The New Lakers

Given the possibility of injuries, the ineptitude of general managers, drunken violence, rape newlakerscharges, and an utter lack of loyalty to anything but the pursuit of the almighty buck, I am probably way premature in heralding the coming-into-being, as I see it, of the New Lakers.  But I have enjoyed watching these guys lately; the fourth quarter comeback led by the bench in the fourth quarter against Minnesota was something to watch, something inspiring and surprising in the way the Lakers have not been in a long time.

The old Lakers, with Magic and Kareem, were the New Lakers, part 1.  They were interesting and surprising because Magic was always interesting and surprising, and those guys had chemistry, with Kareem playing DC to Magic’s AC.  There’s just something thought provoking about a tormented, introverted, 7’6 guy, who played basketball for his very life, for this one chance at being something other than a genetic freak, along side of wonderfully gifted exhibitionist and flaming extrovert who played for the pure and simple fun of it.

I won’t go now into the misery of the Van Excel years, and, while I do like to watch a team that wins, I never did enjoy Kobe and Shaq.  Sure they won, but they were damned predictable.  Either Kobe would end up dribbling endlessly to get a shot or they would throw into the Big Maw and he would dribble back and forth moving around people with that roadhouse butt of his.  Never, in the entire history of basketball, has any body made such devastating use of his butt than Shaq.  He never learned how to shot the basketball but he could open his own summer camp on the use of the butt in the low post.  Of all the Big Things Shaq called himself, he never did pay adequate tribute to his single greatest physical assist, and that was his butt.

They just weren’t any fun.  But more like the Yankees have become of late; just the best basketball team money could buy, especially in that truly pathetic last year of Shaq’s tenure, what with Gary, the Punk, Payton, and Karl, Joint Grinding, Malone.  What the hell were they thinking?  I mean the guys upstairs.  And, as for the guys down on the floor, they just never did click.  I was glad Shaq left and I am glad he was the one that did.

But back to the present.  I don’t remember a Laker team as deep, except maybe for that year or two they could bring in Bob McAdoo to replace King Kareem.  Now that was something.  But I would have to check the roster to be sure of that.  I think these “New Lakers” are deeper all the way down the bench.  And to Jackson’s credit he seems to be yielding a little on his “I hate rookies” attitude. Or at least, he has the sense to play the rookies so he can see what he has got.  If, as the season goes on, he starts playing a short line up, I think he is making a really big mistake, a much bigger one than any of the multiple of small one those rookies might make out on the court because right now he is sitting on a group of guys that have, if played, the potential to become one heck of a team, for a goodly number of years to come.

Take that Mo Evans—is that his name—as a for instance.  I don’t remember the game but he was hanging out right below the basket, facing back into the court, and the ball clanked off the rim, admittedly right into his hands.  But then—wham—I don’t think I have ever seen a guy go back up for the dunk, with so little flair, but such complete efficiency that had you don’t seen the ball coming down through the net, you would have known how it got there.  That’s a little surprise.  But I think these “New Lakers,” as I prematurely crown them, have more surprises in their bag.

Another Damn Brick

brickIt still hurts if I think about it.

We got to the finals of the pre-season Christmas Tournament in 1963.  The coach stole everything he could from UCLA.  We pressed constantly and for an entire quarter one poor team we played in the tournament never made it past half court.  Their guards looked like they were ready to cry with frustration.

But the team from La Jolla had scouted us out, I think.  They brought their big center to half court and broke our press easily.  Also I didn’t know it till I walked on it but the college court where we played the finals was bigger than a high school court.  We had more territory to cover and we couldn’t cover it.

 They played a zone on us, and the piss of it was they dropped way off  me on the outside and clamped down on our best player, a shooting guard.  Over and over the guard threw it to me.  I didn’t know what to do with it but shoot.  I could have been more than 18 feed out, a lay-up for me on a normal day, and I threw up one brick after another.


 If I had made even a couple of those, we might have pulled them out of the zone a bit.

After that—and it was my senior year—my playing time declined.  I had started as a junior and up till that point as senior.  But the coach started playing a junior instead; he couldn’t shoot for shit as far as I could tell, but he was six feet three and near 190 compared to my running weight of 148 at six feet.

They didn’t call me “Nick the Stick” for nothing; or “Mahatma,” in acknowledgement of my more spiritual side, or maybe because I looked like I had been on a fast.




Aw.Glowing hard wood.The stink of socks and sweating bodies.The squeak of sneakers.The bong bong bong of the b-ball.The steady muttering of low level cussing.

Basketball probably saved my ass.

I tried out for Pony League and made a team.  But I didn’t get to pitch or play much.  Once the coach put me at third base.  A guy makes it to second and—for god’s sake—he tries to steal.  I make like what I have seen on the TV.  I go for the ball with a sweeping motion.  Completely miss.  And the ball hits me right in the testicles.  Fucking-A did that hurt.  So much for baseball.

I had grown nine inches in a year and become quite ill coordinated.  I actually fell over my own two feet on several occasions.  My feet had shot out too.  So I had to reassess my sport’s career.  Suddenly I was towering over my peers.  Obviously I needed to make use of my new found height and basketball recommended itself.  Besides I liked it.

