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Enjoy the ride

February 18, 2009 | 12:30 pm

Too much of the fun has been sucked out of sports. 

In large part, I blame a 24 hour news cycle that necessitates the elevation of seemingly everything into The Most Important Thing Ever! and too often focuses on tearing players and teams down, rather than celebrating achievement, mostly because it's a) always easier to rip, and b) there's an unnatural fear among some writers and commentators over looking "soft."

Much of that attitude has spread to fans, already embittered by rising costs that tend to squeeze out the best and truest of their ranks from actually buying a ticket and attending a game.  Armed with seemingly endless outlets to express themselves, many are absorbing the worst tendencies of lowest-common-denominator talking heads, adding cars to the negativity train. Sometimes it's deserved- Is it an enjoyable experience to cheer, literally or figuratively, for the Clippers?- but as a general trend I wonder if many are forgetting that the whole point of being a fan is to have fun, engaging in the escapism that is sports and sharing it with a larger community of people with whom they may or may not have anything else in common.

And here's where the Lakers come in.

Expectations after last year's Finals run are deservedly high.  Through the All Star break and Tuesday night's win over Atlanta, things are moving along as well as could reasonably be expected.  LA has the best record in the NBA, have twice knocked off two of their E.C. antagonists in Boston and Cleveland (Demons, exorcised!), are deeper than Socrates with the flexibility of Gumby.  They've had three win streaks of seven games, one of six, three of four.  Only twice have they lost two in a row, not once have they lost three. 

The Lakers are very, very good.  Make sure to enjoy the process of watching them.

It's easy to forget that whole "fun" thing, and that's a shame. Laker fans are incredibly lucky to have a team like this one taking the floor 82 times a season (plus playoffs).   There's Kobe, again playing with MVP form.  Take a look at Pau Gasol's splits, a metronome of consistency and quiet efficiency, evidenced by his triple double Tuesday night. Andrew Bynum will, knock on wood, return, and his development is certainly exciting.  The Lakers average more points than any team in the league, created off the NBA's second highest APG.  They get on the boards.  And while there's work to be done on the defensive end (especially against lesser opponents) they're hardly a train wreck on that side of things, either.

And they tend to do good work against the good teams, meaning bright light, prime time affairs are rarely a disappointment.

Nearly every night Lakers fans are treated to moments of top shelf basketball.  Trips with great ball movement, or a great sequence from 24.  Part of what made the Showtime teams so exciting was that a) they won, and b) they had some verve.  Every time they took the floor, something very cool was bound to happen.  There's an element of that with this year's group.  Even when they lose, the games tend to be entertaining.  The heartbreaker in San Antonio? Results aside, it was 48 minutes impossible for a basketball fan not to enjoy.  Both losses to Orlando were exciting, high quality affairs. Utah?  A great effort from an exhausted team. The clunkers (Sacto, Charlotte, for example) represent a very small percentage of total viewing.

None of this is to say fans shouldn't expect the best from their franchise.  It's (literally) not cheap to be a fan these days.  Just don't lose perspective in the process.  Sports aren't more important than the economy, or family, health, education, and so on.  They exist in part to distract us from those things, providing an outlet uncluttered by the stuff that really matters. 

Everyone is looking for a parade this June outside Staples.  I think the Lakers are the favorites, and have a great shot to make it happen. It would be a shame, though, if that day arrived and some fans realized they were so wrapped up in the endgame that they couldn't enjoy the journey.