This is a relevant topic now because the Los Angeles Lakers are in the throes of free agency, with the possibility of signing major players and could jump from being a rebuilding team to a contender next season. And when the Lakers are good, that when people (who don’t know me and my fandom very well) accuse me of being a bandwagon fan.
Let’s just get this out of the way: I do not live in Los Angeles, and I have never lived in Los Angeles. I have no real ties to the city, even. But I’ve been a huge fan of the Lakers for decades.
Granted, I get an out with the whole not having geographic ties thing. When I was young, there was no NBA team anywhere near Middle Tennessee. The closest teams were Charlotte and Atlanta. So, I don’t think anyone would look down on me for choosing to follow a team far from home.
Lots of people assume I must have jumped on the bandwagon at some point when the Lakers were dominant and just stuck around for the ride. But the way I got interested in the team is way weirder than that.
In the 90s there was a popular arcade game called NBA Jam that featured basketball players (and Bill Clinton for some reason) jumping 20 feet in the air to dunk on each other, and an announcer who said things like “boom shakalaka.” And, man, it was fun.
I used to play it on Sega Genesis with several of my friends. I gravitated toward teams with a great three-point shooter and a serviceable big man. I would shoot threes on every possession (I was ahead of this whole analytics curve, it turns out) and try to grab rebounds with the big man.
With this strategy, I immediately fell in love with the Indiana Pacers, with a lineup of Reggie Miller and Rick Smits. I got so good at using the Pacers (and other friends who played the game with me did as well) that my friends decided I should pick a different team instead. There’s an alternate dark timeline where I became a diehard Pacers fan.
The team I gravitated toward was the Lakers, using a lineup of Nick Van Exel and Vlade Divac. I got pretty good with that team, but never quite as good as I was with the Pacers. However, I used it so often that I started to associate with the team. I remember being at a friend’s house in 1995 and he was watching a basketball game on TV, and I was more interested in seeing the scores of other games at the bottom of the screen to see how the Lakers were doing (spoiler: not great).
I didn’t really get into watching the NBA until the Shaq-Kobe days, and while it didn’t hurt that they had a great team, I stuck with them just because I remembered choosing that team most of the time when I played NBA Jam.
So, there you have it. That’s why I root for the Lakers even to this day.