 So I did what I had done with baseball.  I practiced.  As with pitching, I could practice basketball alone.  Out back was an empty space of flat white dirt.  Leche, it was called.  Like milk.  Apparently it was a left over from some ancient time because it had been created out of decomposed sea shells and such.  I decided to put up a hoop and my father said he would help.

I dug a hole, mixed up some concrete and stuck a 15 foot long four by four piece of redwood in the ground.  Bolted to it was a backboard, made out of ply wood and painted white.   The hoop was attached to that.

The playing area was narrow.  I couldn’t go much to the right or I would run into a rock wall that held up the little lawn out back and if I went too much to the left I would go over the edge of the little plateau  down into a field full of anis weed.   But I could shot straight away from at least 20 feet although by that point the ground began to slope and I was shooting at a hoop about six inches too high.

I was pleased.

Gopher Ball

The opening day in my Little League featured each team in the league playing an inning.  So all the players from all the teams were there; a lot of parents showed up, and there was bunting and such stuck in the chain link.  My second year with the Rams my coach said I would pitch the first half of the first inning against some team.  I was a bit PO-ed because I figured that meant his son would start our first real game.  He had started grooming his son for the job, so that we would have 3 strong pitchers rather than the 2 we had the year before (me and another guy).

I could see the writing on the wall; less starts for me.  That meant I would be sitting more on my butt on the pine because I was a rare thing for Little League.  I was a pure pitcher; i.e. I couldn’t do anything else.  Usually guys who pitch in Little League are good athletes and play some other position when they don’t pitch.  But not me.  I pitched and I batted ninth.

I was a little pissed off and didn’t feel entirely honored to get the job of pitching the first inning of an exhibition game.  So I decided I would have some fun with it and take the opportunity to practice my gopher ball; this involved a long stretch towards home, and I would swing my arm so low that my knuckles would sometimes graze the ground.  With the proper spin the ball would go straight up, curve down, and drop right on home plate or right behind it.  It was a pure junk pitch and slow as molasses.  You could light up your cigarette and take a drag in the time it took that thing to get from me to home plate.

So I pitched a gopher to the first guy and he swung and missed.  I struck the guy out, and then I started out on the next guy with a gopher and adults in the stands began to boo.  I was amazed; they were actually booing.  I was stoked.  Fuck the fuckers, I thought.  I was pitching a legal pitch; I wasn’t pitching underhand.  I was breaking my wrist and the umpire could see that.  So if they thought I was throwing a pansy pitch, let their little Johnny prove it by knocking it out of the park.

I struck out the next little fucker too on a straight diet of gophers; and the last one hit a one bouncer that even I could handle.  Three up.  Three down.  And nobody was booing when I walked off.

Hell, I was the most fun they had all day.

I laughed about that one inside all the way home on my bike.

Pitching Solitary

Pitching Solitare

 One day, after we got to CA, I was wandering around the neighborhood and came upon a baseball field.  Kids were playing with adults and I saw that the following week Little Leagure tryouts would be held.  As part of my never ending attempt to get out of the house, I tried out and got on a team mostly because they took everybody.

 I had never played the game before and quickly learned a) that I could not hit the ball, and b) if I accidently did, it didn’t go anywhere, and c) I was afraid of being hit by the ball, and d) I couldn’t catch a fly ball, and e) I could hardly throw from third to first.  But I was undeterred;  I was reading baseball fictions for kids and even some histories of baseball teams, and I watched parts of games on Saturday with Dizzy Dean as the announcer.

 Because I knew my limitations and faced them squarely, I decided that the only way I would play on a team would be to become a pitcher.  I had observed that pitchers lost when they could not get the ball across the plate and walked everybody.  So in the backyard, I drew a square on the block wall about shoulder high for a little leaguer and went out back and threw the ball over and over again in the direction of that square.  Over and over again, until I had the control problem under control.

 I had also observed that most Little League batters, about 75%, were in fact just as afraid of the ball as I was.  They were really afraid of big guys or short compact guys who threw the ball fast and hard.  Unfortunately, I was not short and compact or big; I was skinny and gangly.  In my readings, I had become fascinated with the spitball pitcher and generally with pitchers who threw junk.  I decided I would throw junk and further to scare the batters I would throw side arm.  I perfected the motion so that for an instant the poor batter would feel I was throwing the ball directly at him but then it would zip across the plate at the knees and sometimes I got it to drop directly on home plate.

 Something else I think was going on.  Perhaps I had settled on pitching because one could practice at it with nobody else present.  Dizzy Dean threw rocks at a barn door.  Usually one throws a ball to somebody else; but to do that one needs somebody else to throw it to.  I played pickup games of course, but I never recruited anybody to pitch to.  Instead in deciding to be a pitcher, I was beginning to show in late childhood that I was an insipient outsider or solitary.  Moreover, by deciding to become a pitcher—something at which I could practice alone—I was learning how to manage as a solitary.

 Baseball is a game for people who love people (are the luckiest people in the world).  I always loved that walk to the mound.  Alone.  And while I don’t watch baseball much anymore, I hate those commercials that keep us from watching the reliever walk causually in from the bullpen.  Out of nowhere.