Michael Balzary, better known as Flea and co-founder of the top-selling and critically acclaimed L.A. rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, might be as passionate about basketball and the Lakers as he is about music.
When he’s not busy recording or touring with the Chili Peppers, whose two-disc “Stadium Arcadium” album drew some of the best reviews of their 23-year career and entered the national sales chart at No. 1 in May, the 44-year-old bassist from Fairfax High writes an entertaining Lakers blog for nba.com.
In an introductory post last season, the Australian-born Flea described himself as “a crazed maniacal Laker fan.” Co-writer of the group’s 1989 tribute song “Magic Johnson,” he called basketball “America’s great gift to the world.”
Like many Lakers fans, Flea alternately celebrates and castigates Kobe Bryant, is intrigued by Kwame Brown’s untapped potential and writes of L.A.'s other, recently more successful NBA team, “Why don’t they just move up to Seattle after the Sonics go somewhere else? L.A. is Laker town. We don’t need no stinkin’ Clippers.”
Flea, whose band used to perform naked save for strategically placed tube socks, also weighs in sartorially at times, such as when he writes, “I am waiting for some bold player to muster the gumption to just quit fooling with the dated oversized-shorts look and bust out the wee little shorts of yesteryear.”
Last week, with the start of another NBA season arriving Tuesday and the Chili Peppers’ world tour grinding on, Flea took time out to talk basketball.
Question: Is it realistic to believe that short shorts will return?
I hope they do. I think it would be a very bold statement and a really cool thing. I prefer the short-shorts look. I think it’s a manly look.
What are the roots of your basketball jones?
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and showed up in school in sixth grade, every kid was way into basketball, and I just saw it as a way to have a social life. From that point forward, all I did was play basketball every day and watch basketball and love the Lakers. I just kind of found my team. ... They’re my guys.
Would you rather be, a rock star or an NBA star?
I definitely hold each of them in equal standing. Magic Johnson and Jimi Hendrix have equal weight in my world.
Who in the NBA would make a good rock star?
I’d have to say Adam Morrison. Outside of anyone on the Lakers, he’s my favorite NBA player right now, even though he hasn’t played one game yet. I just love that guy -- the way he looks, his sense of purpose and the very emotional way he plays. Also, whenever I see him doing an interview, he’s very humble and quiet and self-effacing. Also, he looks like a roadie for Metallica.
Who has the NBA’s best tattoo?
Clearly, Amare Stoudemire. Black Jesus. That’s the greatest tattoo.
You seem to have a love-hate relationship with Kobe ...
Actually, it’s pretty loving. I really think Kobe is the best player in the NBA, and I’m always on his side. The only player I ever turned on while he was with the Lakers was Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal].... When the [Shaq-Kobe] conflict started, I always took Kobe’s side. When Kobe got arrested, I just thought Shaq acted like a real jerk. I turned on Shaq, much to the consternation of my friends and fellow Laker fans, who all think Kobe’s an idiot. My wife hates Kobe. Hates him with a passion.
Why have you stuck by him?
I think Kobe is a very misunderstood guy.... He’s extremely disciplined, extremely hardworking. But I think he’s uncomfortable speaking publicly and it comes across like he’s a phony, and I just don’t think he’s any more phony than any of these other players that say these perfect things.... In a certain way, he’s a basketball robot, a basketball machine. The guy just lives and breathes and thinks basketball. He’s like a basketball geek who never perfected his social skills.
Do you have any love for the Clippers?
Yeah, of course. They have L.A. on their chest. I’m anti-Donald Sterling. But [Mike] Dunleavy’s a good coach. I think Shaun Livingston’s a great, great point guard. They’re a good team. I mean, Chris Kaman’s great, Elton Brand is awesome and a stand-up guy and all that. But I’m just a Laker fan.
Is it a thrill for you to perform in NBA arenas?
Totally. I love it. I always go creep around the locker rooms and stuff. I’ve been known to doctor the chalkboards. I think it was in New Jersey, when Derrick Coleman was playing, there were all these Xs and O’s up there and other messages, and I wrote, “Derrick, hog the ball, don’t play defense.” Just silly stuff.
Who attracts the better-looking groupies, rockers or ballers?
I think when it comes down to groupie-ness, it’s probably all pretty relative. But I mean basketball players are way more studly than rock stars. Rock stars are a bunch of skinny, pale guys who don’t get outdoors enough.