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The Inside Track | The Morning After / TIM KAWAKAMI

What You See Is What Phil Jackson Reflects

May 01, 2000|TIM KAWAKAMI

SACRAMENTO — The high points, low points and ticklish talking points of the weekend that was:

There are always at least two things going on with the Lakers--what you see, and what Phil Jackson wants you to see. They are almost never the same.

In defeat, in victory, in perpetuity, this is a performance artist at work, which makes it interesting and confusing, for the players and for us, and maybe this is exactly why it all works.

Sunday evening, after absorbing the first meaningful Laker loss in about two months, Jackson stared out at the assembled media throng and dared anybody to ask an interesting question.

Are you disappointed? he was asked.

"No, I'm personally very happy about it," Jackson said, lightly, sarcastically.

"Because the way we were playing, we need another ballgame, anyway. And beside that, the next [series] wouldn't start until Sunday."

So, Phil Jackson is using humor to downplay the hurt. Or he's needling the reporter and the players. Or he's telling the truth. Or he's . . . well, as usual, you don't really know, you just know it's something.

For every other NBA team, what you see is what you get, and what you get is usually not worth seeing.

* Butch Carter, gobbling up the attention and spinning his way into trouble with the Toronto Raptors.

* Rick Adelman, a nice man who isn't ever going to be two chess moves ahead of anybody, although Game 3 was a triumph of his players' energy and excitement level.

* Pat Riley, a great leader who can only keep intimidating his players for so long, until they break down and wonder if they can just go home now.

Jackson is something else entirely, juggling the acts, players and scenes as he sees fit, guided by a wry sense of humor and confidence beyond normal measurement.

There are always at least two levels of Laker reality, probably more--one that's obvious, others that run in a parallel Jackson universe, the subtext of everything that makes this team successful.

THE BIG PICTURE

Unless you've been ordered to, tricked or are part of David Stern's extended family, you are not following the NBA playoffs, and if you tried, you lost it somewhere between Anthony Mason's seventh offensive foul and Paul Westphal's 35th quick timeout.

The NCAA has 200-plus Division I schools, and its tournament lasts three weekends (you remember: drama, momentum, celebration).

The Summer Olympics last 18 days, and they hand out hundreds of medals and millions in (alleged) bribes.

The NBA takes two weeks to decide one round.

With that in mind, here's a handy cheat sheet--all you wanted to know about the NBA postseason, but were afraid to watch:

* Every team in the Eastern Conference would lose to Michigan State, except Orlando, and that's only after the Magic signs Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady.

* Every team in the East would lose to the Dallas Mavericks, who limited their lousiness to the last millennium.

* Every team in the East fears what Philadelphia's Allen Iverson will do next, including Philadelphia.

* Staples Center has been a great playoff environment, though I didn't know the NBA was now using neutral-site arenas.

* Every team with a vacancy wants Isiah Thomas to be their coach, except the Clippers, who want him to play point guard.

* The reason all these marginal freshmen and sophomores are streaming into the draft is that the available pool is so weak: There's nobody even good enough for the Clippers to ruin.

WEEKEND TALKING POINTS

1. Wilt Chamberlain: His 100-point ball was auctioned for $551,844. So his little black book should go for $5 million.

2. Ryan Leaf: His arm strength hasn't returned after surgery. Too bad, because nobody threw a prettier interception.

3. Bobby Beathard, retired: In a few years, he could be a Hall of Famer--he'll trade that away for two No. 2s and the rights to a Mankato State javelin thrower.

4. Lennox Lewis' knockout-victory: Michael Grant failed to follow the best advice in boxing . . . Duck!

5. San Antonio Spurs: Nice guys finished first last season. But probably not again for a long time.

6. NCAA takes stands on recruiting, Confederate flag: Turns out, the only tangible result is a ban on summer recruiting in the South Carolina statehouse.

7. Tiger-White Sox brawl suspensions: The best thing about the harsh penalties is that nobody dared question Frank Robinson, who's a baseball rarity--a rule-maker with respect.

8. Robinson, penalty czar: While he was at it, he should have suspended Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and the designated-hitter rule too.

9. Dodgers 13, Marlins 12: Wait a minute, what exactly did they do to "modernize" Dodger Stadium?

10. Phil Knight: He's ending donations to Oregon because his alma mater voted to condemn Nike's child-labor practices in Asia. Cutting off his school to spite his disgrace.

LEADING QUESTIONS

So, can you make an argument here?

John Rocker is back, and he's blowing 96-mph heat past batters again. . . . Can you stomach that in October?

The Atlanta Braves, even without John Smoltz, and the New York Yankees, even without the same dominant starting pitching, look like the class of both leagues, again. . . . Do you want to see that World Series again?

And the Dodgers, who can hit, and the Angels, who can really hit, look better than last year but not quite good enough, again. . . .

Are you patient enough for another no-playoff season?

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