In the last two years, the Los Angeles Lakers have enjoyed a nice bit of success: two seasons with the best record in the Western Conference, two trips to the NBA Finals, and one beautiful Larry O’Brien trophy. But there has been a certain something missing, a certain quality ever-present for the Lakers over the last couple of decades, both in good times and in bad. A calling card, which is befitting of the team that is so closely associated with Hollywood. I’m speaking, of course, of the Lakers’ ability to provide as much entertainment off the court as they do on the court.
That entertainment factor has manifested itself in many ways over the years. We’ve had comedy, from Johnson’s effervescent personality and brilliant smile, to Shaq, the biggest kid in the NBA. Shaq’s press conference quotes alone make him one of the more entertaining NBA personalities, and his movie and music career should bring a smile to anybody’s face (as long as you weren’t forced to watch or listen to any of it). We’ve had drama, from the always tenuous relationship between Shaq and Kobe to Kobe’s trade demands and media tirade of two summers ago. We’ve had tragedy, from Magic’s HIV diagnosis to Lamar Odom’s horrible summer (where he lost his grand-mother, his infant son, and he was robbed to boot). We’ve had intrigue, with rumors about how Magic obtained HIV and rumors about what exactly happened in that hotel room in Vail, Colorado. This doesn’t even take into account our owner, the 2nd most famous old bachelor (behind Hue Heffner, of course), and his dysfunctional family. Dr. Buss runs around with multiple women 1/3 his age, and getting DUI’s. His daughter posed in Playboy and is dating our head coach. In short, the Lakers have never had difficulty making news off the court, regardless of how much success they are having on it.
The last couple of years, however, have been a different story. Or should I say a lack of a story. Two years ago, no one was sure whether Kobe would be a Laker to start the season, including both the Lakers front office and Kobe himself. That story line dominated training camp and the first half of the season. Then, the Lakers started the season well, Bynum got injured, we traded for Gasol, and you don’t need me to tell you how things ended up. And a funny thing happened along the way. There were no story lines. There were no engaging personalities. There were no feuds. The Lakers were … boring.
Not on the court, of course. On the court, the Lakers are one of the most aesthetically pleasing teams in the NBA. They lack the pace of Phoenix, the helter-skelter of Golden State, but the Lakers have been very pleasing to the eye over the last two seasons, especially with the addition of the smooth Spaniard, Gasol. Off the court, however, there has been nothing. Team camaraderie seems to be strong, but nothing special. There are no newsworthy press conferences or quotes, no TV shows or movies. Off the court, the only news the Lakers have made in the last two seasons was the incredibly strange story of Luke Walton’s stalker.
In case you are getting the wrong idea, I’m not complaining about this. At the best of times, the sideshow doesn’t add a whole lot to my ability to enjoy the team, and at the worst of times, it can definitely distract the players and have an ill-effect on the team’s performance. I have enjoyed the peace and tranquility that have followed the team over the past two seasons, which it is why I’m a bit nervous in saying that the sideshow is most definitely back.
The main reason is the newest player to lace up the sneakers and don the purple and gold, Ron Artest. Ron-Ron was already one of the most newsworthy players and distinctive personalities in the league long before he was a part of our roster. This summer, he’s been like a one man band, doing everything he can to provide entertainment to the masses and keep himself relevant in the offseason. He’s given his actual phone number out over the internet and fielded calls from whoever called him. He’s described what was going through his head when he attacked the fan in the stands so many years ago. He’s revealed that he actually befriended that same guy. He’s chosen a uniform number in tribute to the late King of Pop, and then recorded a song in tribute to Michael. He’s worked out with the party girls of Venice Beach. In three short months since his signing, he’s probably had more off the court headlines than the entire team and organization had combined in the last two years.
Now, we’ve gotten word that Lamar Odom is going to marry a Kardashian, and at this point, who knows what’s next. Will we find out that Luke actually decided to marry his stalker? Will Shannon Brown have a cameo roll on Tyler Payne’s Meet the Browns. Yes, the circus is definitely back in town, with Phil Jackson as your ringleader, Kobe Bryant as your lion tamer, Ron Artest as your clown, Lamar Odom as your fire-eater, Shannon Brown as your trapeze artist, Jordan Farmar as your tight rope walker, and of course, Sasha Vujacic as your bearded lady. Sorry, there's no Chinese acrobat, Sun Yue was cut.
There is one positive in all this, or more appropriately, one non-negative. None of storylines that have come out so far have been damaging in any way (unless you consider Lamar’s new bride to be a poor choice). All of Artest’s shenanigans have been harmless, not to mention hilarious. And as long as he isn’t doing anything to hurt the team, I’m happy to see Artest feel free to express himself, because a happy player is a better player. Besides, he’s friggin’ hilarious. And the Lakers, as an organization, have a long history of being able to thrive on the court regardless of what happens off of it. It will be very interesting to see if they can continue that success with an off-court personality as large as Ron Artest. Here’s hoping it’s the same old story.