I Crunched the Numbers, and Now I Really Hate The Lakers
Generally, people root for the team that is geographically closest to them. If you’re from Denver or a nearby suburb, you’re a Nuggets fan, and the Bulls are probably your team if you’re from anywhere in the greater Chicago area. I even saw a T-shirt once that made fun of us sports fans when it came to how pathetically simple this concept is: the shirt read, “The sports team from my area is superior to the sports team in your area.” Point taken.
But what about those teams we can’t stand—those teams we hate so much that if one of their players so much as breathes the wrong way, it pisses us off until their teammate does something even more agitating, even more unforgivable— like blink—and enrages us all over again? Where does this deep-seated, all-consuming hate come from, and is it healthy? (Please don’t answer that).
In order to research the subject, I conducted a study in the most professional and reliable way I know how—by, of course, creating an Instagram poll. I hear the best science is conducted through this medium, so the question I posed to my followers was to the point: “Which NBA teams (if any) do you hate out of principle?” and when people responded, I asked why.
Please brace yourselves because the results of this study are absolutely groundbreaking—are you ready?
As it turns out, everyone hates the Lakers.
Alright, I know. I should have expected this response, seeing as I also share this sentiment and have actively wished for the Lakers’ defeat ever since I was a little kid bugging my Dad to let me stay up for PST games on the off-chance that I might get to watch the Lakers lose. A part of me chalked all that up to being an exceptionally cruel eight-year-old, but I guess it’s true: hating the Lakers is like overeating on Thanksgiving or paying way too much for health insurance—it doesn’t matter whether you’re from Florida, Wisconsin, or New York; if you’re American, you just do it!
The reason for this American pastime is obvious and will probably please Lakers fans to read: they’re always good, and they’re always winning. Winners are easy to hate—I can admit that, and so can many of the people who responded to my poll by explaining that they “hate to see the same team win over and over again” and that “they’re just, like, always winning. It’s unfair.” Nothing about this is revolutionary, but what is interesting is why, year after year, the Lakers are a force to be reckoned with. How exactly do those SOBs do it? And can we still hate them for it?
Let’s get this off the table right away: LA seems like a pretty cool place to live. If I were an NBA player, I’d be more willing to move to Malibu than Milwaukee, too; especially once you disregard that one LA native we all follow on Instagram who posts too many photos of over-priced organic smoothies, then you can really start to appreciate LA as a beautiful place. But unfortunately, I can’t hate on the Lakers for relocating from the shit-hole that is Minnesota (no offense) to the paradise that is California, so I’d rather just focus on the other reasons the Lakers are always good and thus deserving of my resentment.
The Lakers are one of the oldest twelve teams in the franchise; that long of a legacy is essential, since it has clearly played a role in the development, growth, and solidification of the organization as a powerhouse. After all, the team was founded in 1947 and proceeded to win their first championship in 1949, but just being around long enough and winning early on can’t be the only ingredient in their recipe for 74-year success. If that were the case, then surely the Hawks would have more than just one lonely trophy by now.
Predictably, the root of the Lakers’ success is much more annoying. As was pointed out by one of my followers, it seems like no matter how bad the Lakers are on any given year, they always manage to get a star. Ever since George Mikan led the team to that first title (and four more after that), the Lakers have been able to acquire insane players like Chamberlain and Kareem in trades where what they lost was crazy little. They got lucky. But then again, in this world, luck is never influential as money is—so aside from some lucky deals, how else do they convince the superstars to wear that awful yellow and purple combo?
This brings me to my over-simplified and convenient point which hopefully justifies my hatred to you: the Lakers get what they pay for. It can’t just be the case that LA is such an enticing place to live that they consistently get some of the best guys to ever play the game of basketball (Chamberlain, Kareem, Kobe, Mikan, AD, Shaq, LeBron, Magic, etc). Especially when you consider how different that reality is in the NFL—in which the Green Bay Packers have the most titles. It begins to seem like using nice beach houses and year-round good weather as the leading selling point is clearly open to dispute. And the fact that it’s never really been a bad time to be a Laker definitely can’t be a result of luck.
In my opinion, the reason the NBA is so different from the NFL in regards to the versatility in teams who win has to do mainly with the salary caps. Unlike in the NFL—which has a “hard” salary cap—the NBA has a soft salary cap. This means that the NBA is designed to be lenient, allowing teams to go above the intended salary cap with the resulting consequence of reduced privileges in free agency.
Above the salary cap, there is also a designated luxury tax cap, and once a team exceeds that higher number, they are subject to a progressive tax on every dollar spent over that cap. The salary cap and luxury tax is supposedly intended to discourage a system in which bigger cities/markets (LA, NY, CHI, MIA) are automatically better teams, and to some extent, it does. But it wouldn’t be fair to talk about the success of the Lakers without accounting for how much money the Lakers make and how much less paying the tax affects them as opposed to, say, the Grizzlies.
Behind only the Knicks, the Lakers are worth a whopping $4.4 billion dollars—again, second in the whole NBA. Now, this shouldn’t matter if teams that bring in the most money stay under the salary cap, but they don’t. Lakers have exceeded the salary cap and have been subject to paying the luxury tax nine separate times, also second-most in the NBA. Nine times may not seem like a lot, but once an organization has set the precedent of being willing to pay the luxury tax, as a star player it’s financially smarter to sign with a big market in the hopes that they might exceed the salary cap again in the future—in other words, to sign with the possibility of a raise.
I will not entirely dismiss the Lakers’ success as a result of being the rich kid on the block; of course, the players work just as hard as anyone else to be the best. But it does strike me as statistically unlikely that only two teams in the NBA account for 45% of all championships. It also strikes me as extremely improbable that money has nothing to do with it. In a way, the Lakers’ success feels like a different version of the age-old ‘chicken and the egg’ question: what came first—do the Lakers win because they are rich, or do they get rich because they win? At this point, it’s hard to tell. Probably a little bit of both.
Honestly, though, I view this as a problem that goes beyond just the pastime of hating the Lakers; it’s part of the reason a lot of old-school basketball fans don’t like today’s NBA in general—the business model feels largely unsustainable. The NBA has created an ecosystem where it is possible to have multiple players of all-star caliber on the same team, season after season. This isn’t even taking into account the role that bonuses play in creating stacked teams. I think it’s safe to say that the business model isn’t changing though, since the money that the Lakers pay in luxury taxes conveniently funnels back into the NBA. For now, we’ll just have to keep hating the Lakers until they magically start losing.