I live in California, where this year we are witnessing the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in U.S. history (Meg Whitman might spend $200 million) and the costliest sports divorce in U.S. history (Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are approaching $20 million in legal fees). Of course, the state is close to being bankrupt, both financially and morally.
So, as the NBA playoffs begin, I feel somewhat guilty that I actually root for the glitzy, glamorous Los Angeles Lakers.
What else am I going to do, sit in my underwater- to-the-moon condo and cower while Charlie Sheen waves to me from his silver-spoon-and-a- half mansion?
The Lakers are all I got.
(I’ll get back to the defending NBA champions in a moment, but first let me vent a little more about California. This is a state that has elected two film actors as governor. This is a state that sent Sonny Bono to Congress. This is a state that, in 2008, said no to same-sex marriage and yes to protecting farm animals – indeed, in one fell electoral swoop, we decreased human rights and increased animal rights. Of course, I assume gay pigs cannot wed.)
Since I moved to Los Angeles late in the 20th century, I have survived riots, mudslides,wildfires and earthquakes.
Most of all, though, I am proudest of surviving the culture. I mean, you’re not going to change L.A. but L.A. may change you. Yet I have remained the same prematurely curmudgeonly Slouch, largely unaffected by L.A. standards: No tattooes. No earrings. No nose rings. No personal trainer. No fanny packs. No yoga. No roller blades. No Botox. No Kardashians.
The only area in which I have capitulated to the L.A. culture is the Lakers. It allows me to bond with my fellow Angelenos, if I ever saw any of them.
(Frankly, Los Angeles lacks a communal thread, a sense of purpose, a heart and a soul. There are two big communities in L.A.: the entertainment industry and gangs. And they have only two things in common – making money and the Lakers.)
Sure, Kobe Bryant is a cold, calculating megalomaniac. Lamar Odom is an underachieving sack of great expectations. Andrew Bynum is a baby-faced enigma wrapped in an injury-riddled body. Ron Artest is a ticking time bomb. Sasha Vujacic is a front-running, don’t-I-look-great- when-I-hit-two-jumpers-in-a-row- once-every-three-months poseur. And Phil Jackson is a preening tower of arrogance.
But boy are they fun to watch.
Plus the owner, Jerry Buss, is one of the more low-key, skirt-loving 77-year-old millionaires in the business. You can take faux-man- of-the-people Mark Cuban and his sideline theatrics; I’ll take Buss.
Now, like most slackers here, I hardly ever attend a Lakers game. I get to Staples Center once or twice a season. First of all, nobody goes to the new downtown here – it’s pretty much a theme park adjacent to Skid Row – and, second of all, even if you wanted to go downtown, it’s not as if you could walk or bus there.
(L.A. has been a little slow developing something we like to call back East “mass transit.” Who could’ve ever projected so many people coming to a warm-weather metropolis on the Pacific Ocean? In L.A., the term “car pool” is reserved for those people who wash their cars in their backyard pool.)
Ah, but I digress.
The Lakers, despite their exasperating inconsistencies and the rumblings of their spoiled fans, likely are headed for the NBA Finals for a third straight year.
Even from home, I join the Staples Center crowd in its late-game “We Want Tacos!” chant – when the Lakers win and hold their opponent under 100 points, everyone in the arena gets two free tacos from Jack in the Box – knowing full well that, while it might not compare to the vaunted “DEE-FENSE!” chant at Madison Square Garden, it’s the Hollywood ending I prefer.
Ask The Slouch
Q. What type of NFL Draft Day party do you throw? Do you run a PBR drinking game linked to Chris Berman and “the New York football Giants”? (Al Gregory; Indianapolis)
A. Actually, I have shifted my shindig to the Release-of-the-NFL- Schedule Day – smaller group, but nobody yells and nobody spills.
Q. Larry King has filed for divorce, for the eighth time. Is his marital record unapproachable? (Patrick O’Leary; Pasadena, Texas)
A. Despite my best efforts, I can’t imagine I’ll get halfway there.
Q. Do you wish you knew as much as Mel Kiper Jr.? (Bob Ollerman; Ripon, Wis.)
A. No. I remember seeing “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and when you know too much, your family’s welfare is in danger.
Q. Given the complexities and nuances of the NFL’s quarterback rating system, do you think Ben Roethlisberger’s rating has dropped recently? (Duane Mathias; Medina, Ohio)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.