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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO

Old Lakers Have Something to Say About NBA Troubles

September 11, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were sitting together Thursday afternoon in a model for one of the new Staples Center's luxury suites, talking about the Lakers' first year in Los Angeles in 1960.

"How many fans did we draw that first night, Elgin, about 48?" West asked.

"And they were very, very reserved. When we were introduced at a Dodger game that season as the new team in town before about 50,000 fans, I remember thinking, 'We're like a minor league.' "

Appearing at a promotion for the luxury suites that range from $197,000 to $300,000, the possibility no doubt occurred to West and Baylor that the NBA might again become a hard sell in relation to baseball.

Four years after a labor dispute forced cancellation of the World Series, it took a historic season by Mark McGwire to make fans forget they had vowed never to come back. Now the NBA appears destined to repeat baseball's mistake.

Because the NBA isn't allowing team executives to discuss players during the lockout, West and Baylor were put in the awkward position of talking about their teams without talking about Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Michael Olowokandi or Maurice Taylor.

They were allowed, however, to talk about John Feerick. If you have to ask who that is, then you've got an idea of the fix the NBA is in.

"I just hope everyone realizes how fragile all our sports are, and that what keeps them ingrained in our society is not money but the fans," West said. "Once you lose them, they don't automatically come back."

The NBA would need a McGwire.

Of course, the league already has the one player in America who is still more popular, but who knows if he will come back next season even if there is one?

I asked West and Baylor for their thoughts on that. They couldn't talk about him.

*

Kurt Rambis knew last week the Clippers weren't going to hire him as their head coach. . . .

The owner, Donald Sterling, thought the Clippers could do better. . . .

And for less money. . . .

Now what? . . .

NBA insiders are touting Doc Rivers, now working for TNT, as the next great coach. But although he has no coaching experience, he's believed to have also priced himself out of the Clippers' market. . . .

King General Manager Dave Taylor said Thursday there's a "very real possibility" that Rob Blake will be a holdout when training camp opens Sunday. . . .

Blake's agent, Ron Salcer, is asking for too much money, but that's his job. . . .

Kansas City Royal Manager Tony Muser's take on the AL West: "Texas is more talented, but Anaheim keeps finding ways to win. It's going to come down to starting pitching." . . .

Although he has Aaron Sele (18-10) and Rick Helling (18-7) in his rotation, Ranger Manager Johnny Oates hopes Muser is wrong. . . .

"What's two 20-game winners and three five-game winners?" . . .

Extreme fans can see the U.S. Championships of the Panasonic National In-Line Skate Series on Saturday and Sunday at Venice Beach. . . .

One of the favorites is Japan's Eito Yasutoko. He goes by the nickname of "8." That makes it easy to sign autographs. . . .

A year ago, Texas Coach John Mackovic was still hearing about what a genius he was for his fourth-quarter call that preserved a victory against Nebraska in the previous year's Big 12 championship game. . . .

You might recall. On fourth-and-inches, quarterback James Brown threw a 62-yard touchdown pass in the biggest play for the Longhorns in more than a quarter of a century. . . .

UCLA's Bob Toledo? Let's just say the word "genius" didn't come up too much in conversations about him after a couple of his calls in losses to Washington State and Tennessee. . . .

Today, Mackovic is no longer coaching football. . . .

Toledo? UCLA extended his contract through the 2001 season. . . .

I'm not sure what the moral is. Maybe that 66-3 can ruin, or make, your whole day. . . .

The Longhorns are still so mad about that game, they took it out on New Mexico State, scoring 66 points in their game against each other last Saturday. . . .

"They're back to the Darrell Royal days," Toledo says of the Longhorns' attitude under Coach Mack Brown. "It's a sight to see. Their alums love it." . . .

Maybe, Bob. But check with us again after Saturday.

*

While wondering if there could be a Chris Ford in the Clippers' future, I was thinking: There should be an asterisk by Babe Ruth's record since it took him so many games to reach 60 home runs, Ken Starr was pretty smart to wait until the day after McGwire's 62nd to send his report to Congress, no way the Longhorns lose by 63 this year.

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