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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

The NBA always comes back to L.A., and the Lakers

A mere seven years passed before the league returned to Los Angeles for its All-Star showcase. A lot has changed since L.A. last staged the game in 2004, but this much hasn't: The city and its glamour franchise remain at center of the NBA universe.

February 19, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • A photo illustration by Thomas Fuchs.
A photo illustration by Thomas Fuchs.

At the end of the Passover service, Jews recite "Next year in Jerusalem," acknowledging their hope of celebrating the holiday there.

In the NBA, it's:

Next year in Los Angeles.

With the All-Star game last having been staged here in 2004, it's the fastest turnaround, seven years, since Boston in 1957 and 1964.

Of course, there were nine teams in 1964, so it wasn't the same.

With abundant high-end hotels, five-star restaurants, unfailingly beautiful weather and inviting beaches, this may not be the cradle of basketball, but it's the cradle of All-Star weekend.

You can chart recent NBA history from the changes between visits.

If the 2004 event was a ball for participants and set a new standard for economic impact in Beverly Hills, it was a giddy, nervous time for the NBA.

The West had won the last five titles, going 20-6 in the Finals, as TV ratings dived toward record lows.

The league lived so vicariously through the Shaq-Kobe Lakers that Commissioner David Stern joked his ideal matchup was "the Lakers vs. the Lakers."

Unfortunately for the Lakers, and the league, the best of times were over and the end of times loomed with Shaquille O'Neal on the way out and Kobe Bryant playing while facing a sexual assault charge.

Days before the All-Star game, the team announced it had withdrawn its extension offer to Coach Phil Jackson, then tacitly allied with O'Neal.

With Jackson's deal running out, Bryant, asked for comment, said, "I don't care."

O'Neal called Jackson the morning of the All-Star media session, asking if he wanted him to torch Bryant.

Amazingly, they reached the 2004 Finals against Detroit before self-destructing for the last time.

Unfortunately, the East still had some things missing, such as:

—New York.

Having insisted You Can't Rebuild Here, the Knicks found fans came even if they made the playoffs once in 10 years.

With a major sex scandal on top of it and contraction not an option, Stern finally suggested that owner James Dolan, son of corporate boss Charles, give up control.

Now playoff-bound under General Manager Donnie Walsh, the Knicks have two maximum slots that could go to Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Deron Williams . . . or Carmelo Anthony?

Despite lukewarm interest by his people, Dolan has just taken over talks, reportedly on the advice of former GM Isiah Thomas — still, to the horror of Knicks fans, his untitled consigliere.

Well, it's progress

—Chicago.

In 2004, the Bulls were coming off win totals of 13-17-15-21-30 since Michael Jordan's retirement.

Now they have a budding superstar in Derrick Rose and a 38-16 record, with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, who have played only a handful of games together, about to be reunited.

—Boston.

By 2004, the once-mighty Celtics had become doormats and abandoned ones at that.

In 2007 when Kevin Garnett arrived, fan/blogger Ken Tremendous wrote in Sports Illustrated:

"When I heard Randy Moss was coming to the Pats, I thought, 'Finally, a long ball threat for [Tom] Brady!'

"When the Sox acquired Eric Gagne, it was, 'Two closers! We're so lucky!'

"And when news of the Kevin Garnett deal came across the wire I thought, 'I only wish the Celtics were still in Boston.'

"Then I was told that they are still in Boston . . . so great!"

Since, the Celtics won a title; blew a second; beefed up, to say the least, by signing Shaq, and are duking it out with the budding superpower in Miami.

Ask Doc Rivers, halfway home to Orlando a year ago as his wounded team duked it out with Atlanta for the No. 4 seeding, is this a great season or what?

"I think the hype should stay the same," Rivers said here, laughing. "I think it should all be on Miami and the Lakers.

"Really, the hype should all be on the Lakers. They've only won it back-to-back years. . . .

"I do agree with the Miami talk too. What they've done since last summer, that's never been done before. I get all that as well. It's new, it's what people should talk about. I think it's good for our league."

Oh, yeah, the Lakers.

If the road to the title leads through here, it's a wide spot in the road with a gas station as the codgers watch 18-wheelers barrel past doing 70.

Late in the game as it may be for this Lakers team, with all the NBA gains in key markets, it owns this one.

Overshadowed in coverage of the Lakers' 20-year cable deal was the reported money, which Time Warner disputed.

As far as the Lakers and the NBA are concerned, it can be summed up in three words:

THREE BILLION DOLLARS?

A source close to negotiations says reports are, at least, close, with the offer beating Fox's "by billions."

With owners and players about to rumble over the cost of Growing the Game, the Lakers, who have the NBA's lightest marketing footprint, going years without sending its people to the league's annual meeting, just broke the bank at Monte Carlo?

If happy times aren't here again, these had better do.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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