Debunking the Myths and Double Standards of LA Lakers Critics
Thinking about the Los Angeles Lakers brings a wide range of ideas to mind.
Some people conjure up images of the big city of Los Angeles, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, winning championships, NBA legends, and of course the Laker Girls.
Yet, others tend to think of the Lakers as buying their way to championships and a franchise full of big egos. The term "LA Fakers" is popular among Laker haters, who consider the Lakers to be the "New York Yankees of the NBA."
Any time a team wins a lot, it's going to garner a lot of fans and critics. Just behind the Boston Celtics with 16 NBA championships, the Lakers have the most wins in NBA history with 3,027. The team has made the playoffs 57 times, 8 more than Boston despite being in the league for 2 fewer years.
Since 1980, the Lakers have won 10 championships and have been to 16 NBA Finals. Over the past 30 years, the team has been by far the most successful of any US professional sports franchise. And if that were not enough, the Lakers boast a .619 all-time winning percentage--the best of any major US sports franchise.
Some of the criticisms that are thrown towards the team may be fair. But taking a close eye at others proves that they are either myths or hold the team to a double standard.
In this slideshow, I will try to debunk these myths and double standards.
Let me know what you think of the arguments I lay out: whether they hold or not. Also, if there are any myths or double standards I have left out, feel free to comment on those.
"The Lakers Win Because They Get All The Calls"
This is one of the common lines Lakers critics like to use. A recent example they bring up is how in Game 7 of this year's NBA Finals, LA shot 20 more free throw attempts than Boston, including many in the deciding 4th quarter that allowed LA to come back from a deficit.
Another example is Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals where Los Angeles shot 27 free throws in the 4th quarter. This was referred to in the Tim Donaghy scandal, in which he alleged that the NBA wanted to force a Game 7.
However, the notion that LA "gets all of the calls" is naive and biased in using selective omission. For example, few LA critics will acknowledge the calls that Boston got away with during the Finals this year or in 2008: illegal moving screens from Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett, pushoffs from Ray Allen that should have been called as offensive fouls, and phantom fouls called on Kobe Bryant in Game 2 of the 2010 Finals.
(In this video clip, see if you can point out the 4 times in this one sequence Kevin Garnett sets an illegal screen. From the 2008 Finals, but similar to his play in 2010).
Also, in that Game 2 was the infamous out of bounds play which replays showed the ball was clearly off of Kevin Garnett. Even after watching the video, the ball was awarded to the Celtics who went on to win a close game.
If LA always got the calls, then the Lakers might have won the 2008 NBA Finals as well. In a Game 2 Celtics' win, Boston shot 38 free throws compared to 10 for the Lakers. Apparently, the hacks made on Kobe and Pau Gasol didn't need to be called, but "superstar" Leon Powe deserved to have more free throw attempts than the entire LA squad with 11.
Then in Game 4 of that series, the same kind of non-calls with LA and a parade at the free throw line for Boston in the 3rd quarter allowed the Celtics to erase a 24-point deficit and win the game.
In the 2004 NBA Finals, Detroit shot 171 free throws compared to 111 for LA, equalling 54% more attempts. Hardly sounds like LA got favored in that series.
Now back to the famous 2002 series against Sacramento. Even if the NBA conspiracy actually happened in Game 6, few critics conveniently forget what happened in Game 5.
During that game, the score was close towards the end of the 4th quarter. When replays showed the ball going off of Sacremento, the Kings were then awarded possession which led to a Mike Bibby jump shot.
Following that, Kobe missed on a game winning shot attempt, but replays showed Bobby Jackson grabbed his jersey and fouled him. With two key bad calls or non-calls against LA, it's fair to say that the Lakers should have won that game. Even if the conspiracy happened in Game 6, Game 5 cancels any advantage LA received from Game 6.
"LA Would Have Lost In The Finals If Kendrick Perkins Was Healthy"
Many NBA pundits point out the injury that Kendrick Perkins suffered in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals led to the Celtics' defeat by Los Angeles. While this may have contributed to LA having some advantages, a few things must be considered.
First, with Perkins out of the lineup, Boston lost some rebounding inside. But that meant that Rasheed Wallace was able to come in the game, spread the floor with his 3-point shooting which allowed more room for Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce to operate on offense.
Wallace had a great offensive game in Game 7 that Perkins would likely not have had. In addition, Wallace provided some tough defense against LA's bigs in that game.
But while attention was given to Perkins going out, one must consider the health of Andrew Bynum. Here's a 7-0, 285 lb player that is bigger than anyone Boston could have thrown at LA. Before his injuries each of the past few years, he has played at an all-star level averaging at times over 20 ppg and 10 rpg--all as a second or third option on offense.
