Yesterday, I witnessed a Christmas Miracle. No, three wise guys didn’t show up at my door, having been given directions from some celestial GPS.
No, the miracle wasn’t the Lakers beating the Suns. Much as I despise them, these Lakers are too good for any of their victories to count as miracles. Kobe Bryant is willingly sharing the ball and getting his points, the team is playing with a lot of confidence, and the rest of the Western Conference better watch out.
No, it wasn’t Andrew Bynum scoring a career high 28 points, yanking down 12 rebounds, and thoroughly outplaying anyone the Suns threw at him in the middle. Bynum’s a pretty fair center, but he’s not THAT good. Rather, the Suns have made it a practice this season of making “not that good” centers look “that good.” For every Chris Bosh you pretty much expect to score more than forty points against Phoenix, the Suns have made lesser lights like Erick Dampier, Nick Collison and even Hilton Armstrong look like world-beaters.
No, the miracle was witnessed outside of Staples Center two hours before yesterday’s tipoff. I’d arrived early, thanks to the total absence of traffic on the roads (a miracle in itself on Los Angeles), and as I was walking the length of the building to the ticket window, I saw up ahead of me two people, walking side-by-side. A man and a woman. He wore a (now) vintage Shaquille O’Neal Laker jersey. She wore a Steve Nash Suns jersey.
I hurried to catch up to them. Surely, they were strangers to each other, maybe not even noticing their proximity. But as I got closer, I could see, no, they were definitely walking together.
Well, then they must be exchanging trash talk. Yeah, fans of opposing clubs had bumped into each other outside the arena, and were only walking the same path long enough for some good natured pre-game jawing. That must be it. But no, now I was within earshot, and they were talking perfectly pleasantly about their Christmases.
I looked around, confused. There were no frogs falling from the sky, blood raining from the heavens, or other signs of the apocalypse. What the heck was going on here? I caught them at the northeast corner of the building. “Excuse me,” I said, interrupting them, “What the heck is going on here?”
His name was Eric. Her name was Cathy. They both lived in Los Angeles.
I asked if they knew how rare it was that a Suns fan could be seen walking with a Lakers fan. “I don’t know why more Laker fans don’t respect the Suns,” Eric said. “The Suns have played so well over the last few years.”
The pair was just back from following the Suns on an East Coast road swing. “We follow the team on two or three road trips a season,” Cathy explained. “They’re just so much fun to watch.”
A Laker fan? Traveling with a Suns fan? To watch the Suns play three thousand miles from Los Angeles?
“I always root for the Suns,” Eric said with a shrug. “I’m a Laker fan first and foremost, but the Suns play basketball right.”
My ears were ringing, and I felt lightheaded. I turned to Cathy in my disbelief. Clearly, her friend was deranged. But what about her? How could she share oxygen with a Laker fan? “I don’t mind Laker fans,” she said, before wrinkling her nose with distaste. “It’s Kobe fans I don’t like.”
She went on to say, “I was a Laker fan until about five years ago. Then, with all their squabbling, I looked around for a team that was more fun to root for. And there’s nobody more fun than the Suns. They’ve brought basketball back, and everyone wants to copy them! Even the Lakers are playing like a team!” Eric nodded his vehement agreement.
I bid them farewell and a happy holiday, then stood there reeling on the sidewalk. Inside, soon enough, there would be predictable chants of “Phoenix sucks!” and catcalls toward Raja Bell. One Laker backer even yelled, “Hey Nash, go back to South Africa,” the creativity of which suggested that not only were film and television writers on strike, so too, apparently, were qualified hecklers.
But for now, under the snowless skies of Los Angeles, Christmas spirit surrounded the Staples Center. Cathy and Eric had showed me that there really was such a thing as peace on earth, goodwill towards man.
Even if he happens to be a Laker fan.