Thursday, June 11, 2009

Admiration vs. Likability

Warm and fuzzy Kobe ain't.

Warning: intangibles alert!

Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing. And winning creates chemistry. Does that mean that chemistry is the only thing?

Certainly not, but it's important. Which got me thinking about the Lakers. If they win tonight, their 15th title is all but assured. Yet will there have been a less likable championship Lakers team than this year's edition?

The "Showtime"-era Lakers were fueled by the charisma of Magic Johnson, while the early-aughts Lakers derived much of their personality from Shaquille O'Neal's oversized ego.

But the 2009 Lakers clearly belong to Kobe Bryant, and while his unsmiling drive to win is admirable, it has left me a little cold. Even as the camera showed Kobe hugging his wife and kids as he left the Staples Center court after Game 2, all I could think about was their maid's lawsuit.

Other Lakers suffer from this more-admirable-than-likable quality. As T.J. Simers of the LA Times puts it:

PAU GASOL is the reason Bryant has the chance to win another title, but he really is a big baby, whining on almost every foul call. Just one more reason why it's so difficult to embrace these guys.

The bizarrely candy-addicted Lamar Odom and the callow Andrew Bynum do little to offset this gap. Only Derek Fisher — classy, hardworking, human — is the kind of player fans love to root for.

Which brings us to the Dodgers. Let me just say this piece is a hell of a lot easier to write now that Jeff Kent is retired.

As with the Lakers, this year's Dodgers have taken on the personality of their most prominent player: Manny Ramirez. Suspension and all, Manny is the root of the team's newfound clubhouse unity.

Absent Manny, several players have given the Dodgers a welcome dose of personality, most notably Orlando Hudson (upbeat and talkative), Matt Kemp (have you seen a player smile so much on the field?), Russell Martin (the team's de facto captain) and Clayton Kershaw (who complements his abilities with an aw-shucks humility). Even Andre Ethier, torn between family and team, remains a fan favorite.

All the hip-bumping and high-fiving after a Dodger victory feels genuine. When Kobe acknowledges a teammate, sometimes it feels more like a relief that nobody screwed up.

Yeah, I know — if the unlikable Lakers win and the likable Dodgers lose, history will only remember the championship. Winning is its own reward. And of course I'm still rooting for the Lakers.

But victory is so much sweeter when the players look like they're having fun.

photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP


MR.F said...

Oh I dunno about this. I find this Lakers team FAR easier to enoy than the Kobe-Shaq era. The constant bickering, the on-court drama, the locker room divide. I still shake my head at it.

This team is intense, but they're unified. No they don't look like they're having as much fun as the Cleveland Cavaliers but unlike the Cavs, they're still playing. They could use more smilers, I guess, but compared to the Kobe-Shaq era, this team genuinely cares for each other, Kobe included. There have been plenty of regular season games where they were all having a ball, but now it's business time, and I respect their intensity.

I love how everybody on the Dodgers team is seemingly tight with everybody else, and they do make the Lakers look cold. But comparing this Lakers team to that of years past makes this one look downright warm and fuzzy.

Wesley Vento said...

Since when does being liked matter in sports? Sorry Orel, not to talk ish, but I could care less if people like Kobe. He wears the Purple and Gold and THAT'S what matters. You know who fans should like? Dr. Bus. He gives Laker fans a reason to hope for a ring every year, he and Mitch Cupchak. I LIKED Jeff Kent when he wore Dodger blue, because he was on my favorite team. How easy was it to like Don Drysdale? He wasn't all hugs and teddy bears.

I don't give a rat's tookus about an athlete's personality, show me on the field/court and I'll make my mind up based on that.

Eric Karros said...

HLaCK - I definitely think it matters. If any team - yes, even the Dodgers - became overpopulated with truly unlikeable players, my affection for the team would certainly diminish. My loyalty is to the team first, yes, but it's not the only relevant factor.

I'll admit it. I wouldn't mind if Orlando won. The Lakers have been my team since childhood, but to me Kobe is so unlikeable that it's at least partially turned me against the team. He's one of the greatest players in history, but I don't want to see him win. I actually like most of the other guys, though I don't exactly know why. With Gasol, maybe it's because of his matinee-idol looks.

MR.F said...


Kobe is very polarizing, but he's still a Laker. And he's really good and all.

Neeebs (The Original) said...

Fanerman: Mrs. Kobe is polarizing. I have no problems with Kobe, but I agree that he does not bring me warm and fuzzies the way Happy Hairston did in the day.

Mr. LA Sports Czar said...

I don't care about anything except winning. I don't want a team that I can like, I want a team that can win. This whole season they've played with a chip on their shoulder from last year's Finals blowout. I don't want this team to be happy or chipper. I want them to have the drive and determination to get the trophy.

NicJ said...

I could probably just look at the size of these posts and know this conversation was about Kobe. Truly one of the most polarizing athletes.

MR.F said...

Nic J, they're about more than just Kobe...

QuadSevens said...

This year's Lakers team has a hard working, no nonsense, do you job and win type of personality. They (including Kobe) can be likeable, warm, fuzzy, and all smiles after they bring home the championship. When that happens, people might sing a different tune about the team's attitudes this season.

Steve Sax said...

Jordan Farmar has big ears.