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June 05, 2008

Fair Weather Fan

LalakersSports fans have been salivating over this year's NBA Finals, which begin tonight in Boston between the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.

I'm looking forward to it, too, but not out of any particular love for basketball.

Sports just isn't my thing. I grew up in a family where no one really cared. My dad had been a kind of nerdy kid, who probably carried too many bad memories of getting beaten up for his lack of athletic prowess. Me too (although I wasn't bullied - just never picked for the team and was therefore on the bottom rung of our elementary school's social ladder).

Football? No interest. Basketball? Even less.

I did have a minor flirtation with baseball when I was younger. That was in the late 1970's, when my home town Los Angeles Dodgers were dominating the National League. A lot of people complain that

baseball is slow; that there are too many innings where nothing really happens. But that's the beauty of the game for people like me: You can talk right through it; and even get up from your seat and buy a beer, without missing a thing.

The Dodgers were blessed with one of the great game announcers of all time: Vin Scully. Other cities used to make fun of the fact that L.A. fans brought their radios to the stadium so they could hear Vinnie call play by play on the very game they were watching live. It made perfect sense to me: Vin Scully was an expert at filling in the long, boring stretches with fun facts and interesting tidbits about the players. By the end of the season, I felt like the team's star players were my friends -- I certainly knew more about them than I did about my real friends.

But the business of sports has changed radically since then. Today, it's hard to work up a "relationship" with the players; it seems like the minute a player like Mike Piazza or Shawn Green starts showing some star potential, his contract is up or he gets traded. I stopped following the team after their last World Series appearance in 1988 -- which they won. Kirk Gibson's 9th-inning home run in that series is considered by many to be the most memorable moment in the history of L.A. sports. And I got to experience the excitement... from the comfort of a sports bar, where I'd been watching it with a couple of friends and about 100 strangers who felt like family by virtue of the fact that we were witnessing a piece of history together.

You see, Los Angeles can be a lonely town. We are spread out over 469 square miles (thank you, Wikipedia!). And I don't think this figure includes Beverly Hills, Santa Monica or any of the other cities that are surrounded by L.A. (which are counted as part of our metropolitan area). Most of us do not work in our own neighborhoods, so we're like bubble people, spending hours every day in our cars, and rarely interacting with folks outside our litle circles of co-workers, family and friends.

That last group is a tough one. It's hard to make friends in Los Angeles, because after a long day of commuting to work or school, we tend to just want to go home so we can recharge our batteries for the next lonely day.

Angelenos have a reputation for being shallow sports fans. We are not noble, like the followers of the Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox, who support their teams through years of losing seasons. Attendance wanes in Los Angeles when the team isn't doing well. Hell, in Los Angeles, half the crowd leaves the stadium after the seventh inning because they want to get a jump on the traffic!

And I must confess that I stopped following my beloved Dodgers when they stopped having winning seasons.

But a funny thing happens to this city when one of our professional teams makes it to the finals: Total strangers talk to one another. It helps that so many folks provide ice breakers by wearing team shirts to the supermarket, or placing team flags on their cars. You can feel the excitement of anticipation which spreads beyond the boundaries of ethnicity or language.

It's like the entire city is having a party. And who doesn't want to go to a party?

So I'll be tuning in to the first game tonight, and rooting for Kobe Bryant & company to do their thing. And if they do it well, I may just watch the rest of the series...

Original 50-Something Moms Blog post, cross-posted at LA Moms Blog by Donna Schwartz Mills. Read more of her take on crazy Southern California life at her personal blog, SoCal Mom.

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