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"Hate" Crimes?

December 1, 2005 | 12:57 pm

Over the last couple days, I've noticed a trend with reader comments in reaction to our interview with Ken Miller of the Los Angeles Sentinel, or whenever people/journalists/other readers criticize Kobe and the Lakers in general. They're labeled "haters." They're "hating" on the team. They're spreading "hatred."  Offer a purple and gold opinion that's less that complimentary, and you risk being accused of "hate" crimes.

What I'm curious about, though, is how this ""hate" concept actually works. I admit, being 33, the expression wasn't huge back in the day for me, and I never grew up using it. But I've seen enough Lindsay Lohan flicks, rap videos, and Jerry Springer episodes that I am indeed familiar with the term. I get what it means. But I'm not always sure what sparks its usage. When does simple criticism cross over into "hating?"

Ken Miller spoke about the Lakers in mostly unflattering terms. He made some strong statements, some of which I agree with, some of which I think are way off base. But it's hard to argue that a 5-8 team lacking depth and concrete direction is bulletproof. Shouldn't readers expect, even demand, a certain amount of derogatory remarks? Some of Miller's criticisms are the same ones Brian and I read from all of you. For example, he thinks the front office is screwing up left and right, a sentiment 85% of the readers who accuse him of "hating" must agree with on some level, since almost every comment we get calls for Kupchak's walking papers. So where does that sentiment cross over from rooting for the team to improve into "hating" on the team?

Let me also make something clear: This isn't me being a journalist sticking up for another journalist. I'll say it again. I don't think Miller was right about everything he said. Not even close. I couldn't care less if y'all agree with him or like him, as long as you found him interesting (and judging by the passionate reactions, you did.). But if he has a "personal" agenda behind the "hating," I never sensed it, and we were on the phone with him for 45 minutes. He didn't seem happy that the Lakers are at an undeniable crossroads. He absolutely seemed like a guy who thinks the team is on a downward spiral, which he talked about in very blunt terms. But it doesn't get much more blunt than "fire Kupchak," which I believe is a website a reader started. Is that reader a "hater," or does he get a free pass, because he's a fan? Because either way, Miller and this fan are basically saying the same thing.

Do you understand what I'm asking? Is there an actual difference?

I often wonder the same question regarding Kobe barbs. I'll be the first to admit, Kobe lives a serious "damned if he do, damned if he don't" existence. And it's not always fair, especially now, when he's head and shoulders the best baller on his team, making the balance between taking over and involving teammates delicate. But if you think back on Tuesday's loss to S.A., and replay the events through the eyes of a non-Laker fan (or Laker "hater," for that matter), the truth is pretty obvious and simple.

Kobe was forcing shots down the stretch.

He wasn't feeling it, some of his teammates were, and they should gotten the ball more. Even PJ said so. The guy finished 9-33 with zilch dimes. That ain't productive, and there's no need to defend it.  On the flip side, that night didn't provide incontrovertible proof that Kobe's a selfish ballhog who's obsessed with his stats, will never be MJ, and needs to be traded. Absolutely not. It proved nothing other than the fact that he had a pretty bad game. But to call Kobe out after a night like that does not a "hater" make.

Or does it?

Seriously, I really wanna know. Can you say anything negative about anything Lakers without being a "hater?"  Does honest critique qualify as "hatred?" If that's the case, are Lakers fans forced to lie to themselves about the state of the team, lest they become "haters?" Does being a "non-hater" require blind loyalty and as much optimism as possible, even in the face of unpleasant truths? Or can the criticism come hard and fast, as long as a "Go Lakers!" immediately follows, so it's clear where the speaker's heart lies? Where does honesty end and "hater in the house" begin? How does it all work, because I find it extremely fascinating.