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So the Blog's a bit of a conspiracy theorist, which got it to thinking: Doesn't it seem a bit too convenient that the Big Newsmaker headed East on the day following baseball's All-Star break -- the slowest non-February sports day of the year? Without Shaq's relocation from Los Angeles to South Beach, what might ESPN have done to pretend as though yesterday had actually happened?
"Luckily" for the NBA's carrier, the non-day (which featured, in prime-time and apparent seriousness, something the Worldwide Leader called The Best of Baseball Tonight) just happened to also fall on the first day NBA teams could re-open for business (which is to say, throw WAY too much guaranteed scratch at the Rafer Alstons and Carlos Boozers of the world). Uh-huh. Sure. This, following the league's mandatory two-week hiatus from ... well ... nothing, other than providing the network with the bulk of its programming every evening, and just in time to save it from hours of dead air (which is to say, Tour de France highlights). What a crazy coincidence ...
That said, you gotta give it to the Big Blabber -- his 2,394-part interview during last night's ShaqCenter was one of the better on-screen performances we'll see this year. Even if the day's sporting vacuum dictated that his chat be stretched more than Kirstie Alley's spandex -- my kingdom for a D-Rays highlight! -- Shaq proved he's still the best in the game when it comes to funnin'.
Give the man this, as well: Even when he was quasi-evasive, the Big Equivocator said more than enough about his acrimony toward Lakers management and the bitter and complex relationship between the Big Brother and his former sibling, Kobe Bryant:
"If [Bryant] did the little things, he'd be the greatest ever. [If] he made other players better, he'd be better than Mike, better than Shaq, better than [Tim] Duncan. It doesn't matter what I think about him as a person. It doesn't matter what I think about him off the court. All I know is, when I was on the court, I played team ball. With the Diesel on the floor, there's lots of room for everyone to run around. But when he's not on the floor, it goes back to reality."
Then again, Big Spinmeister, remember the flipside of that reality: Increasingly, it has been Bryant hitting the impossible shots late in fourth quarters; Bryant who could be counted upon to make his free throws; Bryant who made teams think twice about doubling you in the post. You may be right. Going to a weaker conference that lacks decent big men, and to a lame division devoid of quality teams, you will get your rest -- rest you're sure to need, should you hit Miami in the lackluster shape you've languished in the past two seasons. Because all the talking in the world -- entertaining and full of truth as it might be -- won't burn your calories, spare your knees or hit your crucial front ends.
The Blog, as an native Angeleno, has seen this all before, of course. As a youngster in absolute love with the Lakers of the Real and True Showtime, the Blog watched another incomparable inside-outside duo subjugate personal glory and supreme individual talent for the sake of winning championships. As the game's dominant big man, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could've demanded a bigger role in the team's offense. As the game's pre-eminent point guard (and still the greatest player the Blog ever saw), Magic Johnson could've hogged the rock and jacked shot after shot. They could've let their personal differences -- the private Abdul-Jabbar and effusive Johnson were hardly pals -- affect their play. Jealousies could've ruled the day. Things could've fallen apart.
But they didn't. Because they understood something that O'Neal and Bryant are either unaware of or, more likely, too stubborn to admit. They were better together. They were better as one. And thus, they (with a little help from Big Game James, Byron and Coop) won five championships and were, in the Blog's decidedly biased eyes, the best teammate combo the sport's ever seen. Thankfully, their legacy is safe. (Though the Blog would argue it has been for some time now.)
Today, then, the Blog does something less than mourn the dissolution of a truly entertaining yet ultimately flawed coupling, whose collective genius is now a bittersweet memory that will be writ all the larger come next season, when both men are alone and wondering how in the world things suddenly got so much harder.
Other thoughts re: the Lakers (whose continued stay atop the sports-news pyramid is surely dumping on the parade of my colleague and NorCal sympathizer, Chris Ballard, who, incidentally, will wed the lovely Alexandra on Martha's Vineyard Saturday afternoon. May the Force be with you two ... always):
Don't believe Lakers owner Jerry Buss' hype that trading Shaq was a business decision, if only because the multimultimillionaire Buss is clearly a good businessman and this, on its face, was a bad move. (Two more small forwards in Lamar Odom and Caron Butler? No whiff of a big man? No Dwyane Wade? Wha-?) No, this was simply Buss ceding the palace to the younger, healthier and less expensive(!) of his two petulant attention-cravers, likely influenced by a belief that the Big Geriatric will break down sooner rather than later ... and the fact that his two schoolchildren can no longer make nice in the sandbox. ...
