When the Supreme Court was confronted with the Jacobellis v. Ohio case in the mid-1950’s they were asked to determine if a French film titled The Lovers was obscene. Potter Stewart’s standard wasn’t exactly clear; in a concurring opinion the associate justice referred to his own sense when he wrote that pornography was hard to define, but that “I know it when I see it.” The decades since have brought plenty of change with them. Public concern over obscenity is not what it was in 1964, or the late 1980’s when Tipper Gore and Jesse Helms were pressing the recording industry to put warning labels on rap records. There are other demons to chase now. Continue reading
Category Archives: sports
This new season looked promising when the Lakers were standing at 10-10 after 20 games. Admittedly the definition is a bit different in Tinseltown after a 17-65 meltdown, but the excitement was nonetheless genuine before December arrived. The injury bug that seemingly left with Byron Scott in May returned after Thanksgiving, took down D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young, then the bus crashed. As a rookie head coach Luke Walton is not used to this kind of thing. His time patrolling the sidelines, whiteboard in hand, was spent overseeing a 24 game winning streak…not back-to-back losses where 19-point leads were surrendered. There remains little reason to doubt Walton’s state of mind, even after he was thrown out of a game in Sacramento for barking at officials when they missed an obvious call. He’s let it be known that the Lakers’ record and their place in the standings is not a particular concern; his first season is the beginning of a long-term rebuilding project and Walton knows there are no shortcuts to playoff redemption. I’m not so confident about the lady with season tickets and a seat in Section 117. Continue reading
After years of clouds and rain in Laker-land evinced by repeated injuries, echoes of “we want Phil” chants, an extended playoff drought, lottery picks, and the ongoing duel with Philadelphia’s 76’ers over annual losses the purple-and-gold finally have a chance to climb out of the Pacific Division’s cellar this season. The franchise still does not have enough money to buy back its former glory, despite Jim Buss’ determined pursuit of that ghost while he gently eased Kobe Bryant and that $48 million contract out of the gym. At this point I’m not watching from an overcast city expecting to see playoff glory, even the kind Clippers’ fans are so heartbreakingly familiar with, just a few signs that the meandering string of 60-loss seasons is over, and it looks like there will be some. Continue reading
When Colin Kaepernick’s teammates stood for “The Star Spangled Banner” on that late August afternoon the 49’ers player must have known what his decision to take a seat would bring. “There’s a lot of consequences that come along with this,” Kaepernick said later. “Those are things I’m prepared to handle.” The fur started flying within days: fans described him as spoiled and ungrateful, a few burned replica jerseys, and his ongoing protest has been fodder for cable news talkers and presidential candidates. Initially I had a hard time believing the effort was much more than a publicity stunt; the pig socks and Castro t-shirt brought more attention to the quarterback than his cause. He talked, kneeled, and did little else. That changed when the former Nevada University reserve agreed to donate $1 million to a pair of bay area organizations dedicated to “the cause of improving racial and economic inequality” according to a statement released by franchise owner Jed York on the heels of his own $1 million dollar donation. Continue reading
At this point it’s tough to know how to describe the Lakers’ decision to part ways with their former coach. When the season starts in October the Buss faction’s move may look like a favor, the rough equivalent of handing a life vest to Byron before throwing him over the side of a sinking ship. It may be unfair to the Buss siblings to describe this move that way, but John Kennedy was right: victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan. Byron cannot claim all the credit for the failure these last two seasons represent. The story goes back further, and includes other factors — like Kobe’s injuries, including a left achilles tear earned while he was trying to will the Lakers into the 2013 playoffs. There was little doubt he would be back, but nobody knew what to expect. The Buss siblings still rewarded Kobe with a $48.5 million, two-year contract that stranded the purple-and-gold in a forest it’s only now wandering out of.
