(Christian Petersen/NBAE/Getty Images)

And so, here we are.  Having defeated Darth Vader, we come face to face with the Emperor.

You can feel the contempt.  You can taste the air of superiority.  You can sense the arrogance.  You can hear them saying they can’t fail.  You can see them looking past our shoulders to Boston or Orlando.

Good grief, do I despise the Lakers.

Living in Los Angeles, you can imagine how I feel, seeing the Laker flags sprout on cars in April.  Local sports-talk radio, treating the team like Gods.  Everyone laughing and shaking their heads and calling Phil Jackson a genius as he plays another obvious head game and casually mentions to the media that he feels Steve Nash carries the ball — never mind that Kobe Bryant gets away with it at least as much, and that if the refs called the violation every time it was committed in the NBA, Allen Iverson wouldn’t have had a career, John Stockton would have been a backup, and pro basketball games would take six hours each because of all the whistles.

(Mr. Jackson happens to be a very good coach, and an extremely good manager of personalities.  He’s also had the great good fortune to coach the best player of all time, and arguably three others who are in the top twenty — Pippen, Shaq and Kobe.  I’d like to see him coach the Timberwolves…then we’d really see how good he is.)

Everyone in this town claims to be a Laker fan, but I know better.  The number of true, hard-core Laker fans isn’t nearly as large.  It’s like how, over the years, the number of people who claimed to have been there the day Babe Ruth called his home run shot grew to the millions.  There are real Laker fans, who stuck with them during the Nick Van Exel years, or the Kwame Brown years.  But I invite you to come to LA and listen to local radio with me after the Lakers lose a game. People jump off the bandwagon as though it were engulfed in flame.  Phil Jackson has lost the team.  Kobe needs to be traded while he still has value.  Pao Gasol complains too much.  Ron Artest isn’t half the player Trevor Ariza will be.  Lamar Odom should be taken out with the recycling.  Then the Lakers win the next game, and all is forgiven, all is forgotten, and this is the greatest team since the Allies at Normandy.

The worst of it is, they get a pass on all of it because they can smile smugly and point to that end of the Staples Center where all the banners are.  They are the most successful, richest, most decorated team in NBA history.  You can’t argue with the scoreboard, it’s true.

But all those things don’t make them any more likable to me, and that’s true, too.

George Will once said about the New York Yankees, “Rooting for them is like rooting for US Steel.”  Meaning, you’re not exactly putting yourself out there as a fan.

Much as I dislike the Spurs, it’s always been about the Lakers.  How they’ve never had to struggle for an extended period of time.  How fortune, luck, and perhaps the conspiracy gods have always seemed to smile on them.  How they traded a pack of nobodies for Wilt Chamberlain, then did it again to get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  How they took advantage of the inept management of an inferior organization to get the draft pick that became Magic Johnson…then did it again to get Kobe Bryant.  Then did it again to get Pao Gasol, a superstar in his prime, for peanuts on the dollar.

But hey, if you can do it, you do it.  There’s nothing wrong, or illegal, about what the Lakers have done to win.  I’m sure the Suns, or any other team, if they had the resources, they’d do the very same things.  But they don’t.  They can’t.  And so we’re all left to fume, and the Lakers…the Lakers could care less.

It’s rare they even acknowledge competition.  Jackson takes his playful little digs, but there’s a lot of talk around here every year how the regular season and the playoffs are just appetizers for the Finals they expect to reach every season.  One time, in 1990, after the Suns won the opening game of a playoff series against the Lakers, an LA columnist wrote the most dismissive, superior, snooty story you can possibly imagine, metaphorically patting the Suns on the head while supposedly preparing to spank the whippersnappers back home to the desert.  Re-reading it today still makes my teeth clench.  Because it’s always been like this for the Lakers, whether the object of their disdain is the Blazers, the Jazz, the late Sonics, the Suns, whoever.

Am I griping?  Am I airing sour grapes?  Am I envious?  You’re darn right I am.  I want what they have.  I want it for the guys who really deserve it.  Not just Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Grant Hill, but for Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, Rex Chapman, Wes Person, Dan Majerle, Danny Manning, Elliot Perry, Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley, Mark West, Tom Chambers, Jeff Hornacek, Eddie Johnson, Nick Vanos, Larry Nance, Walter Davis, Ronnie Lee, Alvan Adams, John MacLeod, Paul Westphal, Gar Heard, Curtis Perry, Ricky Sobers, John Shumate, Connie Hawkins, Dick Van Arsdale, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Jerry Colangelo and Joe-freaking-Proski.  And I want it for the fans who never jump off the Suns bandwagon when the team dips below 50 wins in a season, the ones who’ve come back after year after year of heartbreak, like my future father-in-law, who was, depending on who you ask, either the first or second season-ticket holder EVER in Suns history, and who has renewed every year since.  I want it for him.  And, dang it, I want it for me.

Already, the verdict is in around the country, and certainly here in LA.  There’s no way the Suns can beat the Lakers.  They don’t have the inside strength.  They don’t have the coaching pedigree.  They don’t have the big game experience.  They don’t have the tradition.  They don’t have the playing style conducive to playoff basketball.  They’re only here because Dallas choked and San Antonio lost the map to the Fountain of Youth.

Well, let me remind you all of two things.  The first is ancient history, but once upon a time, a Suns team no one gave any chance played in the Western Conference Finals against the previous season’s champs, the team everyone assumed would waltz back into the Finals, the team with the best record in the league, with the best offense and suffocating defense, with experience and poise, with the best small forward in the league, and slightly fragile chemistry.  Aside from the “best record” part, doesn’t that sound like this year’s Lakers?  I was describing the Rick Barry-led Warriors of 1976, and the Suns beat them.