A hobbled Bynum had 21 points and 7 blocks in Game 2 of this year's Finals. Imagine what a healthy Bynum could have done to the series. In short, LA probably would have won the series in 5 or 6 games.
Then there is the 2008 NBA Finals where Bynum was out and Trevor Ariza had just returned from an injury that made him largely ineffective. That led to Vladimir Radmanovic guarding Paul Pierce and shifted the defensive assignments in Boston's favor. Perkins got to defend Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett defended Lamar Odom.
Perhaps if a healthy Bynum and Ariza played in that series, LA would have been able to slow down the series MVP Paul Pierce and do a better job rebounding and defending the paint, leading to a series win for LA.
It's just intriguing how Bynum's health, the counterpoint to the Perkins injury argument, is "conveniently" left out.
"The NBA's A Conspiracy: It Wants Big Market and Marquee Finals Matches"
Many people assert that the NBA, in order to boost ratings and make money, tries to get teams from big markets to compete in the NBA Finals. When this doesn't happen, they claim that the league tries to setup marquee matchups between top players.
If this is truly the case, then why did San Antonio (which is one of the smallest NBA markets) make it to the championship round 4 times between 1999 and 2007? I don't think the San Antonio-Detroit Finals in 2005 would have come about if there was such a conspiracy, as that series had very low ratings. Despite having superstar Tim Duncan play for the Spurs, he has never been known to boost ratings like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Lebron James have.
Speaking of Bryant and James, it's interesting to note that despite all the promotions of the "two MVP candidates" during the 2009 playoffs run, the Cavaliers failed to make it to the Finals. Surely, the NBA would have seen its ratings soar if Lebron's Cavaliers squared up against Kobe's Lakers.
Furthermore, the league could have put together an LA Lakers-Chicago Bulls series back in the late 1990s that would have featured Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaq, and Kobe (not to mention two of the biggest markets).
The idea of this conspiracy seems to have too many holes in order to hold up.
"The Lakers Win Because They Are The Most Talented Team"
This is one of my favorites--the notion that LA wins because it is clearly the most talented team. The last time I remember LA being the most talented team was in 1998 when LA had 4 all-stars and a cast that included Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, and Elden Campbell. But they didn't make it to the NBA Finals.
Let's take a look at NBA teams during the years the Lakers won over the past decade.
In 2000-1, most NBA analysts pointed out that LA may have had the best 1-2 punch in the league with Shaq and Kobe, but thought that Portland was a better team from players 3-10. During this time period, Portland was considered the most talented team, with players like Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudemire, Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith, Detlef Shrempf, Bonzi Wells, Arvydas Sabonis, Dale Davis, and Shawn Kemp.
In 2002, the same thing was said in reference to the Sacramento Kings. That roster included names like Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu, Scott Pollard, and Gerald Wallace.
In 2009 and 2010, Cleveland had the best records in the league while Boston had 3 all-stars and a talented supporting cast. But most NBA observers thought the Orlando Magic were the deepest team in the league, with the NBA's most dominant center in Dwight Howard and a cast that has included top talents like Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and Hedo Turkoglu. In fact, most analysts noted that Orlando was two deep--meaning the team had two good players at each position.
So why didn't these other teams win if they had more talented rosters?
As the 1998 LA Lakers squad found out, sometimes having the most talent doesn't matter as much as how the team plays together. It wasn't until Phil Jackson came to LA to coach the team that the players figured out how to do that.
"The Lakers Aren't That Great Because Of All The Finals Series Losses"
Glossing over the 16 championships that the Lakers have won, critics are quick to point out the 15 championship series that the team lost. They claim that the Lakers are not all that great if they only win about 50% of their Finals series.
First off, comparing this record to other leagues show that these types of records happen to some of the best franchises. For instance, the Detroit Red Wings have lost 13 of 24 Stanley Cups the team has played in. The Toronto Maple Leafs have similarly only won 11 of its 20 Stanley Cup series. Yet, both are considered some of the all-time greatest NHL teams.
Second, let's look at some of the series the Lakers have lost in the Finals.
During the 1960s, the Lakers were the class of the Western Conference with NBA legends Elgin Baylor and Jerry West on the roster. Yet, the team lost all 7 series against Boston. In 6 of those years, Boston was clearly the better team as it had the better record and boasted four or five Hall of Famers to LA's two.
In 1969, LA might have pulled out the win in Game 7 had Wilt Chamberlain not gone down with an injury at the end and Coach Van Breda Kolff decided not to keep him out of the closing minutes of the game.