Why does it matter? The contract tied up resources that could have been spent pursuing more mid-level talent. Kobe’s contract, when mixed with management’s insistence on chasing the most expensive, highest profile free agents left little room for alternatives when Carmelo, Lebron, and LaMarcus left the Lakers at the altar. Mitch found that money won’t lure top flight talent to a lousy team. Neither will a rich nightlife, multi-million dollar endorsement deals, or celebrity friends. Eventually word got around that the Lakers lost out in the LaMarcus sweepstakes because the Buss faction put Hollywood perks ahead of basketball in their first meeting. D’oh. When Greg went to Milwaukee and DeAndre eventually rejoined their hallway rivals the improv show was back in business to cobble together the 2015 edition Byron would have to lead.
When Mike was still running the show in 2013, the Lakers were consistently beaten on the boards, rated 28th out of 30 teams on defense — as measured by points-per-game surrendered — and finished 27-55. After Byron’s two years, the same team was still consistently out-rebounded, rated 27th on defense, and finished 17-65. It went from bad to worse; but what were the odds of anything better? The 2014 squad was a patchwork, their lotto pick went down with a broken knee on opening night, and Kobe was out half the season with a shoulder injury. This season’s team was a better organized patchwork, but still featured four rookies and a retiring superstar who spent more time with the trainer than on the practice court. Byron’s job was all the more difficult because Kobe’s status was unknown from game-to-game. It was like giving Byron the keys to a ’93 Ford Escort and wondering why his driver can’t outrun those zippy Acuras.
But enough about the past, the guy Bill Plaschke called a “good soldier” for taking on a thankless task has left the stage. The future will belong to the Buss siblings, but Jim’s outsized expectations of a return to glory set the stage for a sibling rivalry that could lead to a palace revolt. Jeanie is apparently serious about holding Jim to his 2014 promise that he would step aside if the Lakers are not in the hunt for a western conference championship in “three to four years.” The team does live in the land of make-believe, but this is hardly the time for a badly-written “Hamlet” makeover. Nevertheless, something is rotten in the Center of Staples. The franchise is facing its biggest summer in years; it has a new coach, a three-man core, $60 million in spending money, and a potential top-three draft pick. The “Showtime” days when championship-or-bust was the modus operandi left the building. If Mitch is right, and Luke is going to “going to start an outstanding coaching career” he’s going to need time and talent to pull it off. As a fan I want to see them get there, but I can’t trust that the people in the wheelhouse know what they’re doing.
I have to admit it, with the Mikey regime in the rear view mirror, a returning superstar, and a group of fresh faces surrounding a pair of lotto picks this looked like it would be a relatively good year for the Lakers. It was obvious from the start this would to be a transition between the Kobe years and a new era. I just had no idea it was going to be this ugly. There have been signposts all along to disrupt my reverie: the loss to a once-winless Philadelphia squad, Byron’s continual lineup shuffling, and Kobe’s never-ending shoulder troubles. The 2015-2016 season that looked like the beginnings of a turn-around on opening night has been rebranded as a crash. Why? The Lakers prospects — including percentage odds — of retaining their pick in the first round of 2016’s draft have been a regular feature in the news for the past eight weeks. The possibility a left-over from the Steve Nash deal would let Philly grab the Lakers’ first round pick if those ping-pong balls bounce the wrong way is making me laugh; the only short-term value this season carries would be lost. I suppose this is what it was like to have been a fan in Boston watching the losses pile up with memories of championship glory still lingering. It’s tough to watch Kobe fire another three and avoid recollections of Michael’s return with Washington, all too aware of what he was in Chicago.
