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Lakers are the gift that keep on giving, year after year

CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

The Christmas Day game is always touted as some key matchup, and it's something you can count on, a nice moment after all the other presents are gone.

December 24, 2009|Chris Erskine
  • ClevelandÂ’s LeBron James, left, has great strength and a huge wing span but is still lacking. LakersÂ’ Kobe Bryant takes on all comers in these games, the right guy to have in crunch time.
ClevelandÂ’s LeBron James, left, has great strength and a huge… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Santa baby,

As usual, I'll be spending Christmas morning in front of the fireplace, flicking in credit card receipts and users manuals . . . bad ties the kids gave me . . . holiday newsletters with sentences like: "It's so hard to believe that Braymer is already in his third year at Cambridge. . . . "

So I just wanted to say thank you, Santa. Thank you for the Christmas Day Lakers game, the little moment of pixels and light after all the other gifts are gone.

I love the Christmas Day game. In L.A., anything that happens twice in a row is considered a tradition. So for us, the Christmas Day Lakers game is like brushing sheep in Bethlehem. It's what draws us closer to the Lord.

There is so much to admire about the Christmas Day game, which for 11 straight years now has matched the Lakers against the NBA's closest competing carnivore.

The Lakers are just something you can count on at Christmas. Derek Fisher is what, 87 now, and he still comes down the court like a teenager with a bag full of cheeseburgers. I like that in an NBA player. I like that in anybody.

I like the way Kobe clenches his jaw at crunch time -- all sinew and heat. I wouldn't want to be the enamel in his teeth, nor would I like to be the poor sap-defender who has to decide, "Do I get in his face or do I give him . . . whoa, where'd he go?"

All on national TV.

I like the way Pau Gasol pretends it's nothing after making a big play, the rare humble man in a world full of chest-thumpers. I saw Chad Ochocinco score a touchdown the other day, freeze for a moment as Tantric spirits invaded his head, then strut around like some sort of goose.

Gets old in a hurry, that bird stuff.

Santa, I'll confess that for a while, some folks here quit believing in you, and then you gave us the Christmas Day game. As you know, the tradition goes all the way back to 1949 (Fisher's first season) when the Lakers whipped the Fort Wayne Pistons, 72-58. Stuff like this you can't make up.

Since then, the Lakers have had more Christmas performances than Dickens. They've played 34 other times on Christmas. Their record in the last 10? A surprising 4-6.

Like Christmas itself, the matchup seems to be spun with hype. The network always touts it as an Earth-takes-on-Godzilla scenario. Kobe vs. Shaq! Kobe vs. the Celtics! Kobe vs. the Indomitable Snowman!!!

This year, it's Kobe vs. LeBron!

Me, I never bought into that whole LeBron-is-the-best-player-in-the-universe stuff. I don't even know where that comes from. Sure, the guy has great strength and a significant wing span, but so does a UPS truck. And the UPS truck is better from the perimeter.

Seriously, the guy has no stroke. Against Kobe, he always seems to come away with five points. By the time the Christmas Day game is over, LeBron might actually owe points. He might be in deeper debt than you and me.

Santa, you've always had a funny take on capitalism, giving things away as you do. I don't know where it comes from, your sense of charity.

So help me understand why the greedy world of pro sports seems to be doing so well as the less-profit-driven college ranks lose their mojo.

Doesn't karma count for anything anymore?

College hoops suffers from too many drive-by careers. Today's scholar-athletes seem barely able to engage their profs in a good discussion of Milton's sonnets before they scramble off to toil for the likes of the Grizzlies or the Bobcats, never to be heard from again. It must bust a teacher's gut to see so much raw potential squandered.

On the gridiron, the NCAA refuses to give the fans a playoff system. Admittedly, I slept through most of my econ classes -- who didn't? -- but I was awake long enough to learn that if the customers demand more product, you give it to them -- at the most ridiculous price possible.

Call it the law of supply and de fan. What do we have to do, chain ourselves to the Rose Bowl?

As yet another example, we have this "Lakers vs. the World" Christmas extravaganza -- another time pro sports is trumping the more endearing and spontaneous college product.

Maybe, in your bag of tricks, you can find a way for the NCAA to give us something just as wonderful. How about a season opener of consequence, for example? Or a Thanksgiving game that matters? Really, can it be so hard to find something to compete with the Detroit Lions?

Till then, pal, you better be going to work. Time to suit up for your big night. Mrs. Claus has packed your "special Gatorade." The reindeer are throwing up, so it must be game time.

Just be careful, dude. Remember, you always lose your GPS a little over Las Vegas.

Don't we all?

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Erskine also writes "Man of the House" in Saturday's Home section.

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