Spoils of victory

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I’m a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. But I also cheer for the New England Patriots. LA and Boston — West Coast and East. Let me try to explain myself out of this conundrum.

First, with the part that makes sense: I was born and raised in LA, and as far as I’m concerned, my blood runs purple and gold. I was four years old when my parents introduced me to basketball, the time when Shaq and Kobe won their first championship. While they were my heroes, I certainly never forgot about Ron Harper or Robert Horry or Derek Fisher or Brian Shaw or A.C. Green.

For a brief bit during my childhood ─ around the time the Diesel got traded ─ I dabbled with being a broader NBA fan, buying players’ jerseys from other teams and whatnot (the 2005-07 years, when the Lakers weren’t serious championship contenders).

But the ’08 finals heartbreak and ’09 and ’10 titles taught me why sports purists care so much about the bandwagon. The bottom line: Loyalty (through trying times) makes the taste of victory so much sweeter, and all people should be able to experience that without jumping ship when the going gets tough.

While this idea was being impressed upon my young mind, I found football. What a horrid game. So violent, yet so addicting to watch. At that time, I didn’t understand why it’s a favorable phenomenon to cheer for an underdog, so I thought why not pick a team that’s 1) fun to watch and 2) fun to play with on Madden? I had no hometown team at the time, so enter Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Co.

I recall the 2004 Super Bowl victory as well as the 2006-07 divisional round victory over the Chargers, along with a few other games in between. But it was the not-so-perfect 2007 season that got me hooked for good. The thrill of cheering for a winning team but more importantly, being there for the whole ride got me on the bandwagon, and I wouldn’t jump off.

At this point, most of you reading this would probably hate me ─ or do, regardless ─ if I wasn’t a kid when I had made this decision.

But I did, and I stick with it, even after coming to college in the Bay Area; after my hometown got not one, but two football teams; after the Patriots’ higher-ups supported a vile man as a presidential candidate and definitely after all the shit I’ve taken from people for having supported winning teams.

Now, my tables have turned. Once with Kobe and now twice with Brady, my teams have had to deal with the plight of the aging superstar. Right after the Achilles injury, we all knew it was over for the Mamba. Nobody wanted to experience the long, drawn-out sadness of Kobe’s twilight, but we surely appreciated the memories and also, quite frankly, the fun and novelty of the rebuilding process.

On the other hand, Pats fans everywhere are gritting their teeth for the day that Tom Terrific calls it quits or when the franchise has to struggle again. And with the recent rumors of a disagreement between Brady and Belichick regarding promising backup Jimmy Garoppolo as well as Brady’s trainer Alex Guerrero, that day may come sooner than expected.

But if I’ve learned anything from the Kobe heartache, it’s to enjoy being at the top while it lasts, appreciate the run once it’s all over and then stay on the wagon when everybody jumps off. Interestingly, the last few years of Lakers basketball have been some of the most fascinating for me to follow, despite the frustrating, often low-quality play that has me screaming at my screen. With a constantly changing roster, I always come back, looking for something promising to latch onto.

And it shall be no different with Brady. People often forget that there was a time in his career when he went nine years between Super Bowl victories, despite two losses to the grotesque New York Giants and two MVPs in that span. But staying by Brady’s side for the two Super Bowls in the last three years have made the waiting worth it.

Winning is a drug. Enjoy it while you have it, Warriors “fans.”

Vikram Muller writes the Tuesday column about current events in professional sports. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @v_muller26