The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. There are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside every house, a happy, all-American family. You can have all this, and who knows... you could even be discovered, become a movie star... or at least see one. Life is good in Los Angeles... it's paradise on Earth." Ha ha ha ha. That's what they tell you, anyway.
- Danny DeVito (as Sid Hutches in L.A. Confidential)
At 24, I worked at L.A. International Airport. My shift was 1930-0400. I’ve written before about how beautiful airports can be. Well, a lot of weirdness also happens at airports. One particularly hectic summer, every seat on every flight between New York-JFK and Los Angeles was $99.00. I think it was Eastern Airlines, now bankrupt that created this idea. What I remember about this summer, aside from all the overtime, was Flight 29. It arrived from JFK at 11:48 p.m. and every night eight to ten people--mostly younger than me-- would get off the flight and ask this question: "Which way is Hollywood? and "What's the best way to get there?"
Most were female--neither pretty nor ugly, just girl next door types, wearing Levis and carrying one soft-sided bag.
For those of you who thought it a well-worn Hollywood cliché about people 'just showing up in Hollywood hoping to get discovered,"allow me to tell you this is one myth squarely based in fact.
As a teenager, I spent my Friday and Saturday nights cruising Hollywood Boulevard. I regularly wandered into B.Dalton Pickwick bookstore and stopped at Love’s Restaurant or Two Guys from Italy. The Scientology proselytizers, back then, walked the boulevard giving out flyers and pleading with evereyone to come to their seminars.
Being from L.A. means you understand L.A. The city doesn't want you. You arrive there with your precious little hopes and fragile dreams and the city eats you-- not in the voracious, uncaring way that NYC finishes people off--no, not that way at al. In L.A., everyone just smiles, tell you what you want to hear as they systematically fleece you of your hopes and dreams. "Have a nice day," or “I’ll call you.” someone always says, right before the knife separates you from your hopes and dreams. "Do you know the way to San Jose" is more than a song, it's a secret code to maitaning your sanity.
If Miami is the capital of Latin America, L.A. is the capital of Pacificas (my term for the domain that reaches from the West Coast to Japan and South to Oceania. As L.A. goes,so goes the world. Everyone wants to be in L.A.
Except, of course, Kobe Bryant.
I have been an ardent supporter and apologist for Kobe Bryant. I believed--and still do-- that he is the finest player on the planet, embodying the best of what the game meant.
Now, I must say this: Kobe has disrespected the game by not giving his absolute best (during the preseason). And, for me, that is the abyss from which one cannot return. Disrespecting the game is sinful.
Kobe's complaints are legitimate. Since the great prophet of basketball Jerry West (peace be upon him), left L.A., Mr. Kupchak has been caught in a perfect storm that reveal his oppressive mediocrity.
1. O'Neal's departure
2. Questionable player personnel moves
3. Emergence of Phoenix and Dallas as powerhouse teams
Mr. Kupchak's draft choices, though intently safe, have been decent; (Bynum, Farmar, Turiaf and Vujacic--although drafting Brian Cook ahead of Josh Howard is questionable.) But, the personnel choices (Brian Grant, Kwame Brown, the inability to obtain a perimeter shooter to give the 'triangle offense legitimacy have made Mr. Kupchak’s decision-making seem irrelevant.
An objective analysis reveals the Lakers have not improved at a commensurate level with the remainder of teams in the Western Conference. The Lakers, with the best player in basketball, are (at least on paper) barely the eighth best team in the Conference. And that, violates a inviolable basketball law: Respect your stars by surrounding them with other talented players. (Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Ainge, he has surrounded Paul Pierce with legitimate players.)
The Lakers will be competitive this season--they will be fun to watch because they'll play hard and make shots. Fisher, Walton and Odom are consummate professionals and the Lakers are going to take a lot of teams late into the fourth quarter. Cook, Bynun and Farmar bring energy and fan appeal.
Fundamentally, however, they're going to struggle against top teams in the West because these teams have better players--and, a legitimate inside presence. The Lakers lack of post defense will translate into few, if any 'stops' late in games against San Antonio, Utah and Dallas.
Without Bryant, the Lakers are probably a 35-47 team missing the playoffs. With Bryant, the Lakers are probably 42-40 (same as last year) with an eighth place finish--depending upon how well Golden State plays and the kind of season that Durant has in the ‘Emerald City.’
So, tell me again why L.A. fans are begging Bryant to stay.
The Lakers glory days are over. I watched the Jerry/Elgin/Wilt era sunset; then the Magic/Kareem rose, then fell -- and the Kobe/Shaq era imploded leaving shrapnel inside everyone within a fifty-mile radius. And now, the Kobe era is done. I, for one, am glad.
Let Kobe go gently into that good night--be it Chicago, Washington or Dallas-- let him take his amazing talent to a place where he can be happy..a place where he wants to be.
The Lakers leadership team is at fault for this. Who knows what promises these people made to one another over Dom Perignon, Chateuabriand and Havana cigars. Kobe feels betrayed--and, probably was.
But that doesn't excuse Kobe's actions. There is no excuse for not playing hard--for not showing up every night and playing the game the way is should be played. Kobe is a player and 'players show up and play hard and smart.' Disrespecting the game is VERBOTEN -- and that goes goes for both coaches and players.
This isn't the same Kobe Bryant who rose from obscurity to spending eight hours a day working on his game out at Pauley Pavilion. No, this Kobe has become a typical 'Hollywood Type." He has allowed the actions of the Lakers leadership to turn him into an "Entertainment Tonight" clip-- fodder for the "The Colbert Report" -- perceived as an impetuous superstar caring only for personal needs. He has allowed the Lakers to define him. (And, shame on the organzation for taking this fight public.)
If the Lakers weren't so much a part of my life -- I used to sneak into the Sports Arena to watch them play...way before the Fabulous Forum opened-- I'd side with Kobe on this one. But, I can't. The Lakers are bigger than Kobe Bryant. For all my great memories of the Kobe/Shaq era I have just as many from the 1960s and and 1970s. Had there been ESPN in the 1960’s, everone would understand why Jerry West was called Mr. Clutch. (You had to have been there, my friends.)
But Kobe Bryant deserves to have a General Manager/Leadership team that can evaluate players like the Spurs organization; develop them like the Bulls organization; and treat them with the level of deep respect that the Maverick organization does. This current Laker organization--as defined by their actions-- are not overly competent in player personnel matters.
Everyone wants to come to L.A. But Kobe wants to leave. The greatest franchise in the history of the game can't treat the greatest player in the game with enough respect to encourage him to remain. This is crazy.
New England is now the mecca of sports excellence; the President of France is Hungarian; people care more what happens to Britany Spears than the fact 1,000 people are dying every month in Darfur. And, I won’t even bring up the Congo.
And Kobe Bryant wants to leave L.A. Yes, the end really is near.