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Hey! Let's Show Some Respect Around Here

August 15, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE, sports columnist

So somebody is on the podium making a speech, and somebody is standing behind him tuning a trombone, and what appears to be the future of this great nation is being debated by two extraordinarily hairy delegates nearby.

Yet I've got a state senator from New Hampshire standing in front of me pretending to dribble and shoot a basketball.

"The problem with Shaq is, he's got to bend his knees and follow through," says Lou D'Allesandro, bending his knees and following through and nearly removing the eye of a button-infested colleague.

The honorable Mr. D'Allesandro feels compelled to offer this demonstration Monday evening because, well, I've dishonorably informed his New Hampshire delegation of a serious problem with their location at the Democratic National Convention.

Dudes, I told them, you are sitting at the exact spot where Shaquille O'Neal misses his free throws.

"All of them?" horrified fellow Sen. Sylvia Larsen exclaims.

OK, maybe it only seems like it.

"Well, then, as long as he doesn't miss all of them," she says.

Then Mr. D'Allesandro takes the floor and drops into his shooting stance and the entire delegation appears poised to nominate Jerry West.

I stroll away, pleased.


Squatters. All of them. From the people who removed the scoreboard to the people who darkened the championship banners to the 4,339 delegates who had no idea of the sacred ground upon which they spun.

They need to know.

This Democratic National Convention isn't being held at some town hall or White House ballroom.

This is Staples Center, home of the world champion Lakers, sports pulse of the city.

The last time most of us saw the place before Monday, confetti was soaring and Lakers were hugging and a championship series victory over the Indiana Pacers was being completed.

Two months and $10 million later, the floor is gone, the benches gone, and the only reminder of Laker basketball is a long and rambling "national anthem" that isn't remotely a national anthem.

Thank you, Melissa Etheridge.

As for everyone else, well, I considered it my duty Monday to inform them of exactly where they were.

First stop, Laker locker room. Good news. The Democrats understand its meaning. They're housing their convention bosses there.

"A very sought-after location," says Tim Leiweke, Staples Center president. "Everyone that comes in there, they look over at the lockers and say, 'Ohhh, Shaq' and 'Ohhh, Kobe.' "

Next stop, Clipper locker room. More good news. The Democrats also understand its importance.

They make sure nothing real happens there, using it instead as a rehearsal room, complete with a practice podium.

"This will be the only time anybody will give an acceptance speech in here," cracks one dignitary.

On to the floor, which isn't really a floor but a Republican-bashing mosh pit.

The podium is where the midcourt scorer's table used to be, with plastic air horns being replaced by human ones.

The Tennessee delegation is where Laker Coach Phil Jackson sits, sort of a Zen meets Zeb.

The California delegation is--you guessed it--where Jack Nicholson sits.

"That guy's got to be a Democrat, right?" asks Bruce Lee, a delegate from Fullerton.

In a bit of symmetry that is surely coincidental, delegates from President Clinton's birthplace (Arkansas) occupy the home of the north basket, while those from Hillary's birthplace (Illinois) occupy the home of the south basket.

Neither of which compares to the relevancy of the occupants of the home of Chick Hearn.

The Laker longtime broadcaster often complains that his midcourt seat in the middle of the stands is too far from the action.

Guess who is there this week? Yep. Guam. All 6,089 miles away.

"We would listen to Chick Hearn, but, it's like, the next morning," says Guam delegate David Shimizu.

Appropriate too are the Staples Center hallways through which President Clinton took his long, pre-speech walk Monday.

Earlier this summer, through those same hallways, strolled then-Clipper Coach Jim Todd.

"Dead man walking," remarked one bystander then, as now.

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