The second thing is, if you believe in omens (and why not?  What do we have to lose?), it was seventeen seasons between the Suns’ first Finals appearance, in 1976, and their second, in 1993.  Which was seventeen years ago.

I think the Suns can win.  I believe the Suns can win.  I look at this team and see some things I haven’t seen in other incarnations of the club — a quiet confidence to match their enthusiastic high energy.  A bench the starters can lean on.  An unlikeliness to push the panic button and let tempo be dictated to them.  An ability to take an opponent’s best shot and remain standing.  Genuine affection between teammates. And a certain, intangible something I can’t identify…I’d hate to call it “destiny,” because I hate when people speak in those terms for sports teams.  But a sense that this team deserves good things to happen to it.

I may be proven wrong, I may get my heart broken yet again, but I will never, ever, give up my seat on the bandwagon.  And oh, how I want to see the Laker fans flee theirs when the Suns set it on fire.  Those who remain on will simply shrug their shoulders, of course, turn up their noses at us, and point to their banners.  Fine.  I can live with that, if our team is playing into June and theirs isn’t.  I’ll take that any time.  I want to see those flags come off the cars.  I want to hear the excuses.  I want them to see our taillights, just once, disappearing up ahead around the bend.

Beat L.A.

P.S.  That playoff series in 1990 that brought about that terrible newspaper column?  The Suns won it.

P.P.S. I’ll be in the stands at Staples Center for Game 1, and I’ll be Tweeting @sonnova.

  • G Bouvier

    Awesome article!…thx, if anyone deserves success it is the Suns..the nicest bunch of guys ever.

  • I.

    Loved it. I’m with you on the wagon. Let’s do this Suns!!!

  • Kathy

    Excellent article! I’m with you! LET’S GO SUNS!

  • JOHN SERPE

    Great blog, I’M PUMPED!! Promised my wife, kids, grandkids and co workers that should I get my heart broken in game #1 I won’t put on a disguise, move to the Alaskan wilderness and become a hermit. I’m going to take this series like an adult, well maybe an adult with an impacted wisdom tooth. One thing is for sure, if there was ever a way for fans to will a team to victory, this Suns team would have it made. I have been a fan for ever and this version of the Suns has caught the imagination of a city, state and country. All thats left to do is make it happen. Oh, do we want this one!!!

  • Cam

    Great article, Go Suns! I’ve been watching the NBA since the 90s and have always liked the Suns – Hornacek, KJ, Barkley, Thunder Dan, Chambers…

    I hope you show that chemistry and heart can beat the Evil Empire.

    You guys deserve it, a truly classy franchise.

  • JOHN SERPE

    One word best describes the effort by our Suns to open the West finals, SAD!!! From a horrible game by Frye, to a complete abandonment of any defense this was a monumental stinker. It was so bad that even the officiating, which was horrendous didn’t really make a difference. Unless our Suns can find a pulse no amount of CPR is bringing this series back to life.

  • JOHN SERPE

    Suns rolled over in game #1, scratched their belly, yawned and basically said to us fans hey, we overachieved this season, beat the dreaded Spurs and got to the west finals, what else do you want from us? And if this was just a beat up, injury riddled team aka Utah, I might say nothing, thanks for the memories but this Suns team is so much more than that. With the shock of game 1 over this morning our Suns need to get off the floor, brush themselves off and get ready to show what their really made of. Kobe was pumped, he’ll come back to earth. Odem won’t have another game like that the whole series. Find solace in what Cleveland did to Boston in the first game, then crashed and burned. This is still a series only if our Suns want it to be. I think they do.

  • Rico

    I love this piece. Adam you nailed it. You so masterfully articulated what we all feel. The essence of a tried and true hard-core SUNS fan. We HATE the Lakers with their pious, narcissistic arrogance. Adam, you’re not just on the Bandwagon, you’re pulling it. C’mon Suns, you can grit out this series one game at a time, one quarter at a time, one possession at a time, one defensive stop at a time. I so desperately want to see Kobe’s frustrated little pouting face, when we steal the finals from him. I want it too! I want to see that 2010 NBA Finals Championship Banner at the end of our arena. Go out there and take it, SUNS in 6! You have what it takes to down the Fakers!

  • Dylan Hart

    I LOVE THE SUNS!!
    they made it so easy for us, the lakers, to just not even have a challenge in the western conference finals!
    Thanks Again Alvin and all the suns front office and most importantly to the terrible shooting of the players!
    good job suns better luck next year

  • Sean

    Adam

    Ditto to all that and Still Believing with you.
    You know what would make a great piece when the suns roll up their sleeves, control the tempo and take games 3 and 4….Something on the ‘Rise of the Phoenix.’ Yes. The Phoenix that is ‘destined’ to Rise every 17 years. They can play defense as opposed to all public held belief (see quarter 3 of game 2). There does need to be some serious brain-washing, and it needs to come from Gentry and Nash. Nash seems content to be second right now, and I think we need to see some fire in the belly and fire on the ball in game 3.

    I think These articles need to be shared with the Suns players by coach Gentry. They need to know that the fans are sick for this team to be in the Finals. For petes sake I have been a Suns fan 20 years…Its time for these fans, and all those great players mentioned to get thier respect. Thats what its about right, RESPECT.

  • Mon

    I remember the 1993 finals and listening to my Mom cry. She was heartbroken that the Suns had lost, I was 7 years old. As I grew older and learned about sportsmanship and qualities that make athletes into true role models I began to understand why my Mom loved them so much. I have always been a Suns fan, but it is the way that our guys play and the way that they act that makes me proud to be a Suns fan, win or lose. Our guys don’t have to play dirty or act their way to the free throw line. Our guys play ball!! I think this article describes how I feel about the Lakers to a T!! I am on the bandwagon with you, let’s go SUNS!!