My daughter has one goal every night: to prolong her bedtime routine as long as humanly possible.
A few months ago, she realized that watching sports with me — and pretending to be interested, no less — was a good way to avoid brushing her teeth, reading two books, getting kissed good night, then lying in a dark room until she falls asleep. About 7:30 every night, she snuggles beside me on the sofa, throws herself into the game I’m watching, asks a few pertinent questions, then eventually says, in the sweetest voice possible, “Daddy, can I close my eyes for a few minutes?”
That really means, “Daddy, I’m skipping the bedtime routine and falling asleep right here against your warm and slightly doughy body. It’s going to be like Ryan Clark knocked me unconscious. And eventually, there will be a timeout in this stupid game you’re watching, and you’re going to have to carry my sleeping ass upstairs to bed. We’ve done it before; we’re doing it again.”
It’s a smart move. She knows I want her to like basketball. That 15-minute window before “Daddy, can I close my eyes ” is one of my few chances to brainwash her. I don’t care whether she becomes a fanatic, just that she knows enough so that
A) We can attend Clippers games without her believing that cheerleaders, vendors and the humongous video screen are 10 times more interesting than the players or anything happening on the court. (Although, at a Clippers game, it’s 50/50 she might be right.)
B) She realizes that “Celtics = good” and “Lakers = evil.”
I can’t control A. When she’s 16, she might still be leaning toward cheerleaders, vendors and the humongous video screen. But I can control B. Or, I should be able to control B.
So you can imagine my horror at one of her Saturday soccer games last month when she noticed the uniforms of a rival team and marveled, “Daddy, look at those! I wish that was our color!”
I looked at the uniforms.
And not even normal purple Lakers purple. With gold in them. They looked like Lakers uniforms disguised as girls’ soccer uniforms, which meant every brunette on the team kind of looked like Sasha Vujacic.
I took a second to pull my tongue out of my throat.
“Those are purple, honey,” I said. “Our family hates purple.”
“That’s not true, Daddy. I love purple. Purple is my favorite color.”
This was quickly turning a disaster. Frantic, I glanced around and noticed a team with green uniforms. They weren’t Celtics green, but close enough.
“What about those?” I said.
“I hate green,” she said, punctuating the words with a grimace.
“You hate green?”
“I HATE green.”
Look, every father constantly worries about his daughter. That’s just what we do. I worry that she’s a promising athlete (and she is) but a head case (and she is). In the span of 10 minutes in soccer, she can break up two opposing goals, set up a goal of her own, then inexplicably walk off as the game is happening because she’s thirsty and/or suffered a fake foot injury she has decided to milk. She’s like Vince Carter with pigtails.
I worry that my curse for 10 years of Vince jokes was spawning the female Vince Carter.
I worry that she’s too sassy (although so is every 5-and-a-half-year-old, apparently) and too manipulative (ditto) and worry about how those traits will manifest themselves when she becomes a teenager and her hormones go haywire. I also worry that I am not appreciating this specific time frame enough — before her front teeth fall out, before she stops believing in Santa, before she realizes that I don’t have an answer for everything, before she hits puberty and convinces herself that my wife and I are Satan and Beelzebub — and that I’m going to look back someday and say, “Man, why didn’t I treasure those little girl years more?”
I worry that she always seems to like older guys. Granted, she’s 5 and usually the boys she likes are 7 or 8, but still, that’s a bad trend. When she’s in the ninth grade, I can’t have some senior showing up with a Gasol beard, a USC hat and an SUV shaking my hand and saying that they’re “just going out for a bite to eat,” only he’s going to have that barely perceptible, “I’ve felt your daughter’s boobs before, and I’m going to do it again tonight” smirk on his face, followed by me stabbing him to death and serving the mandatory sentence.
I worry that my expectations are too high for her. Right now, I have her penciled in as the first Olympic athlete who goes right from winning a gold medal to joining the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” What do you mean I’m shooting too high? You should see her run! You should see how funny she is! How dare you! (By the way, I’m only half-kidding.)
I worry that she’s too fashion conscious for someone in kindergarten. Is this how the seeds for Heidi Montag’s ongoing car wreck were planted? Was Heidi complaining to her mom for 20 minutes the night before Casual Day because she wanted to wear a purple top with a leopard skirt and black stockings, then throwing a tantrum because her mother said, “Sorry, you can’t go to school dressed like a hooker”?
I worry that fathers of teenage girls ask me, “How old is she?” hear the answer, then say ominously, “Just wait until she turns 12.” With the same look on their faces that “The Walking Dead” survivors have.
So yeah, I spend most of my time worrying about her. The purple/green moment played right into that. Because I handle every traumatic moment by immediately joking about it — that’s how all children of divorce handle pain, if you didn’t know — I tweeted during the aforementioned soccer game, “My daughter hates the color green and loves purple. I don’t like where this is headed. At all.” The responses were pretty funny. You know, if the goal was to get me to kill myself.
The consensus: “You’re the one who moved to California, you idiot. What did you expect?”
Good point. Is it fair to steer my children toward Boston teams if they’ve lived in Los Angeles their entire lives? Didn’t I once write a “20 Rules of Being a True Fan” column that included the rule, “If you live in a city that has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to root for that team”? Now I was freaking out because my daughter likes purple, opening the door that she might like the Lakers the local basketball team?
