June 18, 2004

Let the recriminations start....
The next week is going to drive the wingnuts crazy. Next week's publication of Bill Clinton's memoirs, concurrent with the release of two much-hyped movies on recent times ("The Hunting of the President" and "Fahrenheit 9/11"), is going to create a Perfect Storm of Republican Circlef--kery. If there has been one thing that has motivated the Far Right the last three years, it has been its desire to undo everything that the American People loved about the Big Dog, to pretend the eight brutal years of peace and prosperity never happened. Al Gore "lost" the 2000 election, in large part because he believed that spin, and perceived an hostility to Clinton that the public didn't share. It is safe to say that the public has become rather resistant to those efforts, or at least that percentage of the public that isn't waiting for the Assumption to occur the day after the election. The best thing for Kerry to do the next week (come to think of it, this is always good advice) is to lay back, let the wind take his sails, and ride on Bubba's coattails.

The one mark on Clinton's record, of course, was his impeachment by the House Republicans. His lies under oath may not have technically met the legal standard for perjury, but they reflected a character flaw in the man, a belief that he could talk his way out of (and into) anything. His subsequent fine in the Paula Jones case, together with his disbarment in Arkansas, were appropriate punishments for his civil transgressions. Yet the public still backed him, creating a firewall that prevented the Senate from taking the charges seriously, and he easily beat back the coup attempt. That victory was the high mark of his Administration, as much a defining moment for the country as September 11: after that, we would judge public figures by what they could do, not what kind of person they were.

In the end, given a choice between Clinton and his critics on the right and left, they chose Clinton, not because he was a saint, but because they knew he was better than his adversaries. Clinton liked people, didn't pretend to possess any divine authority, and the people, at first grudgingly, but by the end enthusiastically (when he left office, he, not Reagan, had the highest approval ratings of any President), liked him back.

June 16, 2004

I have oil rigs !!
Detroit 100, Lakers 87: That was truly an asswhupping. Anyway, a hearty and sincere congrats to Elden Campbell, an underrated player who was a media whipping boy when he played for the Lakers, for finally getting an overdue ring, and a tip of the cap to my many pals and booze buddies from Michigan on their good fortune, as well as for their patience the last three years when our hockey and college football teams seemed to be dominating them in big games.

And here's a scary thought: in routing the Lakers, the Pistons had to carry a piece of dead weight on their bench named Darko Milicic, the "Human Victory Cigar", whom they drafted with the second pick in last year's NBA Draft. En route to the championship, the only point he scored in the playoffs was in the first round, against Milwaukee. The player chosen right after Milicic, by the Denver Nuggets, was Carmelo Anthony, who scored almost as many points in a single game (41) as Milicic did the entire season (48). Think Larry Brown could have found a way for Anthony to fit into his team?

June 14, 2004

Sometime after midnight Eastern time tomorrow, the city of Detroit will begin celebrating a well-deserved NBA championship (and last night's game was the coup de grace; it was easily the best Laker performance of the Finals, with Shaq being unstoppable for most of the game, and Payton finally starting to show signs of his rumored All-Star form, and it still wasn't enough). Whether the ensuing party in the Motor City will vindicate Jimmy Kimmel's humorous (if cliched) comments remains to be seen, but the controversy that followed from his remarks at halftime of Game 2 reveals a remarkable double standard, and points out one of the aspects of life in Los Angeles that I absolutely cherish: our ability to take a joke, even if it's about the Lakers.

Kimmel, as you may have heard by now, went on the ABC halftime show and paid tribute to Detroit, in effect remarking that should the Pistons win the title, their fans would be well-advised not to pattern their celebration after the annual "Hell Night" (as they did after the Tigers' World Series win in 1984), since the city wasn't worth it. Ouch. As Kimmel himself later noted, Laker fans have quite a margin on the rest of the country when it comes to turning over cars following championships this century. In addition, Kimmel is a comedian, and the whole point of his late-night show is to make people laugh, sometimes uncomfortably.

Of course, the thick-skinned people of Detroit had a fit, with the local ABC affiliate protesting, the network itself pulling his show off the air that night, and angry denunciations filled the local papers. The sports pages, which only a week earlier had noted the sudden bandwagoning for the Pistons taking place in "HockeyTown, U.S.A.", took offense.

What makes this controversy so silly is that what Kimmel said is comparatively banal when juxtaposed with the standard insults made about Los Angeles, its residents and its fans. Over the years, local residents have come to accept such a national outpouring of hate with a degree of sang froid. In fact, most Angelenos take pride in certain parts of the stereotype, such as our studied desire to leave games early, which we view as a testament to our knowledge of when a game is truly "over", as well as to the high standards we demand from our entertainment. Other parts of the stereotype are much more troublesome, such as the conflation of our local culture with that of "Hollywood"; the loaded terms that are used to describe us in East Coast newspapers would not have been out-of-place in the Volkischer Beobachter seventy years ago, with barely a wink and a nudge necessary. Of course, actors and rappers make up a small but noticeable percentage of fans, but why Jack Nicholson or Dyan Cannon are not considered to be "real" sports fans, while veeps of automobile companies and corporate lawyers in Detroit are, is a mystery few out here can fathom.

Perhaps the one part of the Laker fan stereotype that most amuses and bemuses me is the notion that somehow we are all "fair weather fans". Whether Angelenos would continue to support the Lakers should the team put together a string of losing seasons is a potentiality not yet tested under laboratory conditions, but we do know from the attendance of both the Dodgers, Angels and Kings that local fans are pretty loyal, win or lose. I mean, how many years do the Dodgers have to draw three million paying customers without making the playoffs before we conclude that maybe someone out here does pay allegiance to the home team? And the only way to explain why the Raiders remain so popular locally, even after Al Davis deserted us after the Northridge Earthquake, is the notion (one which I don't happen to share) that our loyalty is not something to be given lightly, or given up lightly.

And, as I said before, we take the insults in stride, and why not. Earthquakes, traffic jams, ridiculous housing prices, and the occasional urban unpleasantness aside, we live in Paradise, and we know it. The Lakers are one of the few unifying factors in this area, perhaps the only thing that cuts across racial, ethnic, sexual, class and occupational boundaries, but they are Los Angeles. Anyone who is a sports fan in these parts will concur: the Dodgers, Angels, Kings, Clippers and Ducks all have their local followings, but it's the Lakers that define what being an Angeleno is. The other teams you follow because you come from these parts, but the Lakers are the team you root for in order to become part of our community; in much the same way an immigrant learns the English language as the first step towards becoming an American, someone who moves to Los Angeles pays allegiance to the Lakers. And regardless of what happens tomorrow, I ain't leaving.
Ralph Wiley, a prolific writer and fixture on ESPN and Sports Illustrated, died suddenly today at 52. In one of his last columns, he became one of the only writers in America to predict the pending Detriot upset in the NBA Finals; ironically, he died at home watching the player intros to last night's decisive Game 4.

June 13, 2004

Detroit 88, Lakers 80: Unless we see a collapse unlike any before in the history of the NBA, the Pistons will be the next NBA champions. The Lakers actually played a pretty tough game tonight, particularly Payton, who finally showed up in four games into the series, but a combination of some questionable fourth quarter calls (incl. a phantom foul on GP at the six minute mark, with the Pistons up by six) and some cold outside shooting doomed the Lakers to an insurmountable deficit.