant isn't always the picture of a perfect interview, with his sometimes surly demeanor painting him with the type of coldness with which he approaches his profession. In short, Kobe's personality can leave a lot to be desired.
And yet even those among us who hate Kobe the most have to admit that it's still tough to think about the fact that the Warriors maybe had a shot at him with the 11th pick in the 1996 draft and selected Todd Fuller instead.
The selection fit a pattern, of course - Bryant was a high schooler and the Warriors were early in their post-Webber recovery process, which mostly consisted of obtaining "safe" players. Bryant, Kevin Garnett (in 1995) and Tracy McGrady (1997) were all high school prospects the Warriors passed on in consecutive years, but Kobe wasn't destined to come to the Warriors anyway - agent Arn Tellem was determined to get him to Los Angeles, threatening that his budding star would sit out if anyone else picked him. Everyone passed, Kobe slid to 14th where the Charlotte Hornets selected and traded him to L.A.
I mean, even Kobe's agent disses the Warriors - all the more reason to despise them and everything they stand for, right? All the more reason to consider the Lakers our biggest rival, as selected in the GSoM poll, right?
The thing is, that Kobe himself has a ton of detractors. The Lakers have tons of haters - it would probably be easier to enumerate the teams that don't have beef with the Lakers. Aside from NorCal-SoCal tension and a few historical connections, there's nothing particularly unique or compelling about a Lakers-Warriors rivalry. It's not even clear that Lakers fans really care that much more about Warriors games than anyone else.
In fact, the Warriors probably aren't even the Lakers' biggest rival in the Pacific Division - the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings have stronger arguments for that (posted today here and here and here). And what those fans have that we don't is some remotely recent drama with something actually at stake. Sure the Kings haven't been good for a while, but their Lakers beef is a lot more recent and relevant in modern NBA history than any significant game we can dig up from the 80's.
That's the cost of a consistent pattern of poor decisions that drove the franchise into the depths of irrelevancy - I met people on the east coast who didn't even know where Golden State was (ironically, LA was often the first guess). And we can't have rivalries if nobody cares about us.
But there's hope that it might all change with this season possibly marking the beginning of something new.
Legitimate hope of getting to the playoffs is a start. Getting there consistently - something the 2007 We Believe team wasn't necessarily built to do - is a way to cross paths with a team often enough with something on the line to make it a rivalry. Actually beating someone in a high-stakes situation might breed enough mutual animosity rather than the tension of a common fate at the bottom or unrequited hatred.
So far in these theme days, I've gone along with the popular vote but for today's rivalry day I found that hard to do, particularly after everyone in the Pacific Division picked someone else as their biggest rival. Eventually, the Warriors will get a rival but for the past two decades, the franchise's biggest rival has been its own front office. Hopefully we're witnessing a change in that regard.