I have a fraught relationship with sports. My dad is an avid sports fan, and he raised my brother and me to follow them closely. Watching games, listening to sports radio, and discussing player stats and league details were his ways of bonding with us when we were kids. We don’t talk about much else.
My dad is from Philadelphia and is a loyal fan of his city’s teams, but I grew up in Detroit, so although he would regale me with stories about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, my childhood memories are full of going to the Palace of Auburn Hills to watch the Pistons, the Pontiac Silverdome to see the Lions, Joe Louis Arena for the Red Wings, and Tiger Stadium for the Tigers. Two of my dad’s biggest regrets as a father are that he never got me into baseball (to this day, he blames the MLB lockout of the ’94 season for losing a generation of fans), and that I’m a Detroit fan instead of Philly.
If there was a third regret, it would be that I stopped watching most of the sports he taught me. If only he knew.
My personal dilemmas with my own sports fandom developed gradually. My dad loves boxing, but I grew uncomfortable with watching people hit each other. I don’t believe that boxing or MMA is unethical or that they should be illegal (I trained in both, for limited periods of time), but I’m bothered by the fact that I enjoy them. I’m entertained by the big hits. Contact sports are entertaining to me specifically for their devastating collisions, tackles, and throws. The pain is the point. But even outside of contact sports, I struggle with separating the games from my perception of the realities behind them. One former college football player calls the NCAA “a predatory economic cartel that treats players like university property rather than people,” and the NFL is rife with players accused of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Lance Armstrong was amazing until he wasn’t. Distancing myself from sports felt similar to losing faith in God: It started with 1 percent of doubt, then 10, then 20, until eventually there were more sports I avoided than ones I watched.
But I will never leave the NBA.
During the early days of the pandemic, Netflix premiered The Last Dance, a tell-all documentary about Michael Jordan and the ’90s Chicago Bulls. This Monday, Hulu will premiere Legacy: The True Story of the L.A. Lakers, about one of the greatest franchises in sports history. And like The Last Dance, Legacy features interviews with everyone you could hope for—from Kareem, Magic Johnson, and the “Showtime Lakers” to Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, and the slumping “Lake Show” Lakers to Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal, who recount the team’s resurgence in the early 2000s. Those are among the highest-profile names, but they only scratch the surface for basketball fans who might remember the superstars’ supporting teammates and coaches. I watched the first six episodes of Legacy, and the 10-part docuseries is a wonderful mix of sports nostalgia, insider gossip, and the candid experiences of those who lived the making of the franchise.
For people who aren’t fans of basketball, the business behind the Lakers’ spectacle is compelling viewing in itself. Legacy frames itself around Jerry Buss, the real-estate tycoon turned sports investor and playboy who bought the Lakers in 1979, and how he became a famed media icon with six children hoping to follow in his footsteps. Buss’ impact on the Lakers—and subsequently the NBA itself and the broader sports world—is extensive. He spiked ticket prices for floor seats, making the celebrity courtside appearances a now-common symbol of wealth; he started the Laker Girls to sell sex alongside the game; and he opened the Forum Club, a postgame nightclub that one player called the best place in the world next to the Playboy Mansion.
In many ways, the series is as much for fans of Succession as those of the NBA. (You might have considered watching Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty on HBO Max, a fictionalized dramatization of the Showtime-era Lakers written by Succession director Adam McKay, but you would be wise to dedicate your time to Legacy instead.) Like Succession’s Logan Roy, Jerry Buss ran his empire as a family operation, naming his kids as executives and handing them sports teams like educational toys. Drama ensues as they vie to inherit parts of his kingdom.
The series is a riveting journey through the last 40 years of basketball, and I can’t wait to use it as an excuse to talk with my dad. (When I say that we only talk about sports, it’s not much of an exaggeration. He still doesn’t know that I wrote a memoir, a fact that I find hilarious.) And then my dad will regale me with more stories about Kareem and Dr. J, and I’ll repeat lines from their Legacy interviews, and maybe thrill him further with quotes from Bob McAdoo, Michael Cooper, and James Worthy.
I have a fraught relationship with sports, so I have a fraught relationship with my dad. But on August 15, when Legacy premieres, we’ll talk about the Pistons, Sixers, Lakers, and Celtics. And that day, we’ll be best friends.
Thanks to everyone who responded to my last Humans Being, about Paper Girls and who we are to our younger selves. My favorite response came from Jonathan, who wrote:
“My 12-year-old self wanted to be an investment banker, because my dad said they used math and they made a lot of money. I latched onto the power of money a lot as a child, in no small part because my father has set it as his raison d’être. I was trying so hard to be a ‘successful’ cishet white boy that I don’t remember myself ever having dreams for my adult self. I just wanted, in the vaguest sense, to get out of there and become someone beautiful. Now I am openly nonbinary, in a well-paying job I like, and I have people I love. I’m way weirder and uglier than I would’ve wanted to be when I was 12, but I’m happy. Which is more than I had ever dreamed.”
This week’s book giveaway is Making Conversation: Seven Essential Elements of Meaningful Communication, by Fred Dust. Just send me an email telling me the easiest topic for you to connect with a parent or child, and I’ll send the book to a random person who hits my inbox. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Twitter at @JordanMCalhoun.