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Most Important Message Is Lost on the Lakers

You’re not going to find too many serious columns in this space, as you know, because I usually write about the Dodgers and they’re pretty funny.

But I was sitting at the Laker game Sunday, and while watching the fans come to their feet, the camera panning the crowd and finding everyone going wild, smiling youngsters and everyone having the time of their life, it reminded me again how much this means to some. And why I’m so upset with the Lakers.

I received a telephone call a week ago Friday from someone who identified herself as Sheryl Carlin, who wanted to get a message to Kobe Bryant.

She said she had read in the newspaper that Kobe was going to be on Fox Sports Net’s TV show, the “Paperboys,” and assumed I was one of the “Paperboys.” I guess she watches the show as much as I do.

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She said she represented Padres Contra El Cancer (Parents Against Cancer), and said Jose, a 14-year-old boy who had been given a week to live, wanted only one thing now -- the chance to hear Kobe’s voice.

I called the Lakers, and was told this happens all the time and could be a scam. Scam or not, I said, it seemed worth the price of embarrassment, so I was transferred to someone who handles these things for the Lakers. Then I had Sheryl call her too.

“I understand they had to verify things. I offered to have our office call her or the program director at Children’s Hospital,” Sheryl said. “She said that wasn’t good enough. We’d have to provide a letter with our organization’s letterhead.”

Michael G. Velazquez, CEO for Padres Contra El Cancer, faxed that letter to Eugenia Chow, director of community relations for the Lakers, the same day -- a week ago Friday.

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In part it read: “I write you this letter on behalf of a very special young man who is currently dealing with life’s most difficult and trying experience. Jose is 14 years old and up until a few days ago, he was undergoing treatment for childhood cancer at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). Jose and his family have recently been informed by his medical team that he has a very short time to live before his body succumbs to the devastating effects of cancer.

“As to how much longer he will continue to survive, no one can be certain. Worst-case scenarios project to one week or less.... What we do know is that time is of the essence.

“To say that he is a big, big fan of the Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant is an understatement. Jose adores Kobe. As one of his final requests, he and his family have kindly asked for a personal visit or a telephone conversation with him.... “

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I HAD no doubt if someone put a cell phone in Kobe’s hand, he’d immediately call Jose. I called Chow from the start and told her to tell Kobe I was requesting such a favor -- maybe even insisting on it (in the joking way in which we deal with each other).

On Monday the Lakers had Kobe call me from Minneapolis for a playoff column. I asked if he had called Jose yet. He said he had no idea who I was talking about, and asked for the child’s number and said he’d call right away. I had given the number to the Lakers, so I told him I’d call the team and have it sent to him. I called Chow.

Chow passed on the information to Kobe’s agent Tuesday.

On Tuesday the youngster passed away -- never having heard from Kobe.

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THERE IS no question there’s a big demand for the time of many great athletes, and often by people who have serious medical problems. Kobe meets regularly with Make-A-Wish Foundation candidates before Laker games.

There also are people who are assigned to protect an athlete’s time, and sort through hundreds of requests for it. Sometimes paperwork falls through the cracks.

But when it happens to a child, and there’s no second chance to make it right, it’s devastating -- especially when only a minute of Kobe’s time would have meant so much to a youngster and his family.

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WHEN I heard about the child’s death, I was mad at the Lakers for dragging their feet. I called the team and was told “a Laker fan pack” had been sent to the child. Someone also seemed to think Jose had come to a game previously to meet with Kobe, and “we can only do one of these kind of things per dying child.”

Have you ever been too angry to respond to someone?

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I TOLD Sheryl someone thought the child might already have met Kobe, and she said this “is a family who can barely afford to put food on the table; they certainly couldn’t afford to go to a Lakers’ game.” She said she’d check with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to see if the child had exceeded the Laker limit of one meeting per dying child.

I called Chow to tell her the child died, and she didn’t return the call. I called again. Got her cell number, left a message. Told the Lakers’ PR guy to have her call me. Nothing. I left another message on her cell. I guess I know why it took Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to get a message to Kobe that a child -- with maybe a week to live -- would like a call.

She called Sunday night. “I went home Friday and didn’t get the letter until Monday,” she explained. “I got the info to Kobe’s agent Tuesday.”

You were told a child had days to live, I said, and you couldn’t take an extra hour Friday to wait for paperwork, then place a phone in Kobe’s hand Friday night? Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon?

“I’ve done my part; we have procedures,” she said. “I did my best.”

I don’t imagine Chow will be calling Jose’s family to tell it that. (I did mention I was angry, didn’t I?)

Kobe said he’d make that call to the family Sunday night, and tell Jose’s mother how he would have liked to have talked with her son.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.


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