Loading...

Character of the Happy Warrior 

The education of Mark “Mad Dog” Madsen

Wednesday, May 23 2001
Comments

The first time I saw Mark Madsen play basketball was at an invitation-only, pre-season game last August in the men’s gym at UCLA, a cavernous relic superseded by Pauley Pavilion nearly four decades ago. Most big cities have an ultimate outdoor court where the local hoop gods reign, and a lot of people believe L.A.‘s best basketball is played on the Venice Beach courts made famous by the movie White Men Can’t Jump. But to me the August-only afternoon games, overseen for the last 16 years by a blond, 40ish TV-movie producer and classic basketball junkie named Adam Mills, are pickup basketball in its highest form.

That day in August, there were NBA rookies like the Lakers‘ Madsen and Slava Medvedenko and the Clippers’ Corey Maggette trying to get a jump on training camp, and seasoned pros like Sam Cassell of the Milwaukee Bucks and former UCLA Bruin and current Toronto Raptor Tracy Murray working their way into shape. There were ex-pros like Kobe Bryant‘s dad, Jelly-Bean, playing for the love of it, and ex-pros like former Clipper fuck-up Benoit Benjamin trying to prove they can still play, and high-flying, spidery-limbed high school ballers hoping to be pegged by the Miami Heat scout lounging by a side door as the next Darius Miles, the Clippers’ teenage phenom.

At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, Madsen is smallish by NBA standards, but his game is brutally physical -- thus the nickname, “Mad Dog,” pinned on him by a fifth-grade P.E. teacher who recognized his dive-into-the-stands-for-a-loose-ball approach to life -- and extremely analytical at the same time. At UCLA that day, he always guarded the biggest and strongest player. The first time back on defense, Madsen gauged his opponents‘ range and speed, laying as far off as necessary to keep from being blown by, then moving in relentlessly, efficiently, slapping tenaciously at the ball.

Related Stories

  • Clipshow 3

    "Fear? That's the other guy's problem." - Louis Winthrop III in Trading Places. "I don't care, to be honest."   -  Clippers Coach Doc Rivers on the Lakers-Clippers rivalry. It used to be that the best way to watch the Lakers was to watch the Clippers. It was an open L.A. secret...
  • The Clippers Lose to the Thunder, But Still Make History 2

    Forget obligatory press game conference quotes. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, seen saturnine above, capture enough condensed melancholy to have paid a post-game vigil to the Elliott Smith wall in Silver Lake. One picture is worth a thousand sad-faced emojis. It didn't happen this year for the Clippers. They were out-goofed...
  • 10 Ideas for Making It Out Of This Lakers Season Alive

    Is anyone still out there? Have we abandoned this Lakers squad to smoke wax in the Bronson Canyon Batcave? Television ratings have plummeted 38 percent from last year. The team's record is 18-36, complete with eight straight home losses. Calling this season a bloodbath sullies the fine name of both...
  • Freddie Gibbs on the Lakers - and How He Destroyed Brian McKnight

    Freddie Gibbs is too raw for ESPN. The live censors could never move quick enough to stop the curse words or comic slander. Ask him a question about professional sports and you will get the truths that you usually only hear in a bar argument. At his most opinionated (usually...
  • Clippers Champs?! 2

    Get ready for a magnitude 7 quake, the Big One that many Angelenos have long said will never happen - that could never happen - and a few hardy souls few have long hoped for. It would crack the L.A. sports scene wide open and the ripple effect will be...

When Madsen was on offense, more experienced players tended to beat him to the block, pushing him important inches or even feet away from the iron. When he got the ball, he didn’t look confident putting up the 15- to 18-foot shot that is the power forward‘s bread and butter. But he attacked the rack with a zealot’s fervor, a tireless rebounder with very good hops whose 36-inch vertical leap puts him among the top 20 percent of NBA players and among the leapingest Lakers. Readying himself to go up for a rebound, he squatted sumolike, his eyes following the shot‘s arc, then used his leg power to go up through people.

The Lakers’ first-round draft choice out of Stanford, Madsen is perhaps the rarest of NBA rookies -- a four-year college grad with a degree in economics, a white guy from the suburbs, one of only three Mormons in the league (Dallas‘ Shawn Bradley and New Jersey’s Keith Van Horn are the other two), and one of the very few NBA players who makes less money than his old man, a vice president in the individual-wealth-management-services department at investment bank Goldman Sachs. In an era when most players accrue more tattoos than defensive stops, Madsen is as clean-cut as they come. When somebody says, “This guy‘s good,” they’re referring not to Madsen‘s jump shot but to his character. “Mark exudes such a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed look at life,” says Laker assistant coach Jim Cleamons. “He’s just a pup, but there‘s no quit in him.”

On the UCLA court, Madsen was visibly pissed when anybody scored on him, but in the hundreds of little confrontations that occur almost continuously all over the court in a hard-fought basketball game, he never backed down and never talked trash. “If someone calls a foul every time they go into the lane, I’ll say, ‘C’mon man, why are you playing that way?‘” he told me later. “I’ve always loved competition. It‘s a very pure thing when you step out on the court. You’re saying, ‘It’s your best, it‘s my best.’ If you come out on top, there‘s no animosity, it’s just a fact. You don‘t look on an opponent as a friend. You look at him as” -- he hesitated a moment, searching for the word -- “an opponent, and I mean completely, in every sense of the word.”

In the narrow space between the baseline at center court and the hanging mats that keep players diving after loose balls from splattering against the gym’s concrete walls, a group of old black guys wearing basketball-camp T-shirts with the sleeves cut off, thin gold chains and kicks that haven‘t lost any of their squeak to hard use, leaned back in folding chairs and woofed at the players. “Who’s covering that dude?” they would hoot when nobody contested a jump shot. They cackled obscenely and slapped each other five when anyone got dunked on. At the end of the afternoon, as Madsen prepared to roll out of the gym, he gave all of them the most total white-guy okey-doke handshake and his biggest, goofiest smile. They ate it up.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Slideshows

  • 21st Annual Classic Cars "Cruise Night" in Glendale
    On Saturday, spectators of all ages were out in multitudes on a beautiful summer night in Glendale to celebrate the 21st annual Cruise Night. Brand Boulevard, one of the main streets through downtown Glendale, was closed to traffic and lined with over 250 classic, pre-1979 cars. There was plenty of food to be had and many of the businesses on Brand stayed open late for the festivities The evening ended with fireworks and a 50th anniversary concert from The Kingsmen, who performed their ultimate party hit, "Louie, Louie." All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.