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GQ includes Laker fans among the worst sports fans

March 17, 2011 |  4:15 pm

If there was any such exercise that's the equivalent of throwing red meat to the masses to devour, this would be the perfect item.

Sure, there are plenty of Laker stories that cause division and uprising. There's an Andrew Bynum injury, questioning of Kobe Bryant's shot selection, debating the Lakers' all-time greatest players, Luke Walton's contract and any praise for the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat. But this one surpasses them all -- questioning the Lakers' fanhood. The latest issue of GQ Magazine ranks the top 15 worst sports fans in the country and to no one's surprise, Lakers fans are on that list. Below is the excerpt:

Congratulations, Angelenos! You are the fairest of America's fair-weather fans! The Lakers unfaithful abandoned their team en masse when Magic retired in 1991, then reconfirmed their fickleness by sending local TV ratings plummeting 30 percent after Shaq departed in 2004. Meanwhile, in these championship days, the Staples Center is more bar scene than sports complex, where fans can't be bothered to clap -- their hands are too busy texting. "The focus is sometimes not on the court," coach Phil Jackson has said. "It's on the people in the crowd." Which explains why eight box suites were recently combined into an offshoot of an abominable nightclub, the Hyde Lounge. After VIPs pass a clipboard gauntlet -- at a sports stadium -- they can eat $21 nachos at a crocodile-skin bar while waiting for the space to transform into a postbuzzer dance club. When it's time to leave, a valet will even bring around their bandwagon.

Really? GQ goes through such a "heavily researched, highly scientific account of the bleacher creatures, bottle-throwers, couch-torchers, sexual harassers, projectile vomiters, and serially indifferent bandwagon-hoppers marring our national landscape" and that's their conclusion? Spare all the homework. I could've given you that synopsis in 30 or fewer seconds and then presented it as some undiscovered observation. Too bad it's as boring and predictable a stereotype as Kendrick Perkins calling Phil Jackson "arrogant" and Pau Gasol "soft."

"I think they're accustomed to success," Jackson said in amusement about the rankings. "That's kind of a natural reaction when you have a lot of success. People enjoy the show rather than feeling they have to encourage the team in an element of fanatacism."

But by no means are Lakers fans simply star-gazers [OK, GQ put it a little less delicately]. That's all part of the show of course. There's no atmosphere that can duplicate Laker games, where you'll see Jeanie Buss allowing Justin Bieber to wear Jackson's championship ring, Ron Artest chatting up Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg courtside about a possible collaboration and Dustin Hoffman appearing in every Kiss Cam segment. But to pin Laker fans as mindless celebrity-crazed socialites is simply wrong on every level.

Go to any Lakers game and you'll hear fans appropriately respond to anything happening on the court. If  Kobe threads the needle through a double team, penetrates the post with amazing footwork and ends the sequence with a sweet pull-up jumper, the Staples Center crowd rises and cheers over Bryant's continued clutchness. If Artest throws up an uncontested three-pointer, runs the fast break as if he were a bull in a china shop or appears downright lost in running the triangle, the Staples Center crowd tenses up, ready to know something bad could possibly happen. And if the Lakers execute the triangle with perfect execution, the Staples Center crowd will marvel at the nuances on how the Lakers ran it. They just so happen to have the Laker girls, celebrity sightings and the beautiful people around them to enhance the experience.

"I think over here they don't understand in L.A. they have fans with swag," Artest said. "We be laid back. We got our shades on. We got our Grey Poupon. I know some fans who travel with Grey Poupon. How many fans do you know who have Grey Poupon? They're on the front row on the floor with Grey Poupon with nice silverware, just in case they want to get a slice of steak or some caviar. We got caviar at Staples Center. We got ladies dancing. We got swag."

But Artest also added something critical to understand about Lakers fans. The ones who arrive at the Staples Center are a small fragment of what makes up the organization's fanbase. These are the ones who show up enmasse to downtown L.A. during the Lakers parade, hoping they could catch a glimpse of the stars they've only seen on television. These are the ones who live in several parts of the country outside L.A. and follow the purple and gold by any means necessary, including satellite cable packages, mulitmedia coverage and box scores. And these are the ones who comment frequently in this forum. Describing these fans as fair weather and star crazed doesn't just fit a lazy stereotype. It's completely inaccurate.

With so many things to do in Los Angeles, such as hitting up Hollywood night spots, the beach and a wide range of diverse communities, many Lakers fans solely care about one thing: Watching and discussing the Lakers. They're eager to talk about things as universal as Bryant's clutchness and things as inside basketball as what Joe Smith says before the starters are introduced at games. They're equally excited about the Lakers during the NBA playoffs as they are during the dog days of August where there really is no Lakers news going on.

"The fans outside are hardcore," Artest said. "I'll tell you how they're different. You go into any neighborhood outside of Staples Center and talk about the Lakers. If you're not good, they'll show you how passionate they are."

So what's happened, Ron?

"No I'm not going to say nothing."

OK, fair enough. But I will. GQ can rank Lakers fans as one of the worst fanbases in sports. But nowhere will you meet fans of all various walks of life as equally passionate about their favorite team, whether it's at a Hollywood red-carpet event, a five-star restaurant, a mom-and-pop store or your next-door neighborhood. I'm not expressing this sentiment as a Lakers fan, but as one who interacts with them on a daily basis. For that, I can't thank you enough.

--Mark Medina

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