Who To Hate?

By Sean Carroll | June 10, 2008 11:24 am

We have been remiss in not addressing the major event going on right before our eyes: the NBA Finals. In my case, it’s literally before my eyes, as I live just a couple of blocks from the Staples Center in LA, where action resumes tonight. I fully expect to run into Jack Nicholson drinking himself into a stupor at a local bar later this evening.

Now, every year the NBA Finals are a momentous event, but this year is especially noteworthy, as the teams involved are the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics — a remarkable 11th Finals rematch between these two franchises. However, to a Philadelphia 76ers fan such as myself, one needs to say “the Hated Lakers” and “the Hated Celtics.” One or the other of these evil organizations has been responsible for bouncing my beloved Sixers out of the playoffs on countless occasions, most recently in 2001 when a Lakers juggernaut led by Shaquille O’Neal made short work of a plucky Philadelphia squad led by Allen Iverson — a David vs. Goliath matchup in which Goliath won fairly easily, as seems to usually happen in the real world.

So the question of “who to root for?” becomes one of “who do you hate less?” A truly thorny issue. Points to be considered:

  • As much as the Lakers are historically annoying, there is no question that the Sixers-Celtics rivalry is the deeper and more passionate one. Two Eastern Seaboard metropolises with inferiority complexes regarding New York, this rivalry blossomed over the course of the famous Russell-Chamberlain duels, the like of which have never been repeated in NBA history. (I will just note that nobody would ever have asked Bill Russell to star in movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
  • But then Wilt left the Sixers — to join the Lakers! One of an unending series of Philadelphia sports tragedies.
  • Overall, the Lakers are probably more deserving of our disdain. Boston fans, while notoriously parochial, are at least passionate about their team, while for Lakers fans basketball games are just another opportunity to appear on TV.
  • Both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were really annoying, even if one must grudgingly admit that they were good at basketball. But only Bird got into a fight with Julius Erving on the court. So that’s a point against the Celtics.
  • The Lakers are coached by Phil Jackson, who is quite a good coach but an incredibly irritating human being. After Celtics forward Paul Pierce was injured in Game One and managed to return to the game, Jackson was mockingly dismissive, scoffing that angels must have visited him at halftime. Phil Jackson does not deserve to win anything ever again.
  • LA is led by Kobe Bryant, while Boston is led by Kevin Garnett. A complicated situation. Both very talented, obviously. Kobe is originally from the Philadelphia area, but has managed to alienate his hometown fans so thoroughly that he cannot play against the Sixers without hearing a constant barrage of boos. More importantly, Garnett has always been intensely dedicated to the game and a consummate team player who struggled with inferior teammates and accordingly received all sorts of undeserved media criticism; Kobe, meanwhile, has always been a selfish and petulant media darling who undermined the Lakers franchise for a number of years by pushing Shaquille O’Neal out of town.

In the final calculation, and as painful as it is to say out loud — one has to root for the Celtics. Emotional attachment to a sports franchise is ultimately a completely irrational feeling, arising from unpredictable factors of geography and history rather than a sober contemplation of objective criteria. So you have to go with your gut, and my gut would very much like to see Kevin Garnett finally win the NBA Championship he so richly deserves. We’ll have to put aside the ugly reality that he’ll be wearing one of those horrible green uniforms when he does it.

And wait until next year.

  • http://tonguebutnodoor.net todd.

    Good call, Sean!

  • scott

    “Jackson was mockingly dismissive, scoffing that angels must have visited him at halftime. Phil Jackson does not deserve to win anything ever again.”

    I take this to mean you believe in angels?

    I scoffed too. He came back too soon, too easily. It wasn’t coming back from a major injury. It was just noticing that he didn’t have a major injury….

  • Mike Molloy

    Welcome aboard. This may be a good time for a reminder about the origin of the these-days overused “beat LA” chant. That started back in the Eastern Conference finals of the 1981-82 season. With the Sixers heading for victory in game 7 at the Boston Garden, the Boston fans expressed their support for the Sixers to beat the Lakers in the finals with a rousing “beat LA” chant. Just as with Sean here, it was largely motivated by the feeling that a great player who had payed his dues–Dr J–finally should get a championship ring. (The Sixers ended up losing to the Lakers in the finals that year, though they did beat the Lakers for the championship the next year.)

