By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Ah, it’s the media,” he says.
The Brazilians reach for their video cameras.
“Don’t you dare think about it!” Kobe snaps.
The tension is thick. I try to calm down the situation.
“How’s the finger, Kobe?”
“It’s cool,” he responds. The security guys rush him into the hotel and his face says it all: He is not enjoying any of this.
We enter the hotel and head for the California Level, where several NBA stars are scheduled to give a press conference. Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets follows us into the elevator. The Brazilian crew gets some shots and asks for autographs in broken English and Portuguese; 7'5" Yao responds in Mandarin. I want to ask him some questions too, but he can hardly see me — my face is in his mid-section and if I don’t watch it he might squash my 5'6" frame.
At the press conference, Yao and the international players — Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands), Andrei Kirilenko (Russia), Jamal Magloire (Canada) and Peja Stojakovic (Serbia) — seem a bit more humble compared to their American-born counterparts. The $100-million-paycheck-$90-million-endorsement players look bored and annoyed as reporters jam mics, tape recorders and video cameras into their faces to ask the same tired questions about Shaq and Kobe not getting along. “Weather” seems to be the No. 1 answer to what the players like most about L.A. Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia ’76ers sums it all up best: “I like everything about L.A. — L.A. is LA LA LAND.”
Then Shaquille O’Neal is asked what he’d write if he could be a columnist for a day. “I’d write what I see,” he says. “I’d be honest. I’d probably get fired, but I’d write what I saw.”
So here it is: Basketball, like everything else, has become too corporate. No surprise. But here’s a thought: Perhaps the NBA could take a lesson from the game’s founding roots, and by that I mean getting inspiration from the short and dark Mayan Indians who were ballin’ in Chiapas, Mexico, long before any of this commercial madness. Back then the game had religious significance and you played like your life depended on winning — nothing else mattered. Now the game is about the selling of souls. And by the way, the nicest athlete during the entire NBA weekend was Dante Hall of the Kansas City Chiefs, a football player.
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