Growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the early 2000s naturally meant that I was a Lakers fan. Kobe’s 30-plus shot nights at Staples, Shaq’s rim-rattling dunks, Derek Fisher’s last second daggers, Pau Gasol’s midrange J’s—all these are forever stained into my memory.
Our family didn’t believe in cable television, or so I was told—Saturday mornings were meant for the Little League diamond down in the Arroyo, not for staring at a screen. But they believed in sports, so there were these weekly moments when the Lakers would be on the local analog KTLA-5 channel, and I could alternate between watching the game and adjusting the antenna with its makeshift tinfoil cover so that the screen wouldn’t be too grainy.
This happy compromise meant that my father could sit there for a 7:30 p.m. start time with me and catch snippets of the game as well, even if that meant dozing off during a fourth quarter 30-second timeout.
I forgave him then because he was a Celtics fan. There was no forgiveness in 2008 when Boston won, and no forgiveness given during 2010: redemption year. The devastation that came with the 2008 Game 4 comeback and 39-point drubbing of my purple and gold in the decisive Game 6 and the jubilation of sweet, sweet revenge two years later still stick with me now.
The original big three of KG, Ray Allen, and the Truth for the goons in green meant that there was no sleeping to be had in May and June. Suddenly, the gentle ribbing of a Mamba brick turned into playful arguments, which turned into fierce verbal competitions, and these games meant the world to me. We fought for the fan support of my four-year-old brother; I had bought him a youth XS Lakers shirt, to which my father parried and riposted with a Garnett shirt of his own. Cackling and laughing at the added attention, my brother would run around the room carrying the gold shirt in his left hand, shamrock green in his right as we would try to convince him to wear the “right” shirt and cheer for the “right” team.
The two of us—my father and I—sat on opposite ends of the couch to emphasize our rivaling fandom. I imitated Kobe’s tongue wagging while he did his best KG trash-talking. As the two future Hall of Famers jabbed at each other across the court, so would we across our living room.
In those moments, we couldn’t have been any closer. Kobe and KG could leave the court at the buzzer and not see each other until the next contest, but we shut off the TV and returned to being family. The games intertwined with our relationship, becoming a bedrock in our shared trust. That continues, Kobe and KG retirement notwithstanding.
Sports can tell stories, but once in awhile, sports are the story. The narrative that stretched through my life up to college was dictated by sports, with personal maxims that were rooted in the game, whatever that game was.
To never walk between the white lines of the baseball diamond—always run and give the game the respect it deserves. That championships are won when the worst players become the best worst players in the league. That your coaches’ criticism means that you’re worth fighting for. That the right attitude can be worth more than talent. That practice doesn’t make perfect—perfect practice makes perfect. To treat the bench as a test of responding to adversity.
Though I was never cut out to be a Division I athlete, The Crimson sports board gave me access to telling these stories of the game that evolve into the lessons of life. Fencing or golf, baseball or squash, any true sport has the power to reflect character and lives beyond the strip, court, or field. If journalism is the first draft of history, then my foray into sports journalism must have been the first draft for who I am to become.
—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.