  • Bob

    Excellent decision, Sean! Alas, I am over here at CERN, and the big event is not the NBA Finals, but rather the European Championship 2008 in the sport that everyone except us calls ‘football’. Yesterday the Netherlands crushed Italy 3-0, which is pretty tough when you have a couple of Dutch, but a lot of Italians in your collaboration. Today Spain crushed Russia 4-1, which is also pretty tough with Spanish and Russians working side by side. The cafeteria is filled with people watching the games on a big screen TV. Somehow, I can’t imagine the NBA Finals on a big screen at FNAL…

  • johnshade

    “I will just note that nobody would ever have asked Bill Russell to star in movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

    And this was because: (1) Chamberlain was a more-imposing physical specimen than Russell; and (2) Russell, unlike Chamberlain and Schwarzenegger, was not a cartoon character.

  • Mike M

    The European Championships bigger than the NBA finals? What is the World coming to? Next you’ll be telling me that the rest of the World doesn’t really care about the World Series, which, I suppose, might have something to do with the rest of the World not being involved (give or take a few token Canadians).

  • Dave

    Sean, you missed the top reason to hate the Lakers! Kobe Bryant was to stand trial for rape, but he got off because of the harassment and death threats from Lakers fans toward the alleged victim. Lakers fans obviously don’t care if their star is a felon. So it is really a moral imperative that we hate the Lakers.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    If you normalize the loathsomeness of the Celtics to that of the average Boston professional sports team, they actually come out as being quite likable. This is one advantage of working in the same town as the Red Sox and the Patriots.

    In contrast, the Dodgers and Angels are substantially less odious than the Lakers. So the Celtics loathsomeness may simply result from their coming from a miserable part of the country, while the Lakers have no geographic scapegoat.

  • J

    The Lakers rule all!
    Beat the “Losers 3”!

  • karl strom

    To chime in about EURO 2008, as a Norwegian I face the same dilemma, but with naitons instead of cities: Norway didn’t make it through the qualifying stages, so who to root for? This has actually been a big discussion in the papers over here.

    The question is, which factors should count when deciding who to root for? Neighboring countries (Sweden is the only qualified team close to Norway, and rooting for your big brother is always hard)? Those who play the most aesthetically pleasing football? The underdog?

    This is even harder when it comes to the World Cup, because there former colonies enter into the equation. Should you go for the politically correct alternative and root for the mediocre African team, or go with the team you actually know something about?

    Crucial questions, these.

    PS: It’ll be interesting to see what the US does when, one day, it embraces a sport actually played by other nations (hockey is probably closest, but winter sports won’t be a global phenomenon until the next ice age)

    PPS: I root for France in EURO 2008, it being the most politically correct team of the football superpowers. But Germany will win…

  • Ellipsis

    One could also choose to hate annoying people who point out that every use of “who” in the questions asked in the post above should really be replaced with “whom,” as the word is being used as an object, not as a subject!

  • karl strom

    That is correct. I use the word “who” three times, and as far as I can tell two of them are wrong. Also, i write “naitons” once instead of “nations”.

    Did I mention English is not my native language? ‘Cause I think I did, right up there where it says I’m Norwegian. And you’re right, I do hate annoying people who point out minor spelling mistakes in other peoples’ posts, even if they try to hide it behind third-person safeguards.

  • karl strom

    Hmmm… Maybe a little touchy there. I just noticed the main post has the same mistakes, so I choose to believe that’s what Ellipsis meant. This is what you get for being so self-centered, I guess. I wish this site had an edit-function for comments, so I wouldn’t have to post a new one to correct the last one.

  • Ellipsis

    Yes, I meant the main post — but into the corner with you too! 😉

  • teadrinker

    2,000 years ago, gladiator fights were all the rage.

    Now almost nobody gives a flying fig.

    Same thing will happen with all sports one day, when
    we stop being animals.

  • http://femtoparsec.blogspot.com Kris

    Surely you are not counting Wilt being asked to star alongside Arnold as a point in his favor?

    Dave makes the strongest argument against the Lakers, though. It’s hard to get behind any team led by an accused rapist.

    As one of those unabashedly parochial Boston sports fans, I believe you made the right choice, Sean.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    “It’ll be interesting to see what the US does when, one day, it embraces a sport actually played by other nations”

    Who doesn’t play basketball?

    And baseball is played quite widely as well, as is evidenced by the fact that Japan is the current world title holder, having defeated Cuba at the world baseball classic.

  • Pingback: Rooting for Celtics « Entertaining Research()


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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