Andrew Rafner is a recently liberated fan and writer from Los Angeles. He owns two Sasha Vujacic jerseys and isn’t sorry about it.
Most people think of Southern California and imagine postcard views of palm trees and sun-soaked beaches and bikini-clad models with hair bobbed from rays of sunlight, but if you live here — actually, if you’re from here — you know that Southern California, and specifically Los Angeles, is ensconced by a thick rim of gnarled and thorny brush known as chaparral. It’s everywhere.
Now, one notable thing about the chaparral is the fact that it burns. Hot, fast and wild. I’m sure you’ve turned on the news in late-September or early-October (or if it’s this year, mid-April) and seen them talking about an out-of-control wildfire burning somewhere in Southern California. That’s the chaparral. Either by some combination of a random lightning strike or a hot, dry California summer, one of these fires breaks out, schools get cancelled and — I’m only speaking from personal experience here — you climb on your wood-shingled roof with your stepdad to hose it down so burning embers raining from the sky don’t ignite your house as towering flames peek over from the mountains a couple miles away. It’s the rites of the season. No. Big. Deal.
What people often lose sight of in the human drama of California Wildfire Season is that the burning of the chaparral is a part of how the ecosystem proliferates itself. Over the span of 15 or so years, brush grows lush and deep, fires spark, the plants burn and within that chaos and destruction, new life begins. Seeds find purchase within the newly transformed and charred land and the process begins again. Every. F—ing. Year. It’s just kind of part of the bargain we pay for 75 and sunny and Amoeba Music 363 days a year.
Right now, in this very moment, another staple of the Southern California way of life is undergoing a chaotic wildfire. Yeah, the Lakers. (UGH. I know, right?) Now, we all know the major beats of this story to this point — Dwight Howard is going to become a Houston Rocket and in doing so, he has upended one of the great givens in professional basketball and probably sports in general: the Lakers don’t lose out on big talent.
But they did. It happened. Get with it. And to be completely honest, didn’t we all kind of know it was going to happen? Hasn’t all the writing been on all the walls since he got to Los Angeles? Since before he even arrived in Los Angeles?
As the Lakers limped through the most middling and disappointing season in memory, the specter of Phil Jackson loomed over the team during the now legendary Weekend with Bernie. Will he come back and lead the franchise back to the heights they were supposedly destined to reach? It looked good. It sounded good. It made sense. Phil wanted it. The players wanted it. The whole CITY wanted it. All but two men, one whose rumpled baseball cap and stringy hair is known at horseracing tracks the Southland over and one who goes by the name Chaz, thought differently.
Mike D’Antoni was hired. People were confused. Things got worse. Hampered by injuries and the death of longtime owner and visionary Jerry Buss, the team continued to underwhelm until the literal weight of a Greek tragedy landed thunderously on the franchise. I cannot underscore how crazy and beautiful the poetic irony of Kobe Bryant tearing his Achilles tendon during last season. The Achilles! Named so after the one and only weak point of a demigod. The most competitive (and we all know that’s just a nice way to say “crazy person”) and driven athlete I have ever seen play any sport — or do any THING, for that matter — was now physically unable to withstand the blaze that engulfed his domain.
All the writing on all the walls. It’s just that no one wanted to read it.
Now, as we learned, chaparral wildfires are usually ignited by something like a strike of lightning or a prolonged dry period. Well, let’s check the almanac, shall we?
The Laker organization have been trifling with their own hubris for a while. In 2011, after being swept by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers unceremoniously, and uncharacteristically, fired many long-time employees. Decades-long tenured equipment managers, world-renowned strength and conditioning coaches, and player personnel executives, all fired under the auspices of “lockout cutbacks.” They were all, to a man, told they would be rehired once the lockout was over. When the agreements had been reached and our Lockout Twitter saints canonized, not one of the fired Laker staffers got a phone call. Not even a “How U?”
Not to mention, Dwight Howard and the Lakers’ insistence on a dominant big man in a league where dominant big men are passé and kind of outdated perfectly mirror the current state of Laker affairs: Old, out of fashion and out of touch. Like, have you seen the Laker Girls? Like actually SEEN them with your eyes? They still dress and perform like it’s 1986. White tennis shoes with athletic socks. Not very 2013. And when the Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni, a lot of idiots in LA started saying Showtime was on its way back. The sad truth was that if you asked many decision-makers within the Lakers organization, Showtime never left. Old. Out of fashion. Out of touch.
So here we are, right in the middle of a Los Angeles wildfire. One that will continue to burn everything the common basketball fan knows about the Lakers to the ground and leave scorched and blackened earth in its wake. At time of press, the only things we know that are happening for to this Laker team for sure is one less Dwight Howard and one more Chris Kaman added to a team that still desperately needs help in decidedly un-Chris Kaman areas. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will be entering their eighteenth respective years in the NBA. To put that in a little bit of perspective, the youngest of rookies entering the league this coming season were not even in Pre-K when they began their NBA careers. I mean, they’re both younger than my stepdad is today, but when he was their age, we were calling him “Señor Old Moldy Toast,” so there you go.
Their roster is riddled with holes I don’t even think they know how to fill at this point. The loss of Dwight Howard forced them to go to Plan B, but it honestly seems like that was just an empty manila envelope with those words written on it for show. The Lakers have NEVER had Plan Bs. Why start now?
The natural life cycle of the California chaparral dictates that this death and destruction will lead to an abundance of new life, not necessarily any stronger than that which it replaced, but new life nonetheless. With the Lakers, I’m not so sure that soil is tenable any more.