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Lakers Have Sportscasters Dribbling on Themselves

Televsion

June 23, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG

They fought their hearts out on the court. They encountered adversity, aggression, animosity. When things were darkest, however, they battled hardest. They hitched up their baggy trunks and refused to give up.

Fortitude? They had it. Guts? They had it. Pride? They had it. Antagonistic crowds on the road? They had 'em. But they wouldn't buckle, wouldn't cave, wouldn't be intimidated, and next year they'll be back. Bank on it. Has there ever been a more gallant or courageous team in the history of professional sports?

Go, Pacers!

The truth? You can't handle the truth!

Yes, Wednesday's widely televised parade honoring the Lakers as NBA champs was not only spectacular but also a refreshing antidote, however fleeting, to day after day of distorting newscast pictures showing a metropolis constantly in conflict. An estimated crowd of 250,000 along the parade route, and not one serial killer in evidence.

As much of Los Angeles basks in the glory of the Lakers, however, my NBA fantasy remains a championship final with a huge center powering his way to the hoop for a monster jam as the crowd jumps to its feet in a frenzy and screams for more.

Only what he's stuffing through the basket is not the ball. It's Jack Nicholson.

Next he goes after Dyan Cannon and other celebrity courtsiders. Then next, the official Lakers cheerleading squad. That would be the Laker Girls? No, no.

The media.

For a start, NBC Sports' smarmy Ahmad Rashad, the former pro footballer who has mastered the innovative interviewing technique of attaching a question mark to flattery. Then perhaps another former NFL star, KCBS sports guy Jim Hill, local TV's booster emeritus who appeared anxious to sit on Shaquille O'Neal's knee when interviewing him Monday night after the Lakers knocked off the Indiana Pacers (sob) in Game 6. You could see it in Hill's eyes as he gazed upward at the tower of Shaq like a poodle on a leash.

And when Rick Fox's teammates began dousing the Laker reserve with champagne, there was Hill, as if bouncing on springs, leading the cheers.

On what stone tablet is it written that reporters should become home-team groupies? What has happened to maintaining a distance, to being an objective observer instead of a fan in a team's hip pocket? Is it possible to live in Los Angeles, in fact, and even dislike the Lakers (or the Dodgers, for that matter)? Yes.

In L.A., where pulling for the home team's foe equates with endorsing Dr. Mengele over NBC's "ER," I was rooting hard for the Pacers. Wanted 'em to win badly. A dozen Reggie Miller three-pointers per game would have suited me fine. A four-zip-against-L.A. finals I would have loved.

Now I'm no Hoosierphile. I've seen a bit of Indianapolis and don't like it much. In O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, moreover, the Lakers have a pair of young kazillionaires who are amazingly grounded and nice for NBA superstars. In addition, what a moving sight to behold O'Neal, the human lunar eclipse, get weepy during Monday night's victory ceremony. And what's not to applaud when the league MVP addresses the multitudes, as he did Wednesday, with quotes from Shakespeare instead of Bill Russell?

None of that matters, though.

I wanted the Lakers to lose not because they aren't good guys or the best team, but because just about everyone wanted and expected them to win. Also, because rooting for them here is taken for granted. And finally, because so much of the media in this city are knee-jerk homers who hemorrhage purple and gold, when they're not gushing Dodger blue.

A bit of chauvinism you can understand. There has to be a middle ground, however, between ESPN's smirking smartasses and the giddy anchors and sportscasters in L.A. who appear to regard themselves almost as extensions of the sports industry. Give them a safe, fat target like John Rocker, and it's bombs away. Otherwise, they're cozily close to those they cover.

Returning to Wednesday's live parade coverage on the seven stations I watched, it was "our" Lakers again and again. On KABC, for example, when sportscaster Bill Weir mentioned Lakers coach Phil Jackson at one point, it was "Phil" this and "Phil" that, as if they were comrades. Meanwhile, Hill was remembering when "Phil" coached the Chicago Bulls. And on KCOP, sportscaster Michelle Bonner was oozing on and on about "Phil" having a giant intellect. "He knows everything."

The Times does its share of screwing up. But in all of this paper's Thursday coverage of the parade, I found not one instance of The Times itself using an unattached "Phil" when referring to the Lakers coach. And only a few times, in a stylistic context, were O'Neal and Bryant (who long ago lost their surnames on TV) called "Shaq" and "Kobe."

This may appear to be stodgy nit-picking, but how subjects of news are addressed indicates a level of intimacy, as in CNN's Larry King and "Capital Gang," for example, chummily calling their political guests by their first names.

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