Such clich�s—"This is a very good Laker team," said Sprewell—are reality softeners in their own right, fuzzing into soft focus what is otherwise a sharp, exhilarating game. Their effect is narcotizing but not entirely displeasing, like an hour in a favorite hammock. As my travel-weary colleague jack McCallum put it after another familiar-sounding press conference last week; "Changes in latitudes, changes in platitudes."
Of course, reality can be softened only so much—and only for so long. Nobody escapes it entirely. In Minneapolis, Kobe Bryant wore a diamond earring the size of a walnut in his left ear and silver dog tags on a chain around his neck. When he shifted in his sear, the medals swung from side to side, like the gong in a grandfather clock. No one had to ask for whom that bell tolled.