Ah. Ah ha. Ah ha ha ha.
The Lakers, along with the Yankees and the Cowboys, are part of the unholy trinity of teams from which I derive endless amounts of pleasure watching get kicked in the nuts. Don't get me wrong, I like Shaq, and, as an exiled Chicagoan, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Coach Philip (he ain't Ditka, but, short of the Second Coming, who is? [Alright, Jesus Christ versus Ditka? Is Ditka coaching or playing? Coaching, but he can play in an emergency. Ditka by a safety.]). However, basic patriotism requires a hefty disdain for anyone with a sense of entitlement, no matter how many sportswriters agree with them, and this Lakers team, along with their pretty little LA fanbase, saw this as a season-long coronation requiring only the smiting of a few minor usurpers in Minnesota and San Antonio.
The Lakers' loss is pretty sweet in and of itself, but the really satisfying part is that they were completely thrashed by the Pistons.
Wait, what? I'm a Pistons fan? What the hell? I'm from Chicago, that is Not Right.
The explanation for this misbegotten basketball loyalty is twofold. For one, Michigan is now the state that I call home - well, that I call residence, at least. By itself, this is not enough to justify the outright betrayal of the land of my birth that rooting for the Pistons is. However, because I moved to Michigan two years ago, I met one of my very best friends, who eats, drinks, and breathes the Pistons. It is damn near literally impossible to be this guy's friend and not be a Pistons fan. In fact, it was his constant prodding that revived what I had thought was a long-dead interest in the game itself (mortally wounded by my [completely justified] failure to make the sophomore team in high school, and then killed off a few years later by Michael Jordan's departure from Chicago).
I was forced to watch the 2003 playoffs, held hostage by his wife's constant attempts to set me up with her friends1 and the fact that all my beer was in his fridge. To my surprise, I found myself getting into the games in a big way -- hey, you try to sit in a room with your best friend, drunk beyond all reason, and not join in when he leaps up every five minutes screaming, "YEAH MOTHERFUCKER! GET THAT SHIT THE FUUUUUUCK OUT, YOU PUNK BITCH!" As the Pistons advanced, as Tayshaun Prince became a breakout rookie, as Chauncy Billups kept hitting those threes, as Ben Wallace proved again and again that he is a badass of Shaft-like proportions, my own contributions gradually increased from "Damn, that was a nice shot," to "Holy- wow, that was cool as hell," to "Eat THAT, punk!" to "I shit on your mother, Jason Kidd, you goat-fucking bastard! You hear me? You fuck goats, and I shit on your mother!"
The loss to the Nets was devastating, but I was hooked.
At the beginning of this season2, I was convinced that, the loss to Jersey in the semis acting like a forging fire and the aquisition of Larry Brown being the single best thing any team can do to improve itself, the Pistons would actually make it to the Finals this year. "One step at a time," I kept telling everyone, "last year the semis, this year the Finals, and in 2005, the trophy."
But my friend didn't see it that way.
He had a feeling, you see, a sense of destiny. From day one, he refused to consider the idea that the Pistons would be anything less than the NBA champions come July 2004. This was not the futile optimism that every sports fan feels every year (Bears Uber Alles!), but a real conviction that his boys were flat out better than everyone else.
He was not alone.
It's funny, when you think about it, the way that sports can act as a common language between men3. My friend and I were both at work when another guy we work with came running into our building, shouting to everyone the news that the Pistons had traded for Rasheed Wallace. Productive work ceased for about ten minutes as we all got together in a small crowd, cheering and jabbering to each other about stomping the rest of the league into oblivion.
"The final piece!"
"Another scoring option!"
"Two Wallaces on defense! No one will score on them ever again!"
"Lebron can suck my nuts!"
"Hey, fuck you!" from the one Ohio transplant in building.
These are the things I heard and said that day, months ago, things that I just started hearing about a week ago in the national sports media.
You see, the thing about the Pistons' win is that it didn't come as a surprise to anyone who was really following them. Everyone, including me, talks about how the Lakers felt certain they could win. Well, the Pistons did too. The difference was that the Pistons didn't talk about it - they let their fans do that.
And in the end, we were right, and those losers in LA were not.
The hardest series for the Pistons this year was against New Jersey. Goddamn Jason Kidd is good.
The Pacers put up a good fight, but I'm convinced that that Tayshaun's famous block of Reggie Miller's layup early in the series broke their spirit. After all, that was a feat that could only be accomplished by a minor deity, and who can summon the will to seriously resist the might of a team composed of supreme beings?
The Lakers controlled the Finals for a grand total of five minutes in game two. Other than that, they were treated like little sissy men, and for their efforts have become the official bitches of every person in the state of Michigan.
And yes, it is indeed sweet.
1 An effort that is ultimately doomed to failure due to my being an unrelenting asshole and her inability to come up with anything resembling a redeeming quality in my unshaven person. "Um...my husband thinks he's pretty cool...and he never beats our dog...and...um...no, he wasn't ogling your breasts. He was...there was something on your shirt. And the ass of your pants. He sneers like that when he likes someone. Really. No, he didn't mean what he said about wishing he was gay so he wouldn't have to deal with lunatic women. He was being funny. Um..."
2 Sure, everyone says that they are a Pistons fan now, and that the Pistons were better all along now. Where was I a month ago, when the biggest debate in sports was whether the Lakers would win in four games or five?
That's right. July of 2003. That's when I predicted Pistons dominance, all official-like, for all the world to see.
Ignore the word "Darko" in those posts.
3 Yes, women like sports too, I know. But not once in my life have I started a conversation with a strange female by mentioning a sports team, whereas that is almost exclusively how I initiate conversations with guys I don't know.