My opinions aren't just a product of the Lakers more recent string of NBA titles. At least then perhaps I could blame it on jealousy since the Pacers haven't attained such lofty status. But even when I was a youngster, I had a distaste for the gold and purple.
Perhaps some of it began during the famous battles between the Celtics and Lakers during the '80's "Showtime" era of Los Angeles. The wars between "The Hick From French Lick" Larry Bird and the glamorous Earvin "Magic" Johnson. I've long been a Bird fan, and always rooted for him outside of games versus the Pacers. But in those games when Michael Cooper, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, James Worthy and company battled the Celtic green it was easy to hate the Lakers. Every heated rivalry needs a villain and Lakers were it.
Even into the '90's when the Lakers were in a bit of a down period while the Rockets dominated, Los Angeles still brought a furrow to my brow. Then came the fateful Pacers vs. Lakers NBA Finals battle. Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn to this day.
The current crop of Lakers brings back all the old distaste of the '80's. In that series versus the Pacers I developed a real dislike for Shaquille O'Neal/The Big Aristotle/Shaq-Fu/KaZaam or whatever he wants to be referred to these days. Watching him pummel and beat down the Pacers while referees swallowed their whistles made me scream at the television to the point my girlfriend made me go to the bar to watch the debacle.
So watching the Lakers go drastically south as Shaq sits idly by with his big toe on ice makes me smile with gratification.
Thinking a bit more closely on the topic, perhaps O'Neal is much of the reason for my more recent dislike. I don't mind most of the current Lakers, Kobe Bryant sometimes gets a bad rap (worse than O'Neal's albums), because of what he's done in the past. But meeting Bryant a few times while he was playing high school basketball in Philadelphia I think his personality at the time was a product of the surrounding atmosphere. A tough guy mentality in what can be a tough area.
But seeing Bryant play through multiple injuries this year in hopes of keeping his team afloat earns him my respect. Much like how I feel about Allen Iverson's drive and ability to play through injuries that would sideline some players for weeks. So these days I think that maybe Shaq is accentuating my feelings towards his team. His recent comments about not playing for the 2004 Olympic squad if Philadelphia coach Larry Brown leads the squad did not make him any more favorable.
O'Neal commented that "There's a pain on the outside of my knee in 2004. So if Phil (Jackson, current Lakers coach) was not picked, I probably would not play through the pain. . ." Very mature for someone who is supposed to be the cream of the NBA crop. Granted he does already have several Olympic medals, but what most would consider an honor is being twisted into a "if I don't have my way, I'm taking my ball and going home" fiasco.
So while the Lakers flounder with O'Neal on the sideline creating controversy off the court, I'll be perfectly happy sitting back and watching LA chalk up losses. Afterall, the Pacers are 8-0 and Bird might have an expansion franchise in Charlotte soon.