Check your privilege.
One way or another, while scrolling through our timelines, we’ve seen one of our friends post a tweet with that very phrase. It’s quite the loaded statement, especially when it comes to definitions. But this can’t be denied: in a world as hyper-critical as ours, the very concept of privilege is demonized rather than accepted.
Here’s a reality check: we are all privileged in our own way. Not everyone shares the same privilege – that’s quite undeniable – but one way or another, we are blessed with advantages other people don’t have. In the world of business, it can come in pre-established relationships. In sports, it can be through one’s physical tools or natural feel for the game; or from an organizational perspective through a team’s location or sheer history of one’s franchise.
For the Purple and Gold, their privilege lies in being the Lakers. That’s how privileged they are, their very being as the Lakers is an advantage in itself. They are a franchise that has the prestige and history of winning that allows them to at least be considered by stars as a potential destination. From Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal, the organization has found ways to lure in the best of the best. The result has been sustained success spanning decades.
The results of their privilege have led the Lakers fanbase to expect nothing less than championships every season and rightly so. But during most of the 2010s, the franchise wasn’t acting privileged. Instead, they were acting like an entitled organization that thought it could bully its way towards winning a championship. In the modern NBA, that wasn’t going to cut it.
Despite thousands of photoshopped images and a fanbase that was as aggressive as ever on social media, the Lakers failed to acquire any star players from 2013-2017. Players were smarter; simply being the Lakers wouldn’t be enough. It also didn’t help the franchise’s cause that as a basketball program, they were a mess.
On one hand, they were acquiring solid young pieces such as Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram through the draft. On the other hand, the franchise did not seem like they knew how to utilize these teenagers for their program moving forward. A championship was expected but it seemed like the front office did not know how to work towards that with their current pieces. It was an unfamiliar situation for them. They’d always been used to having established stars instead of having to develop an entire crop. The result were four disastrous years where they finished in the bottom two of the Western Conference. For a minute, it seemed like whatever privilege the Lakers had was dead.
Just like Cobra Kai, the Lakers’ privilege never dies. We were witness to that in the summer of 2018, when the Lakers acquired LeBron James through free agency.
Logically speaking, the Lakers had nothing to show LeBron aside from their young pieces. But that’s the thing with their privilege; no matter what their current circumstances may be, their prestige and history gives them the ability to get someone to fall in love with them at first sight. That’s what happened with their acquisition of LeBron. Because they were the Lakers, they were able to get the services of arguably the greatest player of all time. However, more steps needed to be taken in order for the franchise to go back to its championship roots.
The Lakers struggled during an injury-riddled LeBron season, missing the Playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. It may have felt like a step back in that moment, but on March 2019, as chronicled by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, the Lakers and James met to further enrich their personal relationship with one another.
Shelburne put it best, “There might be drama engulfing the Lakers, but James wouldn’t be adding to it. They were in this together.”
The Lakers and LeBron coming together forced both parties to adjust in the hopes of achieving a common goal. James allowed himself to coordinate more with his owner; something he didn’t do when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. The Lakers, on the other hand, simply needed to figure things out and take the right steps to winning a championship. They already had the King. A year later, they would acquire Anthony Davis, largely thanks to their privilege as being the Lakers. Now, they needed to commit themselves to filling the needed holes to win a championship.
The pieces the franchise placed around James and Davis were unconventional, to say the least. Picking up Danny Green from Free Agency was praised, but acquiring Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, and head coach Frank Vogel were met with mixed reactions. The roster the Lakers built around their two megastars did not look like a conventional championship squad for the greater public. For the franchise, they could care less about conventions. They simply wanted to win.
Somehow, the Lakers made it work. They finished the regular season with the best record in the brutal West along with the fifth-best net rating in the entire league (plus-5.65). But among all their numbers, the one the best encapsulates what makes them so great is their defensive rating: 107.14, good for third behind the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Their star power pushed them back to title-contention, but it was the Lakers’ unity on the defensive end which made them the favorites to win the championship as the Playoffs rolled along. They’ve been the masters of turning defense into offense. The way they generate stops disrupts the flow of even the most transcendent of offensive players. Then there’s their firepower that has overwhelmed whatever defense has been thrown at them.
The result is a seat in the Finals after 10 years of frustration. They didn’t get to this result just by having LeBron and AD. Having two monster stars doesn’t guarantee instant success, just ask the 2013 Lakers. They got here because they embraced their identity as a franchise. Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers are a program that attracts stars using their privilege. But they achieve their success by putting in the work.
Check your privilege.
The Lakers have done exactly that, and it’s made all the difference. They’re now four wins away from raising banner number 17. This is LA their way, whether you like it or not.