I’m feeling a bit of Vertigo from all the cold medications currently pulsing through my veins, but here are a few thoughts as the cuatro y cuatro Lakers (who may end up catorce y catorce) head back to the court after three whole days off in a row.
* Everyone seems to want to make tonight’s game the start of a “real” rivalry between the Lakers and the Clippers. Right now, I’d say this rivalry is more akin to the good-natured ribbing between Dodger and Angels fans than the animosity you see between the Oakland Raiders and, well, everyone.
For this to be a real rivalry, these two teams will need to either compete for the same playoff spot or meet in the post-season. The heat of the playoffs is where rivalries are forged. Until then, the Lakers and Clippers are just friendly competitors.
* I’m not one for predictions (if you saw my work football pool, you’d know exactly what I mean — a tic-tac-toe playing chicken would have crushed me last week), but I’ll throw this one out there: Lamar Odom will have a huge game tonight. Players love to rub how good they are in the face of teams that let them get away.
* Also, catching the Clippers in the second game of a back-to-back doesn’t hurt.
* The other basketball team I actively root for, besides the Lakers, is from my alma mater — Cal State Northridge. You know it’s supposed to be a good year when we land on the front page of the LA Times sports section before we even play a game.
* And while we’re talking Northridge — coach Bobby Braswell is my hero. Taking a team with the worst facilities in Div. I college ball and making the team a respectable part of the Big West, plus giving us the magical year where we beat UCLA and made it to the NCAA Tournament, is more than I expected in my lifetime.
* In case you didn’t see the USA Today article, Kobe is the NBA’s biggest beneficiary of the new rule enforcement on the perimeter. He is averaging 5.1 more free throws per game than he did last season. Right now, 40.6% of his points are coming from the charity stripe.
* While we’re quoting other people, the Sports Guy over at ESPN put up one of his “War and Peace” length posts on the NBA yesterday, and he had one observation I liked a lot:
With so many teams dumping coaches, making panic trades and wasting money on shaky free agents — it’s like 80 percent of the league at this point — the teams that keep building around the same nucleus (one bona fide star, four or five supporting stars, one coach) have an enormous competitive advantage over everyone else….When the subject of NBA problems comes up, everyone points to poor shooting, over-reliance on three-point line, overzealous defense, high schoolers … to me, the lack of continuity is THE biggest problem in the sport right now. None of these teams knows how to play together for more than four-minute stretches. Of course a team like San Antonio will win 60 games. Why wouldn’t they?
The Lakers need to spend the next couple of seasons building that core, then, in the summer of 2007 when all those salaries come off the books, fill out what is needed to make this team a champion again.
* But with the good also comes the bad — the Sports Guy also said:
Q: How has the city of Los Angeles responded to Kobe and the Lakers in the post-Shaq Era?
Ambivalently. When Kupchak and Buss made their big choice last summer, they underestimated three things:
A.) The city’s sweeping affection for Shaq.
B.) The number of locals who would blame Kobe for Shaq’s departure.
C.) The number of locals turned off by Kobe’s involvement in “CSI: Eagle, Colorado” (even if charges were eventually dropped).
He then goes on to talk about LA fan’s the (true) love of Shaq and standoffishness with Kobe. He even speculates about what would happen if the Lakers fans get frustrated with a slow start and turn on Kobe.
I’m not one who will spend a lot of time being critical of other writers — it’s a hard gig and they are welcome to their opinions. But in this case I’m going to comment.
I think he misses a key part of the point, something somewhat unique to Angelinos — Los Angeles sports fans love their stars and, while maybe disappointed with him right now, they will never turn on Kobe. Also, LA fans can come off as ambivalent toward any team that is not a winner. Oh, they show up — the Dodgers drew 3 million a year despite the disastrous ownership of Fox — but the passion doesn’t come to the surface (except for some diehards) until the team starts to win consistently. (And by the way, you don’t see most of those diehard fans on television because they have to sit above the luxury boxes at Staples.)
Rather than turn on him, by the end of this season and in the heat of a run to the playoffs, LA fans will be fully behind Kobe.
* Finally, a thought on finances. A recent article in Forbes Magazine talking about the NHL and its lockout also discussed ancillary income hockey team owners get (that often does not end up on the profit/loss statement). This included Los Angeles Kings and Staples Center owner Philip Anschutz:
Perhaps the best example of using your hockey team to create wealth is the Los Angeles Kings. Billionaire Philip Anschutz bought the team for $113 million in 1995. He used the Kings, which lost $5.3 million last season, to get the go-ahead to build Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles; it was completed in 1999 at a cost of $400 million.
Anschutz also bought a stake in the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association in 1998 and rents out his building to basketball’s Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League. When you add in tennis, gymnastics, concerts and other events, Staples Center is busy almost every day or night during the year. Premium seats for corporate fat cats are cross-marketed for the teams and events. Documents related to a bond offering on the building show that bankers estimated Staples Center would generate operating income of $50 million last year, only a fraction of which shows up on the Kings’ P&L statement.