Frustrations aside, I would not want to have Byron’s job. He’s got to juggle Kobe’s farewell tour, bring the new guys along, blend them in with the team’s veterans, all the while dealing with the expectations of restless fans and an inconsolable front office. Add to that one loose-lipped GM named Mitch who told a gathering of season ticket holders that “we cannot move on as a team until Kobe leaves.” Nobody would dispute what Mitch said; it’s been obvious since Kobe put an end to speculation over his future with “Dear Basketball.” There is one difference: a voice on the radio or an L.A. Times reporter is not the voice of the front office. In Jim’s absence, Mitch is. His standing should prompt a little more discretion with reporters. I can’t help but wonder if he downed a glass or two of wine before that meeting. Que sera. The season is in its last month, a ticket to the playoffs an impossible dream, and a three game winning streak cause for celebration; fans are left to take a last look at the a future Hall of Famer — Kobe’s showdown with Lebron was outstanding — and look towards a future built around D’Angelo, Jordan, and Julius. The combination of potential and the money on the table should give the Lakers the best chance they’ve had in years to land that high-profile free agent the front office has been coveting. Hopefully they’ve got the sense to put basketball before branding, look beyond Kevin Durant, and leave the celebrities at home. By the way, better luck next year.
The signs of Fall are all around in Los Angeles; the leaves are falling, another football season has arrived and fans here are watching the Bruins and Trojans, the Dodgers got kicked out of the playoffs, the Kings and Ducks are on the ice, and there is still no NFL franchise in town. Welcome back to the land of make-believe Laker nation. Yup, the 2015-2016 season is officially underway and there are enough stories to build a movie around. How will the team stack up in the West with all of its young talent? What will Kobe Bryant’s 20th, and potentially final, season look like? What will it mean to the team’s playoff aspirations? And their future? There has been a lot of excitement in El Segundo, the kind dreams are made of. “We’ve not had this kind of activity every day…with the kind of energy for as long as I’ve been here,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. But that talent hasn’t been tested yet. They will be when they run into the better teams in the conference, like Golden State, San Antonio, and the Clippers; but that leaves a lot of room for their core — D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle — to learn from what goes wrong, build on what goes right, and improve with time. And a little help from an “average” Kobe Bryant.
The trick is that help from Bryant will mean deferring to his teammates; but he didn’t win five championships, an MVP award, and take third place on the all-time scoring list deferring to anyone. Kupchak would be one to ask, and he expects Bryant to “try to do as much as possible,” if his teammates are not up to speed. Nothing new there. It’s what Bryant has done for 19 years, so with his legacy on the line and $25 million on the table it would be more surprising to see him take a step back, though his injuries may force him to. The playoff picture is where the Lakers’ future starts to look fuzzy. For a franchise that has measured its success in championship terms the prospect of sitting out another postseason is giving way to some grumbling in the front office. The reason for Jim Buss’ pledge to step down if he fails to lead the team to the conference finals in three years is known only to him. Kupchak rejected the idea. “If I agreed we would have traded our picks for veteran players,” Kupchak said. “But we didn’t.” Maybe the “we want Phil!” chants got into Jim’s head. But his statement been enough to lure Jeanie into the mix by promising to hold Jim to that standard if he falls short. The shadow of 16 Larry O’Brien trophies on their shelf is following the team. Stay tuned.
As to the future…it won’t be determined by what happens this year. It could be a lot of fun for fans, maybe even bring 40 wins, but it’s only a step on the road back to respectability. The rebuilding project cannot truly begin until after Kobe Bryant retires. It sounds terrible, almost dismissive to note, considering what he has brought to the Lakers — and the league — but that contract and everything that goes with it leaves the team in transition. The next generation will have to take over at some point. It would be great if Randle, Clarkson, and Russell are the ones to validate the front office mantra of “flexibility” and kick some butt while they’re at it. They might even lure the kind of marquis free agent the front office has been chasing. Either way, the clock is ticking and Mitch Kupchak knows it. “We don’t have the luxury of a 10 year rebuilding program,” Kupchak said. “That is why we have maintained a lot of the flexibility we have with our cap going forward.” The kind of flexibility to lure a Kevin Durant to Tinseltown? Maybe. The future begins tonight at Staples Center, so lift a glass Laker nation as another season begins for the purple-and-gold with the “93rd-best player in the league” leading the way.