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The Inside Track | Mike Penner SOUND AND VISION

Laker Game Interfered With New Talk Show

March 31, 2004|Mike Penner

Stepping gingerly from "Above The Rim" into the "Lakers Living Room" on Tuesday night, actor Duane Martin settled into the comfy chair, studied the flower vases and the beaming female faces surrounding him and couldn't resist.

"I made some cookies for you guys," was how Martin broke the ice.

Pause.

"There aren't any cookies here," one of the women countered.

Martin feigned confusion.

"This isn't a cooking show?" he quipped.

Many Laker fans tuning into Fox Sport Net 2 on Tuesday night must have had a similar reaction.

The Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets were on the screen, kind of, on occasion. But Shaq and Kobe were mostly window dressing as five women, including Jeanie Buss and Shaquille O'Neal's wife Shaunie, discussed diamond rings, pregame meals, numerology, the Laker Girls, how high the Lakers wear their uniform socks, how "cute" Luke Walton is, Laker wardrobes, Laker hairstyles, and, if the mood struck, basketball.

"A high-percentage shot is a shot in the paint," Lisa Leslie explained at the top of the show.

"The blue area is the paint."

And home-court advantage in the playoffs is what the Lakers are playing for now, Leslie noted. "That means you start out at home," she helpfully pointed out.

Part Hoops 101, part "Coffee Talk," the "Lakers Living Room" was Fox Sport Net's grand experiment to provide a "ladies-only" perspective to a live Laker telecast, to maybe attract a few new viewers not ordinarily interested in the triangle offense and, of course, to drum up a little publicity for the station.

The idea, to bring five women together in a living-room setting to chat about the Lakers, belongs to Buss, who dates Laker Coach Phil Jackson, as was noted at the beginning of the show. All those Xs and O's must be contagious.

Buss did the brainstorming, Fox Sports Net set it in motion, and Tuesday night, Buss welcomed her friends to an extremely made-over Kings dressing room, complete with plush arm chairs, coffee table and shaded lamps.

The roster also included Leslie, to provide basketball insight and some very-basic basics; O'Neal and Linda Rambis, to talk about life as wives of NBA players and coaches; and Fox Sports Net's Leeann Tweeden, to keep the conversation moving.

Right away, the women got into it, with Shaunie O'Neal questioning Jackson's reluctance to call timeout with the Lakers trailing early, 14-2.

Buss rushed to Jackson's defense.

"When things get tough, he likes the players to try to work it out," Buss said. "He doesn't want to stop the momentum. He wants them to get used to getting themselves out of a hole. That's why I think he hasn't call a timeout yet."

O'Neal kept looking at the scoreboard.

"Sometimes," O'Neal said, "I want Phil to call timeout and yell at them."

A few minutes later, O'Neal got her wish. Timeout, Lakers. Close-up of Jackson talking heatedly to his players.

"Yelling is good," O'Neal said approvingly. "Yelling, Phil, gets results, man!"

Buss smiled, a little uncomfortably, and said, "He's doing his job and he does it really well. He knows what he's doing."

O'Neal was asked about the much-discussed "feud" between her husband and Kobe Bryant.

She compared them to a couple of little boys.

"They're like brothers," she replied. "No matter what everybody tries to make of Shaquille and Kobe's relationship, and all that, that's such crap. They're like brothers.

"And me having kids ... three boys, they fight. That's what they do. They're going to say, 'This is mine, this is yours.' That whole thing. They're a family."

Right then, the camera caught O'Neal and Bryant at midcourt during a play stoppage, talking and laughing.

"Look at them," Shaunie O'Neal said. "People that ask that question, I'm like, do you not watch the game? They're always laughing and giggling over there on the bench, or talking to each other.

"If Kobe's not playing, he's talking to Shaquille [about] what to do, what he's not seeing, that whole thing."

O'Neal said "We invite Kobe and Vanessa and the baby to birthday parties and everything."

She called reports of a rift "hogwash."

Unfortunately, not all the show provided this sort of insight. Proceedings took a nosedive when Jon Cryer was ushered into the living room as one of too many "special guests." Buss immediately told Cryer she had a crush on him. Cryer said he was embarrassed. Cryer then talked about once seeing Shaq naked in the Laker locker room, calling the experience "Awful. It was harrowing. It took me years to get over it."

Soon, Cryer wasn't the only embarrassed person on the set.

The program rallied in the fourth quarter when Marge Hearn, Chick's widow, stopped by.

"This beats laying on the beach in Bora Bora," Hearn said as she settled into a chair.

One of the women asked her what she thought of the "Lakers Living Room" idea.

"I think it's a wonderful concept," Hearn generously offered. "It's never been done before, has it?"

Hearn talked about how attending Laker games has become therapeutic for her. At first after Chick's death, she said she'd look up at his banner on the Staples Center wall and "a tear would fall." She said that "Everyone has been so wonderful to me. I think they feel closer to Chick through me."

Then, in the final minute, with the Lakers ahead, 107-86, Hearn asked the group, "Is it time to put it in the refrigerator, girls?"

Of course it was.

Hearn smiled broadly and, with the kind of dramatic pause that would have pleased Chick, announced, "The door is closed."

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