Ditto Buss' absurd stance that former Lakers coach (and still potential son-in-law) Phil Jackson would've been dismissed in any case. To can -- sorry, refuse to offer a new contract to -- a nine-time NBA-champion coach is such blatant capitulation to a certain someone's (rhymes with Giant, eh, Ballard?) shadow demands that it makes the whole affair even more farcical than it was, to say nothing of officially knee-capping Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak as a power player. The Blog wonders what the decent Rudy Tomjanovich was thinking when he agreed to work for his shooting (and shooting, and shooting) guard. ...
And, yes, save a guilty verdict in Colorado, Bryant will return to the Lakers, at the expense of those lovable, laughable Clippers. In their continuing pursuit of Bryant's free-agent services, the Clips reportedly promised to play some home games at The Pond in Anaheim, closer to Bryant's Newport Beach home (wake me when they're through) and traded Eddie House and Melvin Ely to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday to free up an additional $2.5 million. (The Blog wrote that with one hand, so it could hold its free pinkie to its lips and laugh maniacally.) Way to go, boys. Now if you can just find, oh, an extra $33 mil or so, Bryant will only politely laugh you out of your own arena. I mean, good lord, Charlie Brown, Lucy's only going to pull the ball away when you try to kick it. ...
This has nothing to do with the Lakers, actually, but the Blog's offering its first grooming tip: Michael Jordan is unquestionably a fashion icon -- a fact made all the more remarkable given that unfortunate, mangy growth between his nose and upper lip. M.J., I knew Magnum, P.I. I loved Magnum, P.I. M.J., Tom Selleck is the only man ever to look better con 'stache than sans 'stache. Yours needs to go.
Thankfully, on the Blog's recent vacation to Italy, he was reminded that something good and true remains for the discerning sports fan. The Blog speaks, of course, of the just-completed Euro 2004 soccer championships, a beautiful event made even better when watched in Euro, 2004. The continent stopped come the day of the final (think Super Bowl x 1,000) that pitted the hopelessly overmatched Greeks against the hometown favorite Portuguese -- and for good reason. As my crack editor and footie-phile Mark Mravic says, there's just nothing better than international soccer, and that was never more true than during Greece's improbable run to the championship game. That night, the Blog was forced to dine with friends less appreciative of the Beautiful Game, and glumly picked his way through the antipasto and primi courses. When a waiter came by with another acquaminerale, though, the Blog had to know: What was the score? "1-0," he covertly replied, agonizingly pausing before continuing, "Greece. They just scored five minutes ago." (So THAT was the ruckus heard from the kitchen a bit ago.) A slave to the moment, the Blog feigned a bout of gastric distress and made for the W.C. -- and proceeded to post up with the waitstaff and seemingly every other male diner in the place for the game's final, nerve-wracking, I-can't-believe-the-Greeks-are-actually-going-to-win-it 30 minutes. (To her everlasting credit, Mrs. Blog was never kinder upon my guilty return to a cold secondi.)
Normally, I'd stop here and expound on the virtues of Last Comic Standing, or the unfettered agony that is MTV's The Ashlee Simpson Show. But not today. Instead, I would like to mention two profound losses that make me happy for the blissful distraction of shattered dynasties and huge upsets.
Katherine MacDonald, the finest travel agent ever and savior of many of my colleagues, passed away July 8 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Hers was a fight that showcased her unceasing good cheer and unmatched ability to make your life happier, even when it meant five more hours stuck in Buffalo. Because without her, the wait would've likely been a lot more. Now, without her, life will seem a lot less.
And Mary Jordan, my eternally youthful octogenarian grandmother and a loving wife of 67 years to her rock, Jack Jordan, passed away last Saturday. I loved O'ma for too many reasons to recount, and the devastation of her loss has yet to settle in. But I am grateful to have known her for so long, to have sat at her side to hear tales of my grandparents' fateful meeting on a Southern California beach, of my family's days as West Coast ice-cream pioneers (give it up for Fosselman's ice cream), of just about anything she felt like discussing. In so doing, she taught me the value of a good story well-told. So thanks, O'ma, for everything. I will love and miss you, always.