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Lakers blog profile: phred phredington explains why being a Lakers fan is 'all about the love'

February 6, 2011 |  2:43 pm

Possibly phred, at some undisclosed time or location

This is the 26th post in a series that helps you get to know members of the L.A. Times Lakers blog community. Feel free to send submissions to mgmedin@gmail.com


phred’s Profile: IT IS ALL ABOUT THE LOVE and
(phred Has To Say It Is A Good Life, Whenever He Is Sad or Cryin’ the Lakers Hoist the O’Brien.” And
phred Goes From Alex English to World Peace and Understanding In Less Than Five Easy Steps.

Step One; A Brief Autobiographical Sketch Slightly Segmented to Fit the Question Format.
Why I like the Lakers and My First Favorite Basketball Player: A Gilded Reminiscence.

My first favorite basketball player was Alex English. To explain, let me start by saying that I grew up in South Dakota and my family didn’t have a television. This was in the early '80s when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. My mom worked the 2-12 shift on weekends so she could stay home with me and my brother and sister during the week when my dad was working, so on Saturday and Sunday nights, my dad took care of us. My brother and sister were older and went to bed on their own, but I was young and didn’t like to sleep alone, so I would lie on my dad’s bed and listen to the radio with him until I fell asleep, then he would pick me up and carry me to bed. My dad liked sports, so that was what he listened to most of the time.  

In South Dakota, most of the games on the radio were the Denver Nuggets, as this was ostensibly the "local" team. So for most of the basketball season, I liked Alex English. But eventually (this must have been the playoffs, probably like '84-'86 or so), the Nuggets went away and I got to listen to Chick Hearn call Lakers games.  Meanwhile, at school I was starting to see posters and hear about this guy Magic Johnson, and eventually I got to watch a few games on TV. It was him and Larry Bird, and Bird was ugly, scary and mean-looking, while Magic was smiling and good-looking and nice to everybody. Sure, the Lakers also had this ugly old guy with goggles, but Magic passed him the ball and he scored a lot of points, so it was all good.

I was pretty young at the time; there was a lot I didn’t know about basketball. I think mostly it was that I started liking basketball because Magic did it really well, not the other way around.  And of course listening to Chick Hearn call a game every week while you fall asleep has to be some kind of programming. The Lakers took a firm grip on my soul.

Eventually I got older and starting going to sleep in my own bed on weekends, and basketball started being something that you talked about with other kids and an excuse to buy cool shoes, and everybody starting talking about this Michael Jordan guy, but by that point there was some personal pride invested in loyalty to Magic, and the Lakers were always the best team anyway. I didn’t have to worry about basketball; it was a nice hobby what with the GI Joe and the Nintendo and the Dallas Cowboys and the skateboarding and the dirty jokes and whatever it was you did in elementary school.

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My Most Heartbreaking Lakers Moment and How It Made Me Appreciate Basketball:

Then Magic announced he had HIV. That was devastating, because back then it was a death sentence. Magic was going to die. But to me (I was still pretty young and selfish, I admit), it was even worse, because HE WASN’T GOING TO PLAY BASKETBALL ANYMORE. That was the real blow.

I don’t think I was really a basketball fan until then. I know I didn’t think about it in those terms at the time, but it really was a case of not knowing what you had until he was gone. I couldn’t watch Magic anymore. The Lakers weren’t the champions anymore (sure, they weren’t anyway, but to me it was close enough. The Lakers not having the trophy at the moment was a small thing, soon to be fixed).  It was all about Michael Jordan, and that was my brother’s favorite player  -- I couldn’t cheer for him.

With that, and junior high and puberty and Joey Lawrence on "Blossom" and all, the early '90s pretty much sucked. By high school, I was cynical and sick of the Bulls always winning and whatnot. I still watched all the games anyway, though. You couldn’t not watch Michael, and the Gatorade commercial was pretty catchy.

There were some minor things to keep me going. Magic’s All-Star game. The Dream Team. Magic’s comeback (there is a thread here). I liked Hakeem’s Rockets teams, and when the Bulls played the Sonics or the Jazz, I could cheer for the Bulls without remorse, because the enemy of my conference rival is my friend. And I didn’t like this guy Shaq, and he kept losing. And Magic was still alive. He was doing to the worst thing that seemed like it could happen to a guy what he did it to the Celtics and the Pistons. He was winning.

