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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Image is everything with Andrew Bynum 'coverage'

Despite all those overheated Internet accounts, Lakers center's escapades at the Playboy mansion hardly qualify as news, particularly when viewed in the context of the franchise's wild history.

April 05, 2009|MARK HEISLER

Hello, mother lode.

Even for the Lakers, who have had as many stars as any NBA team, and as many clowns as Barnum & Bailey has climbing out of that little car, it was some week.

Talk about images that will live forever, like Jerry West hitting that half-court shot, and Magic Johnson's junior, junior skyhook, and now . . .

H-e-r-e's Andrew, partying at the Playboy mansion, with Playmate Nicole Narain on his shoulders!

The team's on the road, getting its itinerary rearranged -- OK, that's Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 in Cleveland -- with Lakerdom waiting breathlessly for updates on Andrew Bynum . . . and he's running around with a Playboy centerfold on his back?

Even if it may have just been some new kind of therapy, it wasn't the kind of update they had in mind.

In Lakerdom, we call this a Full Kwame, for Kwame Brown, who attained immortality during his brief stay by hitting a fan with his own birthday cake.

Of course, no NBA title has ever depended on Brown. Bynum is a franchise player in training, or, at least, that's one of the things he's training for.

Everyone laughed at Brown. With Bynum, there was a Great Disturbance in the Force, although most people were understanding, apart from talk show hosts and the usual percentage of people displacing rage, as in this post to our Lakers Blog:

"disgusting. trade him. trade him for marc gasol. then he'll always be injured since he'd be in memphis. serves him right. what a [bad word].

"Posted by: pinkalink"

The real significance of Andrew's Night Out was . . . zip . . . although it was a clinic on coverage in the Information Age, also known as the Bonkers Age.

If going to a party is too dangerous, they should hospitalize Bynum so he can't get out of bed.

Since he does squats with twice as much weight as Ms. Narain carries, it was hardly reckless to hoist her on his shoulders. It didn't even qualify as a workout.

He wasn't ignoring his team, which wasn't playing that night.

Whatever this was, whether you found it a monumental pain, like the Lakers, who go through something like this every day; or shocking (get a life); or a laugh-riot because of the overreaction (bingo!), it was huge.

The story by SI.com's Arash Markazi got more than 200,000 page views and was cited by ESPN's "SportsCenter" and "Pardon the Interruption." We're still waiting to see if "60 Minutes" mentions it.

And whatever you think of the process, it's not going away.

Of course, we're still trying to figure out what hits and driving traffic have to do with journalism, which, unfortunately, was rare enough in newspapers before the Internet.

On the other hand, if there's one thing everyone understands by now, it's no traffic, no journalism.

Journalism involves explaining, or at least trying to explain what things are, as opposed to what they look like, no matter how shocking or funny that is.

Given Bynum's previous star turn -- "making it rain" (throwing money at the performers) at his 21st birthday party last fall (still up on YouTube) -- he's starting to look like the Lakers' version of "Girls Gone Wild."

As if that would represent some break with tradition.

Among the Lakers, the mansion is also known as "the clubhouse."

Hugh Hefner once turned it over to Shaquille O'Neal for a private party for several thousand close friends before the 2004 All-Star game, one-upping them for all time.

Hefner is not only close to Lakers owner Jerry Buss, the Lakers are the only team with a top executive who posed for a pictorial in the magazine.

Happily for them, the Internet is a recent phenomenon. Who knows whether the Showtime teams could have won five titles under such scrutiny in the '80s, when their whirlpool was used for more than rehab?

The reality is as much a surprise as Bynum has been.

He's actually hardworking, levelheaded and coachable, which accounts for his stunning rise from a chunky prep who was supposed to be a project at UConn, skipped to the NBA instead, and came on so fast he wound up turning around outward-bound Kobe Bryant and saving the Lakers' franchise.

If Bynum is getting around more, he's still getting better by leaps and bounds, although the process isn't smooth.

When he started slowly this season, Mychal Thompson and I had another of our long-running exchanges of opinion about him.

"It's your fault for building him up," Thompson said.

"At least, I didn't want to trade him for Jason Kidd, the way you did," I said.

Nor did Jackson's jibe after Bynum's three-on-three game that DJ Mbenga "ate him up" mean anything, although talk shows were stressing about it within hours.

Said DJ, who didn't remember dominating Bynum: "Sometimes, Phil is more funny." Yes, there are things the Lakers have to do, like, waking up.

As for Bynum and la vida loca, don't cry for him, Lakerdom.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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