I've been a Los Angeles Lakers fan my entire life. Well, maybe from age 7 or 8 or so.
My earliest Laker memory was overhearing my dad tell my mom that the Lakers were going to be good again, "because they've got Magic back." This would have been sometime in '81, whenever Magic Johnson returned from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of that season. I was confused by my dad's comment, not understanding who or what he was talking about. He told me who Magic was, and explained the nickname: "He plays so good, it's like magic." A love began that would last a lifetime.
I don't remember the Lakers' championship in '80, but I do remember the one in '82, and every one thereafter. I also recall some bitter defeats and disappointments along the way.
Then, there was the dry spell from '88 - '00, a twelve-year drought in which the Lakers did not win a title. In fact, they weren't always very good at all.
Fortunes turned, and the Lakers rose again. From 2000 - 2002, the Lakers won three consecutive NBA titles, led by the tandem of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
During this period, I found myself comparing this team to the Lakers' teams that won five titles in the '80s, led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. My memories of the earlier squad were much more favorable, their period of dominance being a happy time in my mind, marked by consistent play and team harmony. The more recent championship run, as exciting as it was, was not nearly as happy. This team was marked by inconsistency, up-and-down play, and periodic dissension between the stars of the team. It just wasn't as fun to be a fan.
The main difference, however, came in the nature of the victories of these teams.
The earlier Lakers' teams consistently played to their ability. It took a worthy opponent to test them, and it took a superior opponent to take them down. I remember many lopsided victories over teams that just couldn't keep up, and some epic battles against teams that could. Not often did a lowly team play beyond their ability to challenge these Lakers.
The more recent team, however, was a different story. I can't back this up with any data, but I just don't remember many blowout wins by this team. Sure, there was the time in the spring of 2001, when they demolished San Antonio in a playoff series, but I don't recall many victories like that. I don't remember many 20-point wins. I do remember a lot of 1-point nailbiters and needless overtimes. I remember opponents that should not have been able to challenge these Lakers taking them deep into the late rounds. I was there in person one night in Dallas in 2000, to see the flat-footed Lakers succumb to Shawn Bradley draining endless 20-footers, leading the Mavericks to victory, late in a season in which the Lakers would actually win the title. Why?
It was so frustrating to see a team that should have dominated, never quite giving their opponents what they might have given them. To be sure, much credit is due to the level of talent on opposing teams. It's quite possible that there just wasn't the gap in ability between these Lakers and their opponents, as there was between the '80s Lakers and their opponents. But, watching it as it happened, it just seemed that the effort and focus were not always there, and that that could have made a difference. These Lakers were the masters of the narrow victory, which made for some exciting finishes, but also much needless heartache and heartburn.
I was not alone. The Lakers' General Manager at the time was Jerry West, himself a legendary Laker star. West was seen several times over this three-year period leaving the arena during the late minutes of a game, finding himself unable to watch as these Lakers barely held a slim lead, or tried to regain the lead in the waning minutes. He shared the frustration of many fans who, while appreciative of any victory, wondered if it really had to be so hard.
In the world of sports, a win is a win, and when it comes right down to it, players and fans alike will take a win over a loss any day, regardless of the margin of victory.
However, the margin of victory is important in other areas.
A political candidate who wins an election will be told his mandate to act in the new leadership role is closely tied to the margin of victory he enjoyed on election day. A diligent student will not be happy with simply passing a test, but will hope for a dominating performance. And, a person of faith needs to know that the source of life to which he looks is not merely capable of meeting his needs, but is far and away the best choice available.
God created man. He gave man the free will to love God or not. He redeemed man through His Son Jesus Christ. He lives in His children through His Holy Spirit. The Christian's victory is already won, by a loving God who is merciful toward man, but will have no mercy for Satan on the last day.
Our God is not the God of the narrow victory.
His victory over Satan is total and final. It was never close. Now, it's just a matter of time, and all Satan can do is hurt as many of God's children as he can before he runs out of time. It's a pathetic, last-ditch effort by a bitter, defeated enemy. Yes, potentially lethal to his victims, but hopeless against the power of God.
Have you put your faith in the God who has already won your battle? Or, are you struggling against yourself, trying to eke out a slim, ever-shifting lead against your temptations and shortcomings?
Are you allowing God to dominate sin in your life? Or, is an unworthy opponent needlessly pushing you to your limit?
It really doesn't have to be that hard.