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Sports Watching and Wondering

African American news from Pasadena - Sports - Sports Watching and Wondering - Lakers and moreThe Lakers have been the best franchise in the NBA for about the past 30 years. The team was run by Jerry Buss and Jerry West. Buss knew money, and West knew basketball. Together, they were a winning combination. They were also lucky enough to win the coin flip that gave them the rights to draft Magic Johnson. The Lakers had been just an unknown basketball team playing in Los Angeles, sort of like today's Trojans.

That all changed when Magic came to town. He led the Showtime Lakers to several championships. In addition to just winning games, they were an exciting team to watch. The Players seemed to be happy playing the games for their adoring fans. Life was good.

This year the Lakers are in danger of missing the NBA Playoffs. Sooner or later, this happens to all athletic teams. The NBA allows the weaker teams to pick the best players in the draft every year. Their goal is to have each team win one championship every 32 years. So, the Lakers have already beaten those odds.

Before the team reached its present Iconic Status, they had a hard-core group of real basketball fans. These were the ones who love the game, and love to watch it being played. Certainly, they wanted the Lakers to win, but they understood that no single team can win all the time.

Due to their incredible success, the Lakers picked up Celebrity Fans, who may also be real basketball fans, but who want to be identified with the winning team. If the team does not contend for the championship every year, then they will flee, the way that rats do from a burning ship.

The present day Lakers have done a lot of the right things. However, they had some unfortunate bad breaks along the way. One of them was a big one, and his name is Andrew Bynum. At 17 years of age, he had the talent and the potential to become one of the great NBA stars. At that time, no one realized that his knees would be perpetually injured, and that he was doomed to be forever immature. So when faced with the prospect of giving him a long-term contract, they declined to do so.

However, the team was eager to accommodate the complaining Kobe Bryant, and his relentless quest to win more championship rings. So, they made some immediate trades in an attempt to bolster the current roster. The team management felt that they had to keep Bryant happy, if they could. They were desperately seeking short-term solutions to long-term problems.

They now have a roster of great players, but they do not fit together as a team. The addition of Dwight Howard was supposed to be the final piece in their puzzle of success. They are now on the verge of having buyer's remorse, since he is not as good as they thought he was. I think that Jerry West would have recognized that before the deal was done. In any case, Howard is here now. Unfortunately, he has had an injured back and shoulder. That could happen to anyone, but they are also shocked by the realization that he cannot shoot free throws.

I misspoke in the previous paragraph; he does not choose to make his free throws. Oh, he would like to make them, but he does not have to do so, and he will continue earning millions by making these lame attempts. All basketball players would like to make a high percentage of their free-throw attempts. However, they have come to realize that they will make essentially the same amount of money, whether they make them or not. So, they try to make their free throws, and are successful only about 50% of the time, or less. However, they keep promising that they are going to do better, but for the most part, they don't.

When I was in the United States Army; I played on a number of different teams. There was one commonality on all of them. If you missed a certain number of free throws, you would be required to run laps after practice. One of the Officers would watch us take our punishment, and make sure that we ran very hard, even when we were tired. Having that kind of motivation brought about a dramatic increase in accuracy. The fear of running those laps provided the incentive for the players to give full concentration to what they were trying to do. Professional Basketball does not have that kind of motivation attached to it.

During the period of time that the Lakers were the best franchise in the NBA, their local rivals, the Clippers were the worst. They raised futility to a high art form. It was an operation that was run on the cheap, and according to the rumors, the team was very profitable even though they were not artistically successful. Their owner was easily the most unpopular sports figure in the city. This was the title that he held, until Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers. Unbelievably, the Clippers have crawled out of their den of despair, and they are contending for the championship of the NBA Western Conference. Unbelievable, but true!

It is ironic that the Clippers are doing so well, just when the Lakers began to suffer systemic problems. In a year or so, the Lakers may be forced to break up their team, and go into a rebuilding process. The time required to do this is typically three to five years, and even then, there are no guarantees of success. As painful as it may be, the Lakers may have to learn to live in a city that is dominated by the once pitiful Clippers. How bad would that be? Stranger things have happened.

Dwight Howard does not seem to be happy here. In addition to the constant needling that he receives from Kobe Bryant, the lights in Los Angeles may be just too bright for him. Everyone, no matter how hard they may try, just cannot perform well on the big stage. He might do better back in Orlando, or Charlotte, or some other small-market team. He apparently likes to lift weights, so he might consider entering bodybuilding contests, or becoming a professional wrestler. He does not seem to be totally committed to becoming a great basketball player. The fans in this town have seen the best, and they will not accept anything less than total effort from him, or any other athlete. So, his goofy smile, and his lackadaisical attitude will likely get him run out of town.

The President and Athletic Director of USC might like to know that the basketball game between Georgetown and Syracuse last Saturday drew 35,000 fans, and they had monumental national television ratings. The basketball game between traditional rivals UCLA and USC, did not sell out the 10,000 Seat Galen Center, and the game did not cause much of a stir on local television. However, in spite of themselves, they might have received a lucky break. They fired the inept head basketball coach, and replaced him with Bob Cantu, who had been his Assistant. The team is playing much better under this new leadership, so they might have accidentally found a new, great young coach.

Since they have him, it might be a good idea to give him an opportunity to coach the team next year. This could be a good approach for them, since they are not likely to find anyone better.

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