Phred, circa showtime
When Basketball Really Became About The Lakers For Me:

Then stuff started to get better. I hit a growth spurt, girls started to like me, and high school got fun. And then I got good grades and SATs and I got to go pick a college. Pretty much anywhere. So I picked one in Los Angeles. Sure, it was a good school, with good financial aid. My brother was living in L.A. now. The weather was nice. But there was that other thing in the back of my mind.

The Lakers signed Shaq (It neutralized him. I could put up with his free throws when he was in a Lakers uni. The playoff sweeps, he had to work on.) They drafted this guy Kobe. I got to go far, far away from home, live in the dorms, party on weekends with pretty girls, and watch the Lakers on local TV three times a week, with Chick calling the games.  

So, so far I can’t say the Lakers were sustaining me in times of trouble. They were sort of mirroring my life trajectory. At least in retrospect. At the time, it was just cool.

Eventually, some of it wore off. It wasn’t getting easier for the Lakers. They were struggling.  They kept losing when it mattered. Del Harris, Nick Van Exel, Kurt Rambis, Dennis Rodman. I started struggling. College was hard. Both school and the Lakers were entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling.  I was diagnosed with a serious mood disorder, and thus had way more in common with Rodman than I wanted. (You see why I like Ron so much.) I couldn’t walk away from the game; basketball still wouldn’t let me go. There was a strike. The Spurs won the title. I watched it all, I enjoyed the Heat-versus-Knicks (Van Gundy versus Riley I, a great defensive battle.)

I quit school and went home to South Dakota to figure stuff out. Stuff seemed to be at low ebb. It wasn’t exactly my thought at the time, ‘Hey! I need something good to happen in my life! Maybe the Lakers will win some classic playoff series and the championship!’ But it happened, and it helped. Sure, probably my family and friends and inner strength helped in there somewhere too, Who knows?  I got a job I liked. I met nice people and pretty girls. The Lakers won again. Then, as the song goes, the tour was over and I went back to school. I figured I was ready to try again.

I was at the University of Oregon, living in the dorms. I met some people, but was still working to make friends. Then one day (story abbreviated for space) I walked by a dorm room, and there were guys inside watching basketball. I asked them if I could watch, they said, "Sure." One guy was a Lakers fan; most of the others were Blazers fans, but they loved the game. We bonded. (Longer, funnier but thankfully less true version; because I took two years off, I was 21. They figured this out, and then we bonded.)

One of the best years of my life. You can’t understand how great it is to watch the Lakers until you watch them with one great friend who likes the Lakers and three great friends who like the Blazers.  I still have the wrecked baseball bat from the greatest game of my life, the day Robert Horry beat the Kings and gave us a dynasty.  My friend, the Blazer fan, took it hard, the dorm room took it harder, and I have my one, only and greatest Lakers souvenir: a battered, dented, red plastic baseball bat.

I’m going on long, so I’ll skip most of the long years. The rest of the decade went OK; I graduated, moved slightly north to southwestern Washington but not out of Blazerville, got a job, then another job, then another job, went on with my life. I watched most of the Smush/Kwame Phoenix debacle on break at work (That team came really close. People really don't give those guys enough credit. One miss from Tim Thomas and we would have been at least in the WCF)

Step Two:  The Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog:

Life happened; after a couple of years, I tried to keep working and go back to school. It didn’t work out, and I started having a few free nights. I found that you could watch Lakers games over the Internet, if you found a helpful, newspaper-sponsored blog where people would post the game link, and you didn’t mind watching the game on the screen the size of a postage stamp; I didn’t. There were some interesting people on there.

The Lakers got Pau, the Lakers started doing better. I went back to school again, looking for the master’s degree. The Lakers lost. School didn’t take again. Life started to look rough. I didn’t have the confidence or the money to keep trying higher education. I’m sure some of you noticed, but it wasn’t a great time to go back to the job market either. I had a lot of free nights, a computer and the Internet, and not much else. But the Lakers were winning. I knew it. And I had the blog. I could watch every game, and so I did. It seemed to beat the drinking-and hard-core-pornography option. At my best count, I watched 104 Laker games in the '08-'09 season, and read  -- well, I have no idea how many blog articles and comments. The blog that I had dabbled in and argued about Luke Walton in during games had turned into an outlet. A nourishment of the soul, if you will pardon my glaring hyperbole.

