The hottest item basketball fans can get their hands on right now is a LeBron James Los Angeles Lakers jersey. It’s been really hard to be a Lakers fan as of late, with the team going five seasons without an appearance in the postseason and two years without a superstar following Kobe Bean Bryant’s retirement. So it’s no surprise that the team’s wishy-washy fanbase is excited to show up late to games in droves again. They’ll also buy a ton of jerseys, given LeBron’s move to L.A. But it’s not only people from Los Angeles County who are going to have the number 23 splashed across their chest and back. The hordes of bandwagon fans floating around—who loved the Cavs, then the Heat, then the Cavs again—are going to be Lakers fans now. And they’re the worst people on the planet.
Before you get all mad, because I could be talking about you, and you declare you’ve always “been a LeBron fan,” here’s a tidbit: That’s not how sports work. If you want to be a fan of a single athlete, watch tennis or golf. Follow Roger Federer or Tiger Woods. The meaning of sports, at least from a fan’s perspective, is to connect yourself to your local team, or one that you have a geographic tie to, and love it till the end of time, through the inevitable ups and downs. The years of losing only make the wins that much better. Changing your favorite team is forbidden, and the only exception to the rule is that if your team moves markets, like the Seattle SuperSonics did. But I doubt fans of the Sonics are rooting for the Thunder. As soccer legend Eric Cantona put it, “You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, never can you change your favorite football team.”
Let’s get back to the matter at hand: LeBron, the Lakers, and the people who are going to become fans of the team because of his move. This is nothing new for the franchise: How many people do you know who simply say, “I’m a Kobe fan”? Bryant only played for one team during his 20 seasons. Can you not just call yourself a Lakers fan? Why does your fandom have to be centered around one player? You can still like the team after the player leaves or retires.
I know there will be people who say this thinking is anti-LeBron, accusing me of not wanting to see him shine, not wanting him to get paid and win more. Nope. Not one bit. I don’t expect players to be loyal to teams. If they want to go somewhere else, by all means, go for it. Would it be nice if a fan favorite stayed with the team he’s played for for years and years? Absolutely. I also understand that teams don’t show loyalty to players like they should, and that causes some to think they shouldn’t be loyal to the team, which is still a cop-out, but I doubt that’s the reason that the majority of people are bandwagon fans.
We live in an era of highlight reels, where people find their favorite teams through clips on Instagram. They want to follow the best player, or play with them in a video game. I know people who became Atlanta Falcons fans just because of Michael Vick in Madden 2004. I doubt they still follow the team.
Nearly every kid you knew growing up was a Michael Jordan fan and loved the Bulls, only to be disheartened by the post-Jordan team. It’s no different when LeBron, Kobe, and even Russell Westbrook came on the scene. I’m not saying you can’t like these guys, either. By all means, be fans of them, too. But have a team and be loyal to it. It’s deeper than just liking a sports team. Are you the asshole from your hometown who actively hopes your local teams lose? Go to hell, and swiftly.
That’s the beauty of sports, or at least watching them and caring about them. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes things suck. Sometimes your team is the bottom of the barrel, but you stick by it. What’s the point of always following the best player and the team they’re on? You know how everyone talks a boatload of shit about Golden State Warriors fans, but how none of them could identify Chris Mullin or know that Mr. Cooper was the greatest ever to lace it up for the organization? Those who are fans of LeBron and no one else are the same people. Except those people actually like a team, although we’ll see how long that lasts.
The best sports experiences I’ve had have centered around being with friends and collectively cheering for the home team to win. I remember Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals, when I was at a bar in Boston, packed to the brim, everyone loaded on dollar beers, and the Celtics completed the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Lakers. The energy was unreal. Only thing negative about the situation was that there was one guy in a Kobe jersey there. Was he a Los Angeles fan? I don’t know. But I bet he would have told you he was a “Kobe fan.” Either way, the guy sucked and the Lakers lost, and he fucking ran out of the bar 30 seconds before the game ended and people emptied onto Commonwealth Avenue. Moral of the story: Don’t be that guy. That guy sucks. And don’t change your team. Ever.