OK, like any good shrink I'm going to give you a word, and you tell me what pops into your mind.
For those of you who spend all day listening to sports talk radio, enigmatic is a word of Greek origin meaning "mysterious and tough to pin down." Like many of L.A.'s resident geniuses — Scully and Wooden come to mind — Kobe Bryant seems to want to protect a part of himself in some sort of personal safehouse. I don't blame a single one of them.
But His Toothiness seems as much a mystery now as ever. On his wings, the Lakers fail or soar. No player in all of sports can will a team to victory the way Kobe can. Michael Jordan used to do it. Joe Montana? Of course. Bronko Nagurski? Well, you saw that game against the Redskins, right?
Where have we seen a season like this? Well, how about last year, when the Lakers were a Class 5 hurricane one game and cupcakes the next. We buried them with a shovel several times — in Houston, in Denver — only to have them bounce back again and again. The cast, the plot lines, a whiff of hemlock, it's all vaguely Shakespearean. Lakers games shouldn't run four quarters. They should come in three acts. The refs should carry swords.
Now they're at it again, these passive-aggressive-aggressive Lakers. Some nights, they are fierce. Some nights they are scary. I'm a lot like that myself.
Thing is, for the casual fan, the season doesn't really start till now. So here's our guide to the Lakers as we see them today, the Lady Gagas of the NBA:
Who are these guys?
Well, they're led by Bryant, who nominally reports to Coach Phil Jackson, who answers to owner Jerry Buss, father of Jackson's girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, a team executive vice president. If Jackson could manage to pony up an engagement ring, he could one day inherit the franchise.
How's that for Shakespearean? Let's move on.
Pau! You're dead
The Lakers' second-best player — and sometimes their best — is a shaggy dog out of Spain by the name of Pau Gasol.
Just when opponents think they have the Lakers beaten, the quick-handed Spaniard sneaks up from behind and slits their throats. It's the perfect crime, because there are so many other suspects. "I was 20 miles away at the time," he tells the refs with a shrug. "Besides, I wore gloves."
If the Spaniard ever goes, so will the Lakers. Gasol is the best thing to happen to L.A. since movie nudity.
The supporting cast
Ron Artest? Liked him better as a blond. Honestly, were those crop patterns carved into his head, or was he wearing a poodle hat? His own coach recently dubbed him a "naive lamb," a rare yet interesting description for a pro athlete.
I'm a naive lamb too, but I'm thinking it's been a dud of an acquisition. Artest doesn't even go into the stands anymore to confront fans. What fun is that? At least we'd know he was awake.
Derek Fisher? Nice beard — if you're a jazz bassist. To us, it's too reminiscent of Baron Davis. Or some radical kook about to occupy the poly sci wing at Berkeley. The thing about Fish the Swish is the colossal three-pointers he hits at critical junctures. Some of the game's connoisseurs think he is done. I think he can play till he's 60.
Lamar Odom? The ultimate middle child, one moment goofy, another invisible. Like Fisher, he's got a knack for the dramatic, a gift for stepping up at just the right time. But why wait?
Andrew Bynum? Apparently, his bones are hollow in the middle, much like a sparrow's. It's the only thing that explains the constant injuries. Were he actually to have bone inside his bones . . . well, they would probably still snap like a breadstick.
Test for success
Meanwhile, the Lakers are bound to bring in some fresh faces next year. They would do well to give them the new Wonderlic test I'm proposing for the entire NBA:
1. Down by a deuce with three seconds to play, the best thing to do would be:
A. Call time out.
B. Call a cab.
C. Go into the stands to confront a heckler.
2. If it takes two hours to fly from Chicago to Philly, how many hours would it take to fly from Philly to Chicago?
A. That depends.
B. Beats me.
C. Where's Chicago?
3. You know your sidearm is loaded when:
A. It goes off in your pants.
B. Your teammate starts bleeding.
C. The cops arrive.
4. Dennis Rodman was to basketball:
A. What Germany is to Poland.
B. What sugar is to tea.
C. What brides are to weddings.
5. 2+2+3+2+3+2 equals:
C. A rare off-night for Kobe.
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