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Patriotism and fandom

Don Rogers

I know patriotism is a much more serious thing than mere fandom, but they come from the same seed. It may be that the minor offshoot can help explain the nature of us who criticize our government yet still dare call ourselves patriots. Even during wars, maybe especially so.

I grew up from age 9 in suburban Los Angeles, the years for forming attachments to teams if you are a sports nut. I was, and especially with basketball. Too little for football and too lousy for baseball, I stayed with basketball through high school, the only one on my team under 6 feet tall.

So it should be no surprise that I bonded as a fan with the Los Angeles Lakers more than any team. From Jerry West and Gail Goodrich through Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neil, they’ve been my team even as I’ve moved from one end of the country to the other. I like other teams, but this is more like family or clan in a way. The attachment in some ways defines me.



But my fandom is more nuanced these days. I even rooted against my team last season, so deep was my disappointment in its management. As they turned to their selfish young star, who hadn’t even beaten his rape charge yet, last summer about this time, I grew disgusted.

The Lakers sent the wrong guys on their way. Shaq, who will be the dominant player in the NBA for a handful of more years, and the guru coach Phil Jackson were dispatched nearly summarily. They not only kept the selfish punk when they could have exorcised themselves of this cancer ” on the court ” they appeared to kowtow to him. They made a stupid trade with the Miami Heat to get rid of the gregarious leader Shaq. They made it clear that the coach who delivered three straight championships and nearly a fourth had outstayed his welcome.

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Fine then. Shaq turned Miami into a team that I believe only injuries kept out of the championship this year. Kobe turned a team that returned to the championship series regular as clockwork into a team that lost too often even to nose into the playoffs. It was a minor sort of poetic justice.

Kobe plays the game all wrong. He’s so obviously all about himself, and I’m just talking about on the court. With Shaq and Phil, he could be harnessed, at least a little, just enough actually. But last year he was out of control. And, gee whiz, he’s not so good that he doesn’t need talent around him, as well as a coach strong enough to stand up to his sorry …

So I rooted against my team, even though my ultimate loyalty is iron. In this way I can see how my conservative father expresses disgust for President Bush and our foray into Iraq. I agree with Iraq, although the case was poorly made and post-war planning was atrocious. But I can see how family and friends and fellow Americns can be so angry at the administration while still being patriotic.



Just as teams we call our own disappoint, aggravate and even disgust us, there’s room in our love of country to hold these views of our leadership.

After all, in government, they truly do work for us. You know, that for the people, of the people thing.

If the people cannot express their displeasure, then we don’t have America. It’s as simple as that ultimately.

The Lakers will win me back. I never really left, although I did want them humbled. Humbled enough, maybe, to change direction.

If enough people feel that way about America’s leadership, it will do the same. That’s what democracy is all about.


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