My defense: I just made a lousy rule. It should have gone like this: “If you live in a city that has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to root for that team unless your father has deep ties to his teams and you would basically be ripping out his intestines if you rooted for anyone else.” Blood trumps water. Fathers are blood. Cities are water. Really, the father should hold all the cards.
I think about this constantly. Too much, actually. I have too many non-Boston friends who became fans at 5, 6 or 7 simply because of colors or uniforms, or, even more egregiously, because they knew it would drive their parents crazy. Two months ago, my daughter had a play date at the house of a girl whose parents were huge Lakers fans only her older brother (I think he was 7, and, naturally, my daughter loved him) was a gigantic Celtics fan. And it was a source of good-natured tension in the house. The parents couldn’t hide it. Of course, I was delighted and promised the kid that I would get him some Celtics gear — as far as I’m concerned, the more Celtics fans in Los Angeles, the merrier. Not sure the parents enjoyed that.
Then again, if your kids root for a team against your will, isn’t that your fault? Kids are malleable before they turn 6. They will believe almost anything. They will blindly follow their parents 99.9999999999 percent of the time. Two years ago (because I couldn’t handle the “Max & Ruby” theme song anymore), I convinced my daughter that Scooby Doo was the greatest cartoon ever. She got hooked; her little bro followed her lead; and even now, it’s still their favorite show. Why? Because they trusted me. When I tell them that “E.T.” is fantastic, they believe me. When I tell them that “Back to the Future” is tremendous, they believe me. That’s the Power of Dad.
For any parent to claim, “We’re huge Lakers fans, but our son loves the Celtics; we couldn’t talk him out of it” I just can’t accept it. That’s like saying, “Little Billy loves eating paint, that’s just his thing, we couldn’t talk him out of it.” They’re little kids!!!!!!! They are smaller than you. They are dumber than you. They can’t provide for themselves. Until they hit first grade, they are following your lead and your lead only. If you blow that exclusive window, you failed.
Most of my sports-related parental decisions have a big-picture purpose. My son’s room is covered in Boston stuff; for the first two years, he didn’t know why. My son wears Boston stuff all the time; even now, he doesn’t know why. Instead of going to church on Sundays, we watch “Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend” together. (Just kidding. Although I did think about it.) I don’t have anything from my college displayed in my house because our school’s colors are purple and my hatred of the Lakers trumps my love of Holy Cross. (Important note: That’s what happens when your school’s administration stops caring about sports.) I chose Clippers tickets over Lakers tickets because they were cheaper but also because I never had to worry about my kids getting sucked into the Clippers. Kids are front-runners. The Clippers are losers. Even a 5-year-old can smell that losing stink. You can’t miss it.
But the Lakers the Lakers are always good. They always have a famous player. Their home games are more like events. (I wrote about this in May. And no, my daughter won’t be allowed to attend a Lakers game until she turns 10. I can’t risk her saying, “This is awesome! Why don’t we have Lakers tickets!”) Everyone loves them here. During the playoffs, the locals even stick Lakers flags on their cars and drive around with them. All it takes is one vampire bite — a friend at school, a cute older boy, even just the color purple itself — to sway my daughter in the wrong direction.
The bigger issue: My son adores my daughter. Even if she will never be a maniac sports fan — she’s one of those “rather play than watch” kids — my son could be headed that way. And he follows her lead with everything. If she liked the Lakers, he might betray me and follow her. And that’s when I would have to decide, “Am I better off living with two Lakers fans or moving out, giving my wife half my money and starting over with a new family?”
Screw that. In the five weeks after Purplegate, I executed a brilliant game plan centered on loyalty, family history, guilt trips and outright lying. Swaying my daughter toward the Celtics was easy: We have a framed newspaper photo of me standing next to John Havlicek on Boston’s bench when I was 6 that she loves, so I put it in a prominent place. My father still has season tickets near the Celtics bench, and every time the camera pulls back, you can see him and my stepmother on TV so naturally, I kept pausing home games and pointing them out in the crowd. My daughter loves that. I started wearing more Boston clothing around the house. I scheduled a father-daughter Boston trip for us, and you’re not going to believe this, but the Celtics are playing when we’re there.
The big strategic play? Lying. Sorry, I had to. This was important. I convinced her that the Lakers were bullies (she hates the concept of bullying; it drives her crazy in movies), that Kobe is a mean daddy to his young daughters and that Phil Jackson absolutely hates golden retrievers. Did I show her the Artest melee on YouTube, then point out Artest in a Lakers uniform and tell her that she couldn’t root for the Lakers because Artest might run into the stands and punch me during a game? Yes. Yes I did. The only time I screwed up? When I tried to convince her that Pau Gasol was a vampire — that made her like him more. (F***ing Edward. He swayed an entire generation of girls under 15.) Everything else worked. Everything. I killed off every possible Lakers chromosome.
On Sunday night, I was watching Pacers-Lakers when my daughter swooped in for the snuggle, with “Do you mind if I rest my eyes?” about 10 minutes away. They showed the score — Indiana 91, Los Angeles 86 — and the announcers said something like, “Big surprise here, the Lakers now losing by five.”
And my daughter said, “Daddy, that’s good, the Lakers are losing!”
You’re damned right it was good. Especially since it was Kill Scooby Doo Night at the Staples Center. Or so she thought. Just know that it took me just a month to turn her against the Lakers. Getting her to start wearing green? That might take a little longer. Baby steps.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller “The Book of Basketball,” out in paperback on Dec. 7 with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy’s World or the BS Report page. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.