Yeah, it wasn’t that bad. I still had family and friends and a combination of workers comp and helpful parents that staved off the really bad stuff. But it was something to do at worst, and at best, it was amazing. A great community. A modern Secaucus, a Gertrude Stein’s Paris to a young writer, an Athens of great Lakers civilization combined with an actual friendly, goodhearted (really!) and welcoming group of people that didn’t worry about what you looked like (OK, I’m good on that count, ), how much money you made (less good), or whether or not you were actually crazy. (Jury still out)

Sure, it was a little rough. The depth of the feelings and the relative anonymity of the Internet caused a lot of friction. But I had some experience with that. I worked for several years off and on (and on again lately) at a couple of residential group homes for messed-up kids with behavioral disorders. They were at times utterly homicidal, but there was one time when some of us in the staff came up with a little slogan we tried out, and started telling the kids and telling them to look past the minor irritations and petty arguments (which with them might involve bloodshed at times) to respect each other as people.  It sort of took, with one group of kids, for a little while. They liked saying it. They even started believing it, and making a little act of faith and believing that the other kid believed it too. Maybe if they meant it, and they cared about the other kid ... maybe ... IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE LOVE

So, I tried adding that to the end of my diatribe about how the guy yelling about Luke Walton was a moron. That guy wasn’t nearly as bad (I hoped) as some of the kids I worked with, and what I had learned about those kids was that deep down they really just wanted to be loved. Maybe I was right about that, and maybe not.

Stuff in my life kept happening. I still couldn’t find a job or a school, I was tired and running out of money, and my dad was starting to really show signs of developing degenerative dementia, and he and my mom were still in South Dakota, with me and my brother and sister off in completely different states. My brother and sister were starting families. So, I thought about it. The Lakers won the title. I kept thinking about it. I went back to South Dakota. I got my job back with the homicidal kids, a new generation that hadn’t learned (still working on that) that it was... well, you know. I started helping out with my dad. I sucked it up with being a long way away from my old life. (South Dakota? Come visit in the summer. See Mt. Rushmore and Wall Drug. Keep moving. It ain’t that great).

Y’all can probably figure out where I’m going here. It turned out I was kind of right. The blog ... no, let me make it clear ... the people in the blog.  Mamba ... justa ... LakerTom ... Jon K ... Blitz ... mage ... pfunk ... well, the band is playing me off, so let me say everybody ... were there for me. I didn’t have to run to them with my problems and ask for help, I didn’t need anyone to talk me off any ledges, I had family, I had support, I knew it was going to be ok. 

But in my life I needed a community. I needed an intellectual outlet. I needed somewhere to go that was about something great. And I needed something to go right, so right I could get behind it and ride it for a while through the dark, gray, hard other stuff. And I had it. I had the Lakers. I had you guys. I had the love.

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Step Three.  My Favorite Laker Ron Artest and How Basketball Can Change the World (Maybe):

I love the Lakers. I have been rewarded with great athletes, great people, great talents, vicious competitors, really valuable people, really likable and compelling people, and Ron Artest.
Ron Artest. The flawed, tarnished soul. Who came to us to show who he really was.  

I’m going to acknowledge Ron. He did what he had to do. He became a great teammate. He became a great ambassador of the game to everybody. He went to fans' homes to sample Filipino food. He sang (sort of) karaoke and (Celine Dion) (what the heck?).  He got in shape, he played hard, he struggled, but he was there and he was why we won.

Then he started really giving back.

Ron Artest is my favorite Laker, and not because of what he did on the floor. I wrote this after Ron decided to raffle off his championship ring to raise money for mental health. It fills this section in nicely, I think.

I think this is great. Aside from the fact that the cause is something I feel very passionate about both as someone with a mood disorder and someone in the mental health profession, the simple altruism of this is awesome.  

