Long before the topic de jour came about, the Lakers Nation has debated the abilities of Kwame Brown amongst themselves. There was once a day when the crowd at Staples chanted “Kwame! Kwame!” Obviously, those days are long gone. Now the Lakers Nation is feuding back and forth about the appropriateness of booing a home player.
In the aftermath of Thursday night’s debacle chastising words came forth from fans in all four corners of the globe, the media pundits, and even from the Lakers themselves. This was to be expected. Contrary to prevailing wisdom, the boos to Kwame were also to be expected.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious. Caron Butler was a fan favorite and was our number two player in the 2005 season. We were a lottery team that year, but Caron’s inspired play made many of us fans feel hopeful. Then, Lakers management traded him for Kwame Brown. Having grown accustomed to shrewd trades by our management staff, many of us fans held out hope that Brown’s abilities would blossom for the Lakers.
When Kwame finally was able to start for the Lakers later that season, he seemed to play inspired and gave the Lakers an athletic boost at the post position that helped the Lakers into an extremely impressive late season run and subsequent 3 to 1 edge over the favored Suns.
However, earlier in the season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had offered to help Kwame Brown improve as a post player. Not seeing himself as a boring back to the basket type of a player, Kwame politely declined Kareem’s offer. Overlooking his legal trouble, Kwame ended the 2006 playoffs looking like a solid player. The fans were happy, the team was happy, and most importantly, Kwame was happy.
The Lakers had become the talk of the town once again. Though they managed to blow the 3 to 1 game lead over the Suns, most fans and pundits felt the Lakers would play fairly well. The coaching staff, however, heard Kwame profess that he had “never” worked on improving his skills in any off season; never, as in not only that summer, but no other previous summers either.
Though the Lakers were off to a hot start last season, a problem began to arise on the Lakers team. The fans noticed a complacent Smush Parker grow increasingly negative. Smush had regressed. When the team imploded, there wasn’t a lot of positives to discuss. The Lakers had too many players that never worked to improve their game, and Kwame was one of those players.
Fans across the world saw Kwame Brown cashing annual paychecks of over $9 million dollars, but they hardly ever saw a player that cared enough to improve his weaknesses. In the meantime, the former fan favorite, Caron Butler, became an All-Star in Washington. With this, a sour taste began to form in mouths across Lakers Nation.
After all the turmoil of this past off season, we were braced for the worst. Knowing that our only hope was an All-Star caliber season from our post player, we became elated when Andrew Bynum showed us exactly what we were missing. However, once Bynum went down with his injury, the Lakers Nation experienced a bad case of déjà vu.
We all know how last season’s injuries led to our demise. The likes of Smush Parker or Brian Cook were not enough to lift our team from the doldrums and into legitimate contention for something that actually meant something other than a first round embarrassment. Though those two particular players happen to be gone, their impact remains in the fan psyche.
Simply put, if the Lakers themselves cannot win a game, Lakers fans want to see players make strong efforts. Fans want to see players doing all they can to win. This would apply not only to a particular game they happen to be watching, but also to a member of our team. We want a player who will work to improve their shortcomings.
There’s no other way to say it, Kwame Brown has never done this.
Thursday’s game was more than just Thursday’s game. While it certainly had its playoff ramifications on the line since the winner of the game would have a decisive lead for the Western Conference’s top position, the very thing fans were watching closely was how well the team would play with Kwame Brown in the middle. In several games previously, and even before Kwame was injured by a flopping Ben Wallace, Kwame had shown further regression into mediocrity.
If there’s one thing Lakers fans cannot stand, it’s mediocre play stemming from mediocre effort.
If a player repeats the same mistakes for years on end with little care to improve those mistakes, the fans absolutely will turn on that player.
What happened Thursday was the culmination of Kwame Brown’s lackluster efforts as a Lakers player. This includes on the court performances, off the court behavior, and most importantly his lack of diligence to improve.
Conversely, fans appreciate the likes of Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum simply because they want to win so badly that they did all they could to improve over this past summer. Most of us look and marvel at the great improvement that can come from one simple off season of hard work. We then look at the several off seasons a player like Kwame has squandered and become outraged.
The boos on Kwame may not have been the best way to boost his performance. However, lacking the ability to interact with Kwame Brown or Lakers management directly, cheers or boos become the very feedback mechanism that’s integral for team success. In other words, when the fans in New York think Isiah Thomas ought to be fired, they boo. When Lakers fans were upset with Magic Johnson for requesting a trade that forced the coach to get fired, the fans booed him. When fans disagreed with Kobe’s off season tirade, they booed him the first chance they got. The crowd’s reaction serves as vital feedback for the players and management. There’s not too many ways to voice an opinion. When fans are upset about players who continually mail it in, they boo. Voicing their opinion is the necessary role of the fans.
On the opposite side of the coin, the players and coaches must create a positive atmosphere that allows everyone to perform at their best. When Kobe, Jordan, and Phil Jackson recently stood up for Kwame and simultaneously put down fans that boo, they were fulfilling their necessary role.
Thus, the fans have performed their obligation to their team: they booed like crazy. The players have performed their obligation to their team: they stood up like crazy.
The question is, will Kwame now use this opportunity?
Reports are now surfacing that Kwame showed up at practice early yesterday to work on his post play with coaching assistant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
From the sounds of it, fans across the nation ought to rejoice. Instead of bickering about when it’s okay to boo or not, the fans should realize that the boos serve a vital function. That function is not to build up Kwame, rather the function is give Kwame Brown necessary feedback. The feedback was said in plain bold letters: Work on your game, or get off of our team.
From the sounds of it, Kwame Brown heard the message loud and clear.