The Burning of Los Angeles

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I don’t normally comment on basketball because I don’t feel qualified to. Mexico City is not exactly a hoops mecca. The most NBA I’ve seen this year has been on an inexplicable billboard in my neighborhood featuring Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Robin Lopez. That said, I do consider myself a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, and I followed their recently concluded, relentlessly thwarted season pretty closely in the media. From my perspective, it has been the greatest Laker season in recent memory.

One thing people don’t understand about Laker fandom is that winning is kind of a minor thing; admittedly, this abstraction is easier to pull off if your team is winning a lot. The bigger thing is simply being a Laker fan, which means car flags and Jack Nicholson and a sense of superiority, but also means being connected to Los Angeles. No team is more L.A. than the Lakers. Los Angeles is the city where movies are made, a place where massive and irresponsible dreams either come true or spectacularly don’t. It is a city built on stories: individual and collective, real and fake, meaningful and inconsequential. This is why, maybe the only reason why, Ramon Sessions can seem important for a few months in spring.

Being a Laker fan means not only tolerating a certain amount of this dramatic tension but thriving on it. Experts will say that the 2012-13 season was a disaster because Mike Brown was fired and D’Antoni was hired and Phil was snubbed; because everybody got hurt, because Gasol was benched, because Jerry Buss died, because the team got swept out of the playoffs in the first round with a starting backcourt featuring Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris. But remember: even when the Lakers have thrived they have thrived in spite of personal feuds and serious criminal accusations and the coach dating the owner’s daughter and a million varieties of Pau Gasol trade rumor. It’s been like this at least since Elden Campbell first donned the forum blue and gold, and there are no signs of change on the way.

Chaos is at the heart of Showtime. You can’t have a good show unless stuff actually happens. Of course this season was a disaster, but it was such an entertaining one. The Lakers haven’t been this fun or easy to appreciate since the height of the Kobe-Shaq enmity. Even Bill Plaschke seems to be enjoying himself. Watching the team this year has been like watching a movie or reading a book in which you know everything is going to go wrong but don’t know exactly how: the basketball equivalent of Nathanael West’s novel The Day of the Locust, but with Chris Duhon standing in for the original Homer Simpson.

In West’s book, protagonist Tod Hackett is a painter who comes from Yale to LA to be a set designer in 1930s Hollywood. He is doomed from the get-go, stunned by the blatant fake-ness of everything and everybody. He starts this painting called “The Burning of Los Angeles,” and gets involved with crazy people and wannabe actors, and by the end of the book, a climactic riot in the middle of Hollywood, Tod, too, has gone mad, sitting in the back of a squad car with a broken leg and howling obliviously along with the police sirens around him.

So: Tod is Steve Nash. Everything is burning, and we’ve all been thoroughly entertained.

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