Of all of the championship rings that have been handed out in every sport, ever, this is the first time I know of that one was simply donated for a charitable cause. Sold to pay debts, hocked for drug money, maybe, seized in bankruptcy settlements, lost in drunken hazes (ok, I don’t really know of any of those), or just left around to gather dust in a display case, championship rings are fought over and slobbered over and obnoxiously worn occasionally.

But ultimately it is just a big, gaudy chunk of gold and diamonds for all that. Unless somebody melts it down and takes it apart someday, it might as well be plastic. It is just a symbol of something greater, something that isn’t physically tangible: winning a title. The value of this piece of jewelry -- impressive as it is at what, maybe $30,000, $40,000? -- isn’t really that much compared to what most athletes earn in either salary or endorsements. Even for an athlete like Ron Artest, who is getting paid comparatively less than many of his teammates, it’s chump change.The really valuable thing to Artest is, in my opinion, not the symbol of winning; it’s the fact of winning. The fact that he was on and contributed so much to the winning team won’t disappear when he gives away the ring.  

But ignore all that. Think what this means to Lakers fans who are thrilled at the chance to spend money to take part in something about their favorite team. Sports fanaticism is all about vicariously seizing some part of a great athletic achievement. Tickets to see the Lakers, a Ron Artest (No. 37?) jersey, a big coffee table book of black and white pictures, a DVD of behind-the-scenes videos. These fans now have a chance to bid for what has to be the greatest piece of Lakers memorabilia ever.   

Then stop thinking about that. Think about what this is actually doing. Lakers fans are suddenly given a chance to take part in a great effort to raise money for a great cause. Not only supporting their team, but through supporting their team, just helping people. Giving money for mental health treatment for kids in schools is a great thing. I can promise from personal experience that there aren’t people, especially trained people, there to turn to. Kids are miserable for years. I thought that the symptoms of a mood disorder were normal. If I’d never been able to go to college where there was help available, I might still think that. If I was even alive, that is.  

Kids hurt themselves, hurt other people, and they flat-out kill themselves because they don’t have someone there to help them to understand what is happening inside their head. Even if this saves one or two kids, it would be worth it, but this could potentially put hundreds of mental health professionals in a position to help. Of all the great things this can potentially do for kids though, the greatest thing has already been done. A great basketball player, a championship athlete with the Los Angeles Lakers, the biggest thing in basketball, has come out and said, "I have a mental illness. I see a therapist. I am dealing with it, and it’s OK." I’m probably not the only person who sees the parallels to what Magic did for people with HIV, but they are there. There is a huge stigma associated with mental illness that its victims don’t deserve.

There is nothing wrong with having a mood disorder, or seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist.  They can help. And I think because of what Ron Artest has done, thousands or hundreds of thousands of kids have been exposed to that idea. And I will acknowledge that as freakin' awesome.

Step Four: How the Los Angeles Lakers Can Change the World Even If Ron’s Raffle Does Not Do It, Because Honestly That Might Be A Bit Of A Reach:

Well, I think maybe you guys can see where I might be going with this. When I started out, I was a kid listening to the radio with no life plans or an agenda. When I wrote this and you are reading it, I’m a guy who is part of a loving community of people who are there for each other. People who don’t know much about each other, really. People who might be men or women, black or white or Asian or none or all of the above. Who might be Christian, Muslim, atheist or whatever. Who might Democrat or Republican or not. Who might be American or Italian or Indian or Australian or Mozambican. Who might be, well, a lot of things. You get the idea.  

But everybody on here has two things in common. They care about basketball, and they are a human beings. And we can sit here and talk about it. And I hope that eventually we can love each other as much as we love the game. And when it is all about the love, maybe there will be world peace and understanding.

phred phredington.  2011.

-- Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photos 1 and 3: phred phredington may or may not have been standing next to the Larry O'Brien trophy at an undisclosed location. phred phredington also appears in a school picture, likely with the Lakers on his mind: Credit: phred phredington

Photo: Magic Johnson stuns the nation on Nov. 7, 1991, with his announcement that he has tested positive for HIV and will retire from the NBA after 12 seasons. Credit: Steve Dykes / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest is introduced at Eastmont Intermediate School, where he spoke to students about the mental health issues he has dealt with since age 13. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times


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