In 1984, the picture above references Kevin McHale's famous clothesline of Kurt Rambis in Game 4. Had this happened today, McHale would have been assessed a Flagrant 2 Foul, thrown out of the game, and probably would have received a suspension for at least another game or two. Instead, Boston won the game in a close overtime victory and ended up winning the series.
Injuries plagued LA for the 1989, 2004, and 2008 Finals series. In 1989, both Byron Scott and Magic Johnson went down with injuries leaving LA with a weak backout to fend off Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Vinnie Johnson of the Detroit Pistons.
During the 2004 Finals, LA could have used Karl Malone, but this NBA legend suffered some injuries that slowed him down and limited his playing time against Detroit's front court players.
I already mentioned the injuries to Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum that may have cost the Lakers a series win over a healthy Boston squad in 2008.
True, the Lakers may have lost a lot of championship series. But with a few calls going a different way and better health issues, the franchise might have racked up an additional 3-5 titles. Clearly, a detailed look at the Laker's Finals record tells more than just the plain numbers.
"LA Acquires Its Talent Like The Yankees In Order To Win"
From Babe Ruth to Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees have acquired talent that has led to multiple World Series wins. By adding players like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, and Pau Gasol via free agency or trades, many compare the Lakers' approach to winning with the Yankees.
This has proven to be a clear double standard as other teams have acquired top talent in order to win. Most recently, people can point to the Boston Celtics acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett which led to the win in 2008.
In 1980, the Boston Celtics made another shrewd move by making a lopsided pre-draft trade that landed 9-time all-star Robert Parish, a driving force behind the team's 3 titles in the 1980s.
In 1982, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired NBA legend Moses Malone which led to a title in 1983. Similar events happened when the Houston Rockets acquired Clyde Drexler in 1994 and the Chicago Bulls traded Will Perdue and received Dennis Rodman in 1995.
Of course, this excludes what many have speculated as blatant attempts to land top free agents. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers "conveniently" put the 2003 season in the tank in order to have the best chance at landing Lebron James in the upcoming draft.
A similar thing happened in 1997 when the San Antonio Spurs had a poor season right before Tim Duncan was sure to be in the draft. While David Robinson went down with an injury during that season, quite a few have analyzed how the Spurs hardly played to their potential that season.
And these examples don't even include the way the New York Knicks acted the last 2 years in order to land Lebron James in free agency.
In short, the Lakers have never thrown away season in order to get a certain draft pick or marquee free agent. All the greatest franchises have acted in similar manners of acquiring talent via trades and free agent signings. And behaving like this--making smart business moves--takes nothing away from these teams.
"Kobe's Too Arrogant To Like The Lakers"
This is my personal favorite reason that Laker critics use because it speaks of an obvious double standard.
People speak of Kobe's arrogance, which I acknowledge is one of his character flaws. However, this trait is found in many of the greatest athletes, including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Muhammad Ali. Perhaps arrogance is something that helps make players into superstars.
NBA pundits also point out the major ethics incident in Kobe's career--the Colorado rape accusation. Although this is a country where a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, many have unfairly labeled Kobe as being guilty. For all we know, the woman who accused Kobe could have had consensual sex and then tried to get as much money out of Kobe as possible.
While no one should condone the fact that Kobe cheated on his wife, this is not much different from the stars of the most popular NBA teams of the 1980s and 1990s. The Chicago Bulls were highly popular in the 90s, but Michael Jordan once punched a teammate in practice and cheated on his wife on multiple occasions (leading to his costly divorce settlement).
Larry Bird of the popular 1980s Celtics teams refuses to acknowledge a daughter from his first marriage.
Not to be outdone by ethical lapses, Magic Johnson contracted HIV by having countless affairs.
In short, anyone who doesn't like the Lakers because of Kobe's "unethical behavior" and arrogant attitude should also not be a fan of Jordan's Bulls, Magic's Lakers, Bird's Celtics, or Lebron James' Miami Heat and Cavalier teams.
The Lakers franchise is hit every day by criticisms from sports fans and NBA pundits. While some are legitimate, it's unfortunate that many feel the need to create myths and double standards.
All great sports franchises should be recognized in any sport. It's easy for hatred directed towards teams and players to grow as fans' emotions become involved.
But the Lakers organization is one of the best-run teams in professional sports. Under the guidance of Jerry Buss, the team has been a constant winner while also having a profound positive economic effect in Los Angeles and for the NBA.
This is a team whose wins make the second biggest market in the US happy. A franchise that brought us Showtime in the 1980s, as well as the Laker Girls (which led to all the NBA dance squads of today--something we all could be grateful for).
And to any constant critics of the Lakers, isn't that last point at least one reason to look at the organization in a more positive light?