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The Universal Appeal of Chanting 'Beat-L-A!'

Celtics fans indeed have a special claim to the "BEAT-L-A!" chant that can never be taken away. But if the chant is heard in KeyArena during tonight's game against the Los Angeles Sparks (8 pm PST ESPN2), a lot of it will be a grounded rallying cry to implore the team to finally overcome consecutive years of first round losses against the Sparks.

<em>Photo by Kailas Images.</em>
Photo by Kailas Images.

For Seattle Storm fans, chanting "BEAT-L-A!" when the Los Angeles Sparks are in town has it's own unique significance.

"It's just one of those things that every year for the last ten years I've heard it, every game we've played against LA and that's a lot of games," said Lauren Jackson, who moved to the U.S. from Australia when drafted by the Seattle Storm in 2000 and has missed the past two first round losses due to injury. "So, yeah, it's something I'll remember when I retire and everything -- the LA chants. I'm sure I'll be watching a game on TV at home going, 'BEAT-L-A!"

The Storm have lost in the first round of the playoffs for five consecutive years since their championship in 2004 and three of those five losses came at the hands of the Sparks. So given LA's rather central role in preventing the Storm from winning their second WNBA title, it makes sense that Storm fans have a special type of disdain in their voices when pushing their team to beat LA.

"Lisa (Leslie) definitely was the lynchpin in that rivalry usually," said Jackson, referring to the now-retired Lisa Leslie. "But I think that's just the way it's always going to be with the Storm and LA -- long after I retire I'm sure it's always going to be the same sort of air around the playoffs. But I don't know, like it's just one of those things -- you go out there you wanna win. I remember even (former Storm and current Indiana Fever coach) Lin Dunn talking about the rivalry before I even came. So it's something that's just going to be there forever and it doesn't matter who's playing."

However, while the chant carries with it a special sort of history when heard at Storm games, it sits within a much broader basketball narrative.

As Jackson would mention later in that conversation about the rivalry between the Sparks and Storm, the chant is most often associated with the NBA's Boston Celtics - Los Angeles Lakers rivalry of the 1980's with most of us probably recalling the echos of the chant in the old Boston Garden. Yet the chant didn't actually originate with Celtics fans taunting the Lakers at all, but actually encouraging another rival.

The origins of 'Beat LA' - Celtics Blog -
For most fans, the chant is reminiscent of the playoff games in the old Boston Garden in the 1980s, when Magic Johnson squared off against Larry Bird and the Celtics and Lakers dominated the NBA.

But that's not when the chant took off in Boston. It actually started as a chant supporting the Philadelphia 76ers.

With 26 seconds to go in Game 7 of the 1982 Eastern Conference finals at the old Garden and the Sixers pulling away from the soon-to-be ex-champs, the crowd began to chant the now-famous phrase. Philadelphia, after all, would be facing the hated Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Perhaps what's most amazing about re-watching that moment is that the chant was entirely spontaneous as Celtics fans threw their support behind an opponent, reminiscent of how political opponents might withdraw from a race once a loss in the primaries becomes imminent. No special signs or big signs spelling it out for fans on the jumbotron. Pure fan passion.

But the chant took off well beyond the Garden, eventually catching on in NBA arenas around the nation as fans cultivated their own special hatred toward the Lakers, although it never quite lost its Celtics-Lakers significance for fans in touch with the game's history.

From it's spontaneous origins, even more interesting is how far-reaching the chant has become. As much as sports seem to have some measure of inherent power to bring people together around given rooting interests, nothing has quite the unifying power nationwide of chanting "Beat-L-A!"

Seattle basketball fans are probably well aware that the Oklahoma City Thunder fans have no extensive history with the Lakers and yet they came out with the chants and t-shirts in the first round of this year's NBA playoffs as the Thunder surprisingly pushed the Lakers to six games.

The chant has even spread beyond basketball with Philadelphia Phillies fans (coincidentally) serenading the LA Dodgers with some "Beat LA" love during last year's National League Championship Series.

When evaluating the evolution of the chant from that Celtics - Sixers game to a Phillies - Dodgers game, it might seem as though it's somehow been cheapened or somehow less noble than when Celtics fans in the storied Garden spontaneously created the chant in 1982.

Suldog: Why "Beat L.A.!" Is Noble
"Beat L. A.!" is a selfish thing now. Due to the loss of memory concerning the phrase’s origin, it has been stripped of its poignancy. When fans say it now, they‘re only expressing their wish to win another championship, to hang an 18th banner. But, the first time it was uttered, it was the spontaneous outpouring of respect for a righteous rival. It implored that rival to do what the fans own team no longer could: Beat L. A.

It was as noble and pure a moment in professional sports as there ever has been.

So, as I said, it is now a selfish rallying cry. That’s OK. Boston’s fans earned the right to say it any way they wanted back in 1982.

End of history lesson.

And fair enough -- Celtics fans indeed have a special claim to the chant that can never be taken away. And yes, if -- and when, if Saturday night's game is any indication -- the chant is heard in KeyArena during tonight's game against the Sparks, a lot of it will be a selfish rallying cry to implore the team to finally overcome consecutive years of first round losses against the Sparks.

But...come on...when a team from LA beats your team in the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four years, a hearty Beat LA chant is might no longer be "noble and pure", but it's definitely cathartic. Furthermore, with no other team in the city consistently in position to beat a LA team in a situation of any significance, Seattle fans don't have a whole lot of opportunity to participate in this long history of openly hating on LA. And in contrast to other cities that have no basketball history with LA, at the very least Storm fans have history behind them while doing the chant even if the players are still just focused on winning a championship.

"The way I view it and I've said this many times before: each year's different," said Storm point guard Sue Bird. "I don't look at the last however many seasons we haven't gotten out of the first round. I don't think about them. I don't compare this year to previous years. Right now we know what our task at hand is and that's what we're focused on. And Le'coe, Svet, Abby, Allison, Jana -- they have no idea. They weren't here last year, they weren't here the year before that. So for them, I'm sure they just want to play in the playoffs. So that's what we're focused on: getting ready to play in the playoffs."

We'll see if KeyArena fans have longer memories tonight.