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Lakers Should Get a Clue

October 09, 2001|BILL PLASCHKE

Our country's strongest, most decisive pro basketball franchise has been circling the issue on legs of jelly.

So, here, let me give them a hand.

Hey, Lakers?

It's OK to postpone your opening night banner and ring ceremony.

In fact, it's better than OK.

It's sensitive, appropriate, and represents our city in a noble way that even consecutive NBA championships cannot.

The ceremony was scheduled to precede the season opener Oct. 30 against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The next home game is Nov. 2 against the Phoenix Suns.

That's only three days. Why not wait? The rings won't tarnish. The banner won't fade. The cheers won't disappear.

If the Lakers wait, they can dedicate their entire opening night pregame ceremonies to remembering the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

That's what every other NBA team is doing.

That's what the NBA wants the Lakers to do.

The Lakers have no problem with the solemn stuff. You know them. They'll bring out a God Bless America singer who will leave Staples Center in tears.

Their problem is, afterward.

They still want to raise their eighth championship banner and pass out their rings.

They've been planning it for months. Folks who bought opening night tickets have been planning it for weeks.

It's tradition. It's a sign that life goes on.

"There's a fine line between having respect for all the problems that occurred and at the same time trying to get on with business as normal," owner Jerry Buss told reporters last week.

But the NBA thinks that by being the only team to celebrate something that night, the Lakers will be crossing that line.

The NBA worries how the public will perceive 10 minutes of piety followed immediately by 20 minutes of narcissism.

Imagine how it will look on the national sports highlight shows. All around the league, heads are bowed and prayers are uttered.

And then, look, in La-la Land, they're congratulating themselves!!!

There is certainly a danger of carrying this patriotic correctness too far. And sports fans in this town have never much cared what others think of us. Just ask the NFL.

But in this case, the NBA is right.

If the rest of the league is commemorating instead of celebrating, then the Lakers should solemnly fall in line.

Three days. It's only three days.

Why not wait?

"It's not that big of a deal in the scheme of things today, is it?" asked Norm Pattiz, longtime season-ticket holder who sits a couple of chairs down from Coach Phil Jackson. "Whether they get the rings at the first game or second game, it's really not that big of a deal, is it?"

The Lakers, worried about alienating longtime supporters, should regard that as their answer.

For all the cell phone and cleavage jokes, the Laker crowds are among the more sophisticated in basketball. They would understand. Probably even more than their own team's head coach.

Phil Jackson threw out the season's ceremonial first weird remark recently when he suggested that Commissioner David Stern would not be at the Lakers' first home game--and potential ring ceremony--because he wants to stay in New York and watch Michael Jordan's first game.

This would be nothing more than the usual jab by Jackson against the establishment except, well, Stern is staying in New York to participate in those solemn ceremonies with the Knicks and the Nets

He's part of their communities. There have been daily funerals in the church across the street from the NBA office. Stern belongs in New York on that night, and it has nothing to do with Jordan.

But Jackson never says anything without a reason.

And that comment perhaps reveals that the Lakers think Stern is discouraging their ceremony because he doesn't want to miss Jordan's moment or force Jordan to share the spotlight.

In which case, the Lakers would hold their ceremony out of defiance.

It's hard to tell exactly what they are thinking. Only that they are thinking, and thinking, and thinking.

Jeanie Buss, who runs the club's business operations and emerged last year as a bright successor to her father, has already shown her sensitivity for the issue.

She arranged for both previously canceled exhibition games in Tokyo to be rescheduled, with the net ticket proceeds from the game against Golden State in Bakersfield to be donated to Sept. 11 charities.

"We have been planning our opening night since the day after last season, and it's going to be a great opening night," Jeanie Buss said Monday. "But now, given recent events, we want to do what's right for everyone involved. We want to be sensitive to all aspects of the situation."

Whatever the Lakers decide, they need to decide, and they need somebody to explain that decision.

Pattiz is right, in the scope of things, the actual ceremonies are not a big deal.

But the sensitivity with which they handle them is a huge deal.

So why not just wait three days and hold them on Nov. 2?

A celebratory championship atmosphere will be there.

So, too, will common sense and dignity.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at

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