Paul Pierce's assessment of Celtics vs. Lakers fans feeds into stereotypes
It's been a long-held stereotype: East Coast sports fans are utterly obsessed with their teams to the nth degree. West Coast fans carry the reputation of being a little too casual, a little too apathetic and a little too distracted to seriously follow a sports team. That's why it was almost inevitable that a discussion like this would come up with the Lakers-Celtics Finals looming.
But it was surprising that Celtics forward Paul Pierce, an Inglewood native, would miss the mark entirely when comparing and contrasting the Lakers-Celtics fan base.
"Well, the fans at home cheer for us, the fans here don't," Pierce said. "I mean, I'm not at enough Laker games to really tell you how their fans are. I'm more biased really to tell you how their fans are. I'm more biased knowing that our fans are, I want to say, I think a little bit more knowledgeable to the game. I think a lot of celebrities come here to get out of the house to watch a game, to see the other celebrities. But then you've got your fans to mix with them. It's an interesting crowd, whereas I think our fans really come to watch the actual game."
When I first heard the comments, I really thought nothing of it, figuring he really just spoke to the reality that the atmosphere at Staples Center and TD Garden are inevitably different. A Lakers home game feels more like an event than a basketball game, with fans at times more fixated with celebrity sightings than what's going on in the game. A Celtics home game, on the other hand, entails nothing more than the crowd's electricity seemingly trickling onto the court.
Pierce muddied his point, however, when he suggested that Celtics fans are more knowledgeable than Lakers fans. In reality, both fan bases are equally devoted, but simply take different approaches.
I didn't grow up in the Boston area. I grew up in York, Pa., which is within close driving distance to Philadelphia and Washington, whose fans are also known for their devotion. I also didn't go to school in Boston. I attended Syracuse University in upstate New York where the student population's large contingent of people from Long Island, New Jersey and Boston often led me to joke I went to a school that featured the three most annoying accents in the world. My connection to Los Angeles is also fairly limited, since I've only lived here for the last 21 months, and I've often wondered how people out here who constantly complain about the rain would handle brutal winter temperatures.
I bring this up because I've seen and lived the cultural differences even though I'm both detached from Boston and Los Angeles. I grew up embracing the Northeast hustle and I embody the West Coast's laid-back attitude. I find the tendency of people on the East Coast to stress out all the time to be unnecessary, while I wonder why life out West moves at such a slow pace. That doesn't mean one area is superior to the other. It's just that it's different.
I've experienced sports back East and out West the same way. I've noticed how Syracuse basketball lighted up a town whose life largely centered around the school. I've witnessed several students who were Red Sox fans when they watched Boston end its 86-year curse in 2004, then rushed the quad in pure drunken and maddening excitement. And I've observed in downtown Los Angeles how the Lakers' 2009 NBA championship united a city during the parade.
You can argue that a Lakers' game atmosphere sometimes feels more like a night at the theater than an actual basketball game. But to say that that shows Lakers fans are less knowledgeable overlooks the fact that a) celebrities including Jack Nicholson and Flea know their hoops; b) Most of the Staples Center crowd doesn't properly represent the Lakers' fan base because of the insane ticket prices; and c) the crowd's laid-back attitude doesn't prevent it from reacting appropriately to what's happening on the court, especially during postseason. If Boston fans still want to suggest the Lakers only feature bandwagon supporters who come out of the woodwork when they win the championship, they should consider their own crowd. There were plenty of bandwagon Red Sox fans after their 2004 World Series championship.
Even though the atmosphere at Staples Center and TD Garden during the 2010 NBA Finals will carry different vibes, both crowds will be electric. After all, two teams steeped in tradition are bound to have devoted fans regardless of geography, showing that Pierce's comments about knowledgeable fans sounds far from knowledgeable.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce shoots around Orlando Magic forward Marcin Gortat during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at Amway Arena. Credit: Rhona Wise / European Pressphoto Agency