Dear Mom and Dad: Sorry.
In life and the NBA, what goes around comes around, so those of us who shocked our parents with Elvis and announced our intention to take over the world at Woodstock (the original) deserved rap music. And here it is, on TV, radio, in commercials and everywhere else.
It's even at Laker games, despite ticket prices that should make the place off limits to all young people except the offspring of actors, studio heads and other millionaires.
Still, basketball is played by young men like Shaquille O'Neal, the noted player-rapper, and Kobe Bryant, the up-and-coming player-rapper. Shaq's influence over the organization being what it is--total--the Lakers even put "Bling Bling" (translation: jewelry) on their championship rings.
Then there was the home opener, where Phil Jackson, who knew better after seeing several of his Chicago Bulls' teams whacked within minutes of accepting their rings, joined the fun with rap-style intros, after which, of course, his Lakers got whacked by the Utah Jazz. The only surprise was that the Utah players (old guys) didn't get too sick to play while watching the ceremony.
OK, now that everyone around here is perfectly full of themselves . . .
Last season was great fun, but it was just one of those things. Now the Lakers will have to get to work because they have plenty to work on.
For example . . .
* You-know-who's free-throw shooting--After working with Tex Winter last season, O'Neal developed an OK stroke, with his fingertips on the ball and a little arc on his shot, but he obviously didn't spend the summer in a gym. His stroke is a mess again. His shot is so flat, it often hits the bottom of the rim, on its way up.
Shaq's embarrassment comes out as defiance and stubbornness, which makes it hard for him to accept help, but he's back to square one.
* You-know-who's playmaking--It looked like Bryant got over the hump last season, but now it looks as if it'll have to be more a process than an event.
Openers pose a particular challenge for Kobe, who has months of pent-up excitement just waiting to burst forth in the form of all the wild shots he took in the first game.
Bryant does spend his summers in gyms. He spent this one working on his outside shot. However, he looks too eager to test his prowess. It's OK after the ball goes inside and comes back out, but that walking up and firing stuff is no good.
* You-know-who's antics--That didn't take long, did it?
In case you didn't notice, Isaiah Rider's baggage just hit town. In two games, while playing well, he drew two technicals, refused to talk to the media for the first time here and otherwise dominated news coverage of a team that recently won a championship without him.
Now the debate rages on press row: Are the refs picking on Rider?
Well, of course.
In case this has escaped Rider, that's what you get after a career of strutting and pouting, which has taken you to your fourth team in six years on a bottom-dollar mostly non-guaranteed contract, despite your obvious gifts.
Personally, I hope they T you up whenever you pull your jersey aside to show the crowd your great heart. You may be a manly guy with a nice chest, but we don't need to see it every time you make a shot. What would be impressive would be just going back and playing defense and sucking it up when things go wrong, like everybody else.
* Everyone else helping--You don't even want to think what the Lakers would be like without Rider. In the first two games, three of their starters averaged a total of 11.5 points.
Sound like enough to keep your defending champions busy?
Luckily for them, whether they appreciate it, Jackson has leverage that makes him as powerful as any NBA coach since the invention of the guaranteed contract.
Phil doesn't need to win anything else, or even coach if it isn't rewarding. He won't cover up problems, so everyone will be accountable. He was the best thing that ever happened to O'Neal and Bryant. It's looking like a longshot, but he could even work for Rider.
Of course, the going could get bumpy. Welcome to the title defense.
FACES AND FIGURES
It has already been a bad season in Sacramento: Chris Webber keeps saying he won't discuss his free agency--then discussing it in terms that suggest:
1. He'd love to be a Laker but understands it's impossible; 2. He's intrigued at the thought of playing alongside Latrell Sprewell in New York; 3. No way will he stick around Sacramento. "When you go to war with guys every night, to some guys it's funny and to other guys it's serious," Webber says. "I want to play with the guys who take it serious, who are hard to deal with after a loss, like me, and will just sit in the car and be quiet." King insiders say this isn't aimed at wild Jason Williams, whom Webber loves, but at easygoing Vlade Divac.