There is a lot of crossover - for obvious reasons - between affinity for UCLA as a student, alum, parent or simply a fan and support for the LA Dodgers. As an Oakland A's fan myself, I don't share it, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar does. He recently wrote an op-ed for ESPN.com with his thoughts on the unfolding drama surrounding the team, intertwined with remembrances from a lifetime of rooting for the men in blue. On being a Dodger fan during the era of the McCourts, he has one clear and simple message: "We Dodgers fans deserve better."
Kareem's love for the Dodgers is not a pacing fancy; he has been a fan since listening to Red Barber broadcasting Brooklyn Dodger games as a boy in New York, with his own move westward to attend UCLA serving a sort of closure to losing the team - but not their spirit - years before.
... I remember my reaction to the departure of the Bums. My mom had to console me about the fact that my team was no longer part of my world. I cried for a while, but I stayed loyal to Dodger blue. I was 10 years old when this happened. Eight years after their exit, I followed them to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. I took in my first live World Series game with my UCLA teammate Lynn Shackleford in 1965. The score was Dodgers 4, Twins 0, and Claude Osteen got the victory.
While talking about how physically accessible the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium were to his home during his childhood, Kareem writes about how the Dodgers displayed not only the diversity in Brooklyn, greater New York and America as a whole, but the impact of the reality that people from such diverse backgrounds and races could work together and achieve the greatest goal. While delving into the team's past, he discusses the impact on his life that one Dodger in particular - a familiar name to us - had on his life:
My parents would point out aspects of Jackie Robinson's personal qualities that made him a role model for me. In addition to being an All-Star infielder, he was articulate and poised. The media attention he received would have been a tremendous challenge for anyone, but Jackie handled it with a grace and dignity that made him a role model for many kids my age. He has been a hero of mine ever since.
With the role that the Dodgers have played in his life, from childhood through his life in Los Angeles and as a professional adult, it is no surprise that he has some thoughts on what needs to happen in order to save the Dodgers. After imagining what would have happened if the McCourts had tried to pull their shenanigans with a still-Brooklyn based team, Kareem wrote what he would like to see as the endgame of the current situation:
I can't help rooting for Mr. McCourt's wife to force a situation that will result in the team being sold. I am honestly thrilled by the possibility that the franchise might soon be in the hands of owners who want to win the World Series and have that as their singular focus.
... As one of the Flatbush Faithful, I have resorted to feeling that the bums (not the Dodgers) should be thrown out, and who can blame me? All this chaos will probably get worse before it gets better, but that will not deter a fan like me. The Dodgers' motto, after all, has always been, "Wait until next year."
While Baseball is not the same as it was during the 1950's-60's heyday of the Dodgers of Kareem's memories and likely never again will be, the changes in culture as well as business practices implemented by the McCourt ownership of the team are extraordinary (ly bad) for Baseball, and has served to alienate the club's loyal fans and endangered the team's future success. While I am not a supporter of the team, for the sake of those who are and as a fan of Baseball, I hope that Kareem's wish is soon fulfilled.