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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

He Hopes L.A.'s Image Won't Go Up in Smoke

March 11, 2001|T.J. SIMERS

Some of you may not be old enough to remember the classic "Easy Rider," starring Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.

It was 1969, and until then, I thought I had been "Born to be Wild," as the Steppenwolf song goes during the opening credits, but after the movie, I realized I would have needed my parents' permission to take off like that.

Don't misunderstand, I was rebellious--I once had a friend with long hair.

He always seemed to be in a stupor, though, and while you have probably guessed he went on to become an attorney, I knew what he was doing, but made no judgment--other than the fact I'd certainly never ask him to defend me.

I talk to my attorney buddy now, and he wants to know what's wrong with today's athlete, and because he lives in Chicago, he wants to know how the old Bulls' coach is going to handle Isaiah "J.R." Rider.

Those are interesting questions, because not only is my attorney buddy older, but so is Phil Jackson. It's too bad Jeanie doesn't have three wishes.

The problem with getting older, of course, is you become a little more conservative, and maybe instead of writing about your time as a pot-smoking hippie, as Jackson did in his book "Maverick" in 1975, you make the transition, and find yourself being dressed in David Rickey custom-designed suits by your girlfriend and having your hair styled by Billy Yamaguchi.

Now you look at Jackson, and the makeover suits him, but I don't know how deep it runs. This isn't someone who is into small talk, you know, so as I ponder the future of Rider and how Jackson might deal with him, I don't have much to go on. He's been very tolerant so far--getting little in return.

In "Mind Games," an unauthorized biography of Jackson written by Roland Lazenby, Dennis Rodman is quoted as saying in 1995, "You know Phil. He likes to kick back and smoke a joint, drink a beer, chill out."

Call me crazy, even if Rodman knows what he's talking about, I don't think we have to worry about Rider and Jackson sharing the same stash.

*

HOWEVER, THESE ARE ugly public image times. I mean the only athletes to make drug headlines this week anywhere in the country, came from here.

It began with the suspensions of Lamar Odom and Rider--a Clipper and Laker--with talk about possible marijuana use, followed by news of the arrest of Spark forward Latasha Byears on a charge of driving under the influence of marijuana, and a report former Spark coach Orlando Woolridge will be arraigned March 29 for being under the influence of cocaine.

Is this some kind of Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce marketing plan to remind everyone how laid-back this place is?

My concern from the beginning, of course, was second-hand smoke.

That's why I can't afford to go to Spark games. It's like those radiation badges that workers wear to tell them how bad they're getting zapped--I have to go to Laker games and an occasional Clipper contest, and Charles Oakley told everyone recently 60% of all NBA players are on marijuana, including some who play high. Now throw in the Sparks and I might inhale so much trouble I might not be able to pass a test.

Now that I look back on it, the Clipper locker room always smelled funny. I remember telling friends, "That's just what you expect from a joint like that,"--never realizing how close I was to the truth.

*

THE GOOD NEWS is our very own Easy Rider said he has never tested positive for marijuana. He explained he was suspended because of a paperwork mix-up, which came as great relief to most of us, but left my attorney buddy laughing: "I wonder what he's been smoking?"

It's true, Rider can say anything he wants in regards to his suspension because the NBA can say nothing in response. But he wouldn't do that.

Now we're hearing Rider must take three drug tests a month for the next three months, but even if he fails a test, there's some thought he will still be allowed to play as long as he remains in counseling. Good for the Lakers.

If he fails a test, the Lakers will not be told, which would seem to confirm that suspicion he will play on. I would imagine, though, someone with experience like Jackson will know if he's high. Then we'll learn more about Jackson and his current level of tolerance.

Jackson has made it clear he wants to hold on to Rider, in much the same way a high school coach is willing to go the distance with a troubled athlete--especially if that troubled athlete is a top-notch player.

"He brings something unique we don't have on this team," he said.

I know he brings a very clever excuse every time he's late, but for Jackson's purposes, Easy Rider also brings a situational set of skills that might make the difference in a quarter or half somewhere down the playoff road for the Lakers. That's the game of risk-reward that Jackson is playing.

I just wonder if he remembers how "Easy Rider" ended.

*

IN ADDITION TO Rider, Odom, Byears and Woolridge, there was a report this week that several 17th century clay pipes found on the site of William Shakespeare's home may have been used to smoke marijuana.

I always wondered why I never understood a thing that guy wrote.

*

GARY SHEFFIELD SAYS he owes it to his fans to stay in L.A. Don't you like happy endings?

*

TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Chuck:

"I'm a Raider fan. I don't have any weapons. I'm also a college grad, a certified public accountant and will be entering law school in the fall."

That's what the world needs--another Raider attorney.

*

T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address: t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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