[Been a long time since Kobe sold Happy Meals, or anything happy, for that matter. ]
LA sports is in a misery stretch that seems unshakable. Living in LA and not being a Lakers fan isn’t always the best combination. Not only don’t you care when they win, but you can’t avoid being immersed in the citywide sinkhole of their losing. Their fans walk around town in their purple jerseys like Barney fans on prozac. They capped their 2011 with fouls so juvenile that Magic Johnson had to editorialize on ESPN that the Laker Organization itself was “embarrassed” by Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Embarrassing the Laker Organization is no easy feat, considering Odom’s Kardashian reality show, Shaq’s LA movie and hip-hop career, and Kobe’s whole career – but they managed it. Completing a circle of futility, they sent Phil Jackson off to his retirement the way he got here – trying to put a lid on Laker ego, pettiness, and self-centered distractions a la Kobe and Shaq in 1999.
Kobe just bums me out endlessly. There’s his calling a ref a “faggot” this year, and then his Turkish Airlines endorsement (talk about desperate). To the rest of the country, this might seem like a rape-tainted-jock’s vain attempt to get any public approval he can, and it is. Here in LA, we have one of the biggest Armenian communities in the world. For a local “hero” like Kobe to take that endorsement only stirs up one emotion here, a reminder of the 1915 Turkish attempt at genocide on the Armenians – one the Turkish government refuses to admit even happened. Imagine if Germany denied their holocaust, and not just hate cranks.
That’s not Kobe’s fault, nor Turkish airlines – but if you’ve ever seen Armenian pride days or 12-year-old girls walking around the Americana mall dressed like Ke$ha but in 1915 Never Forget t-shirts – you know it’s an emotional issue that’s resonant on the street. Kobe’s got a right, of course. But how many player names bring up the associations of rape, homophobia, and genocide? I’m not sure how Jerry Buss likes that combination, but nobody seems to love this current Laker crew so much as accept them as long as they win big. And they didn’t, so fuck off Lakers.
But let’s not blame the Lakers completely for LA’s endless bummer. LA sports has been a bummer for a long time. There’s the city’s attempts to land an NFL team that only investors want. There’s the endless comedy of the Washington Generals Clippers, and of course, the Dodgers.
I finally took a trip out to Chavez Ravine a week ago last Tuesday to see the Cubs beat the Dodgers, 5-2. Cubs won, and it was still one of the more depressing experiences I have ever had in a MLB park. Ryan Dempster went into the game with something like a 9.68 ERA and threw a no-hitter into the 5th inning. I knew this wouldn’t last, because the only way you throw a hitless 9 innings with a 9-plus ERA is when you’re throwing against the White Sox.
But, I digress to bait the South Side, a worthy cause I’ll have to pursue another day. So, Whoville: The first thing you notice in visiting Dodger Stadium 2011 is the army of cops. At first I thought it was because bin Laden was killed on the previous Sunday, but it’s in response to the truly pathetic beat down of a Giants fan that left him in a coma. Apparently, Dodger fans are a bigger threat than al-Qaeda. New Yorkers used to walking out of Yankee Stadium or the Garden on a play-off night know the sight of this many cops, but here in LA, it’s a a sign of decline. Depressing that they’re needed, depressing I’m relieved to see them. Last year I walked across the parking lot at the stadium with a black friend, and you could hear racist bullshit coming from some Latino kids hanging out, staying drunk after the game. We were a ways off, but I remember the relief of locking doors in the car and leaving fast. Chavez used to be one of my favorite spots in LA because when you’re there, it doesn’t feel like the city anymore. The traffic, noise, and feel of downtown fade into a peaceful park. Now it’s a bad neighborhood you need an army to patrol.
But, the endless bummer goes back further. There’s the McCourt divorce, which is a joke, but the fact that MLB had to take over the team this year makes you wonder about the feel inside the park. First, the video screens that encircle the loge deck are entirely ads. They used to show you league scores and other mlb info along with the ads. The McDodgers are apparently so broke that when an inning starts, a new ad comes on and stays there all three outs. I don’t care about advertising at a park, but at Chavez ads actually crowd out the game. The Fox box on local KCAL-9 gives you more instant perspective on a game than actually sitting there watching it. Waiting for the one screen with scores or the Jumbotron to cycle thru ads and whatever else while the bank ads sit above you forever is insulting.
The divorce is now, but McCourt Era has been particularly crushing. Manny Ramirez showed up with his steroid kit and blew out the “Joe Torre Era” – another Hall of Fame manager who retired after a taste of LA sports. When the the McCourts arrived, they brought in Torre and then Manny, and you wanted to get out to the park to see this team. Not for long. Manny’s self-destruction brought down years of rebuilding, and you couldn’t avoid his mug around the city on all those Mannywood billboards, a constant bitter joke.
Besides the army of cops and ads, Dodger Stadium now does a 7th inning stretch comprised of “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I hate a 7th inning “God Bless America.” We already stand up for the national anthem pre-game. Now there’s two flag-waving songs at the Stadium, plus the Veteran of the Game campaign, where a vet throws out a pitch. I like the vet thing. Vets actually do something for the country. But everyone stands up for “God Bless America” and puts their hats and hands over their heart when it’s not even the anthem. But what are you going to do, not stand up? Boo? My own protest is to go get a beer until it’s done. It’s overkill, it’s fake, and it’s not like the Dodgers stop selling Citibank ad-space for one second to say thanks to the troops. So, to paraphrase Dean Wormer, cops, commercials, and peer pressure patriotism are no way to go through life, son.
I like LA, I live here, but the people who run our sports manage to suck the life out of this city.