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Monday, May 9, 2011
The triumphant and tragic unpredictability of sports

By Andy Kamenetzky

For all parties involved -- fans, media, and especially, the Lakers themselves -- Sunday's 122-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks was a sucker punch finale to a season steeped in misdirection. The preseason favorite among pundits and General Managers, an underwhelming regular season left the Lakers no longer regarded as bullet proof entering the playoffs, but still a force to be reckoned with. The first round created more doubts, and believing meant also buying into an exceptionally difficult path, despite home-court advantage in the West unexpectedly regained.

But not even the most skeptical Lakers fans (or zealous Mavericks fans) can honestly claim to have foreseen the bodies left for dead in Dallas. It's one thing to get upset. It's quite another to get swept, and in fashion even the "Jail Blazer" squads would have deemed classless. The world Lakers fans knew has steadily spiraled in an unfamiliar direction, and by Sunday's end, had been turned completely upside down.

It hasn't been a pleasant 24 hours, but this disaster served as a painful reminder of what ultimately makes sports so compelling: Unpredictability.

Nobody truly knows what's coming next in sports. Not the fans. Not the "experts." Not the players.

Over the last four seasons, unpredictability has been at the center of the Lakers' highest, lowest and most surprising points. The inedible memories, soaring or sour.

Unpredictability is Kobe Bryant looking happier and coming into his own as a leader in 2008 perhaps more than any other year, despite the season beginning with him wanting to play anywhere but in L.A.

Unpredictability was 2008 marking the franchise's return to powerhouse form, despite skepticism at the season's outset about even making the playoffs. Unpredictability was also a reminder that waltzing through three conference series means nothing in regard to what happens in the Finals.

Unpredictability is Pau Gasol coming to L.A. out of nowhere in exchange for a player 10 times worse.

Unpredictability is why Gasol can shift from being emasculated by the Celtics in 2008 to becoming a rebounding machine against those same Celtics in 2010 to morphing mysteriously into a ghost during a bizarrely ineffective 2011 playoffs.

Unpredictability is why we believe Bryant can still make impossible shots at will in the face of tangible evidence his proficiency as an assassin is slipping.

Unpredictability is Shannon Brown, despite evidence of being too raw and inexperienced, arriving as a self-proclaimed trade "thrown in" and immediately entering a title-run rotation, while Steve Blake can arrive as a perfect fit on paper yet struggle to make an impact.

Unpredictability is why Lamar Odom can age like fine wine and enjoy his best season as a 12-year veteran, which simply defies logic. Unpredictability is also why the long-elusive consistency discovered this season failed to translate during the payoffs.

Unpredictability is Andrew Bynum suddenly emerging in 2007 as a potential franchise cornerstone. Unpredictability is also knees constantly at risk to buckle, providing doubt about whether Drew can truly be built around.

Unpredictability is Bynum demonstrating maturity by wholeheartedly embracing a defense-oriented role. Unpredictability is also Bynum's penchant for immature and dangerous cheap shots when he's upset.

Unpredictability is Ron Artest inheriting the title "goat," then "hero" during Game 5 of against Western Conference finals against the Suns, all within the span of a minute.

Unpredictability is why Artest can defy his reputation by remaining the calmest Laker during Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, yet reinforce his reputation with a senseless flagrant foul during Game 2 of the 2011  Western Conference semifinals.

Unpredictability is a crucial basket from Derek Fisher at the rim, not beyond the arc.

Unpredictability is Sasha Vujacic scoring the final two points to clinch the Lakers' 16th championship.

Unpredictability is the simultaneously thrilling, fascinating and frustrating way Kobe is impossible to pin down.

Unpredictability is why emotionally investing in a team sometimes feels as painful as any life event beyond literal life and death.

Unpredictability is why, despite how disappointed, disillusioned or angry Lakers fans might feel right now, next season is a must to watch.