Denzel's wandering over to press row now, wants to know what's up with Reggie
Bush. We don't know.)
don't look like swap meets but they aren't the Emmy's either. Billy Crystal is
the most recognizable regular, having worked his underdog shtick at half-court
(where seats go for a mere $800) for 15 seasons, going back to when the
Clippers were still in the dowdy Sports Arena. "They had good, cheap
tickets," Crystal says. "I think I even got in a couple of
Lakers' attendance is pretty much a given, with 33 of 41 games selling out this
year, the Clippers are reduced to unseemly giveaways and undignified
promotions. Would the Lakers ever offer two-for-ones? Would they advertise that
Kevin Garnett was coming to town? For that matter, as easy as they might be to
see in person (Games 2 and 5 were not sellouts), the Clippers can be
surprisingly difficult to follow outside Staples. Many of their road games do
not appear on Los Angeles TV, and the radio broadcasts air on a talk station
that features Al Franken and Randi Rhodes.
Staples itself, which reinforces the Clippers' second-class citizenship most
cruelly. Of course it's very much their fault that they have no team regalia
hanging from the rafters, where every other tenant is represented. While the
Lakers have all those championship banners and seven retired jerseys, the
WNBA's Sparks and the AFL's Avengers have gear up there as well. Nobody's
saying a statue of Michael Cage needs to be placed next to the one of Magic,
but do the seats have to be purple? Does the Clippers dressing room have to be
1,300 square feet smaller than the Lakers'? Does the media room have to be
named for Chick Hearn?
Even a bad season
or two won't dissolve the Lakers' mystique. After missing the playoffs last
year for the first time in 11 seasons and nearly missing this year's, they
didn't lose much intramural ground. Derek Fisher, a championship veteran who
departed in July 2004 for Golden State, got a great hand when he showed up at
Staples to watch the Lakers play last Friday. He later explained that L.A.
would always be a Lakers town, no matter if the teams' fortunes are reversed.
"The difference is, a whole generation grew up Lakers fans," he said.
"You can't change that in one year. It'll always be a Yankees-Mets
And yet, for this
season anyway, the roles do seem reversed, with the Clippers dominating in a
near-Showtime fashion. They have a top 10 player in Brand, a floor leader with
big-game bravado in Cassell and a young playmaker with a touch of Magic in
Shaun Livingston. To go up 3-1 last Saturday in Denver, the Clippers employed a
suffocating defense, again shutting down Carmelo Anthony, who shot just 33% in
the series. On offense they distributed the ball magnificently, with seven
players scoring in double figures.
has let his teammates do the heavy lifting. In Game 3 at Staples, when the
Lakers flummoxed high-octane Phoenix, the K-chant was for 6'11" Kwame
Brown, who scored 12 points, and not for Bryant, who was "held" to 17.
With typical idiosyncrasy, Jackson has insisted that the Lakers attack inside,
using their height advantage, and neglect, for now anyway, Kobe's offensive
This has been
fine with Bryant, even though local columnists have decried his
"passivity" and implored him to let it go more. The game plan has made
stars of Lamar Odom, a former Clipper who had double doubles in two of the
first four games, and Luke Walton, who in Game 3 took one more shot (19) than
Kobe, in a 99-92 win. "Shocking," Walton admitted.
Still, for all
that, it's Kobe's team when it has to be. On Sunday the Suns, up 90-85 with
12.6 seconds left, looked to be evening the series. But after Smush Parker hit
a three and then dislodged the ball from Steve Nash, Kobe hit a looping
shot--degree of difficulty: 8.6--with 0.7 seconds left to tie the game. Then,
in overtime, with Phoenix up 98-95, Kobe scored on a layup with 11.7 seconds
left to draw L.A. within one. Nash got swarmed taking the ball upcourt, and the
Suns lost the jump ball to Kobe, who ... hit a 17-footer at the buzzer for the
It was, for that
brief moment, just like old times, Lakers mystique materializing out of thin
air, star power conquering all. It was like old times in another way: Even
before the Lakers could assert that ancient arrogance--before they delivered
the goods in the most dramatic ending of the season so far--their fans had
begun streaming out of Staples, beating the traffic.