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T.J. SIMERS

Lakers throw another strike at the Dodgers

May 24, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

So I'm sitting here in Staples Center, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers belting out the national anthem on his horn and then jumping up and down at center court like he's got them, everyone swept away by Lakers euphoria.

The coronation now only a matter of a few weeks away, I was watching Lakers heroes, on a roll and so adored -- just wondering whether they've left the Dodgers behind for good.

The Lakers have won championships before and with some mega stars bouncing the ball for them, but this love affair with the guys feels different now -- in some respects, a little over the top.

Maybe it's the Hollywood stars who drive by Dodger Stadium on their way to Staples or having the best basketball player in the game. But nothing new there.

So I wonder how much this has to do with L.A. having no NFL team, or more than that, starving Dodgers fans now looking elsewhere for some thrills and promise of continued success?

The Dodgers might counter by pointing to the 3.7 million fans they continue to attract each year, but when it comes to outright popularity here, they are no longer in the same league.

A few years ago the Dodgers opened the season in San Francisco, lost, and I noted that was interesting, because the Dodgers and Lakers were both eliminated from the playoffs on the same day.

The Dodgers have fallen off the L.A. map. Once upon a time the Dodgers were like another child in the family, but for the last 20 years, Vin Scully has been their best performer.

When he signs off, the Dodgers are going to have to stand on their own merits, and coupled with the rough crowd the Dodgers are drawing on many nights, the Dodger experience might no longer be all about growing up here, listening to Vinny and soaking in the Chavez Ravine experience.

Chick Hearn is gone, but Kobe Bryant remains.

And so does Jerry Buss, and eccentric as he might be, there is a Lakers blueprint for success, which has produced consistent results.

Present-day Dodgers management instills no such confidence, and who is the superstar in blue to match the impact that Bryant has on sports fans here?

Name a Dodgers superstar besides Mike Piazza -- who just retired and would prefer to be recognized as a Met.

The Dodgers have no one that qualifies as a must-watch highlight show, Eric Gagne maybe the last one to generate such excitement, and now we know he had to get all pumped up to do so.

James Loney and Matt Kemp offer some promise, but it will probably take some home-run punch and team success to make someone a household Dodgers hero. Kemp has the power, and a hint of charisma, but when it comes to team success, the Dodgers just aren't the same without Jose Lima.

The Dodgers tried to copy the Lakers' plan, bringing in Joe Torre to be their own Phil Jackson, but then gave him Andruw Jones, who may be as big as Shaq in some ways, but just doesn't seem to have the same impact.

The Dodgers will tell you better days are ahead with their kids. One playoff win since 1988 should speak to more urgency, but who cares if 3.7 million fans insist on buying tickets?

The Lakers sell tickets, too, and every one of them that they have, and they have young players, too.

The Lakers' younger players look good, in part, because Bryant is here confirming their value with a pat on the back.

Take away Bryant, and maybe the Lakers are the Dodgers with apologies to Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.

Gasol found out what it was like to be on his own in Memphis, and Odom has been his best when surrounded by good players -- both here and in Miami.

But the Lakers have the superstar.

Who carries the Dodgers?

So far this year, it's been Duke Snider arriving in center field on opening day, Sandy Koufax taking the mound in jeans and Steve Sax sitting in the stands earlier this week waving to the fans on the scoreboard.

The Lakers can play that game, too, and then some.

They had Magic Johnson sitting on one end of the court doing TV, James Worthy handing the ball to the referee and assistant coach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sitting on the sideline.

Then the Lakers unleashed Bryant, who dictated the Spurs' terms of surrender in the third quarter, and I haven't even mentioned Andrew Bynum.

And right now in this town, there's more interest in Bynum than any Dodger.

And what does that say about the Dodgers?

THE PLAY of the night might have been Jordan Farmar's sky-high leap to block Ime Udoke's breakaway layup.

When asked if he had ever made such a play before, he said, "maybe in high school."

What about at UCLA.

"I was too tired playing defense," he said, and Ben Howland should get a good laugh out of that.

TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Al Taylor:

"I enjoyed you giving Jim Hill credit for doing what many others in your profession wouldn't do in supporting the charity. However, you couldn't help yourself by belittling what he did in comparing it to not buying a suit. It was crass and classless, as if you had to find a backhanded way to negate his contribution."

You're right. Jim Hill maybe having to wear the same suit twice is no laughing matter.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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