Growing up in the Pico/La Cienega neighborhood of Los Angeles in the 1950s, I longed to be the corner newsboy. At rush hour, he stood proudly at that busy intersection shouting, “Extra, extra, read all about it!” Stopped at the red light, cars would honk and the newsboy would dash to the driver’s window and hurriedly exchange the paper for a dime. All before the light changed to green.
I loved newspapers, especially the sports page, which I pored over to see how my heroes had fared the night before. Sports were a sanctuary from the grim news of the real world. Until the sports page began reading like a police blotter.
In 1958, sports news in L.A. changed dramatically with the arrival of the Dodgers from Brooklyn. Only months later the Lakers came from Minneapolis. Why they kept the name “Lakers” is puzzling as there are no more lakes in Los Angeles than there is jazz in Utah.
The Lakers, of course, are one of the NBA’s most famous and successful franchises. They hold the all-time records for wins (3,125), winning percentage (.620), and NBA finals appearances (31). They’re second in NBA championships only to the Boston Celtics, winning 16 championships to the Celtics 17 NBA titles. But, as the expression goes, “That was then and this is now.”
I’m hardly letting the cat out of the bag, but this season could be a long one for Lakers fans. By the way, “letting the cat out of the bag” goes back to medieval times when people sold pigs at the village marketplace that they carried there in bags. Occasionally, unscrupulous sellers would stuff the bag with cats.
But back to the Lakers, who have a large and dedicated following in Santa Monica. According to Superpages.com, there are 72 restaurants, bars and sports bars here with big screen TVs. During basketball season, it’s safe to say the Lakers bring in thousands of enthusiastic customers on any given night. (I’ll drink to that.)
With the economy still in a precarious state, and the Lakers, especially without Kobe, in an even more precarious state, business in these Santa Monica establishments might take a serious hit. After all, who would want to watch the Lakers lose, night after night?
As a Santa Monica resident, I consider it my civic duty to rescue these fine establishments from a real fiscal cliff. I humbly suggest that there’s a bright side to losing. Bright enough to keep the bars filled with customers cheering as the Lakers go down to defeat.
In the NBA Draft Lottery, the 14 teams that don’t make the playoffs compete for the top draft choice with the aid of Ping-Pong balls. (That’s not a typo.) The team with the worst record gets 25 percent of the balls, the team with the second worst record gets 19.9 percent and so on.
The balls are placed in a giant hopper that spins them around and then pops them up one by one. As the commissioner selects the ball, he announces to the audience which team gets the top draft choice. Fans of the “lucky” team celebrate while fans of the rest groan in disappointment. But with the next ball comes hope of getting the second draft choice.
Next year’s draft is reportedly the best since the Lebron James draft 10 years ago. With that in mind, the Lakers’ motto could be “Losses this year mean champagne next year.” So that when two fans are in a sports bar on the occasion of a heartbreaking Lakers overtime loss, one could justifiably turn to the other and say, “Isn’t this great?”
In the glory days of two-peats and three-peats and any kind of “peat,” Lakers fans held an index finger up in the air and proudly chanted, “We’re number one!” Today we should hold both hands in the air, quickly close and open the palms twice and proudly chant, “We’re number 30!” Outrageous? Perverse? Well I say, (with apologies to Vince Lombardi) when it comes to getting the number one draft choice, “Losing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”.
On Tuesday, the Lakers got trounced by the Mavs. On Wednesday the Celtics, after their worst start since 1969, finally won a game. It seems like history is repeating itself as the two rivals may battle down to the wire. Only in this case it won’t be for the O’Brien Championship Trophy, but rather for that coveted first Ping-Pong ball.
While it’s probably not in the best interests of the Lakers’ future, part of me hopes the team makes the playoffs and has a good run in the postseason. Harkening back to my childhood dream of being the corner newsboy, if the Lakers do defy the playoff odds, I already have my title for that column — “Extra, extra, read all about it.”
Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.