Beckham’s magic shows
It was only 16 minutes. It was only a dozen touches.
The entire shebang lasted about as long as it takes to say, "$500 soccer seats.”
It was a publicity stunt. It was a human billboard. It was vaudeville.
On a long and wearisome Saturday night, David Beckham’s Galaxy debut was as phony as his wife’s television debut.
Then why can’t I stop smiling?
Why can’t I get the shrieking cheers out of my head? The ones that rolled through the jammed Home Depot Center every time Beckham put his foot on the ball?
Why can’t I get the low gasps out of my system? The one that escapes thousands of lips every time Beckham prepared to make a move?
Why can’t I stop seeing his long kick, his corner kick, his perfect kicks, all filled with the sort of sight and sound that even the non-soccer fan can understand?
It’s crazy, I know. I should be more dubious about a guy who made little real impact on a night that held no official meaning.
I was the guy who was bored by Beckham, remember?
What’s really crazy is, I’m not bored anymore.
The soul of sport in this town is entertainment, and, for 16:19 on Saturday night, I was thoroughly entertained.
Turns out, even on a bum ankle, David Beckham is a blast.
He plays to the crowd. He plays above his teammates. He plays from sideline to sideline. He limps and lunges and falls and writhes on the ground, then he gets up and gives a clapping standing ovation to those who have been cheering him.
And, yeah, on a game-ending corner kick, he even kind of, sort of, bended it.
“It was unbelievable,” said teammate Quavas Kirk of the atmosphere. “I loved it. I had never experienced anything like this before. Ever.”
Turns out, Beckham wears No. 23 for a reason. If he doesn’t have Michael Jordan’s impact, he certainly has his sense of showmanship.
He probably shouldn’t have played, but the game against English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea was being nationally televised because of him. Not to mention that 27,000 fans who all seemed to be wearing his jersey expected it.
“I wanted to be out there,” he said. “I knew how much attention was on this game.”
He began the game on the sidelines surrounded by cameramen who were more physical than any of the players. Then, in true Hollywood fashion, he kept the fans waiting for more than two hours before doing anything.
Finally, late in the game, he leaned down and tied his cleat over his swollen left ankle, and the crowd roared.
Then, he began jogging up and down the sidelines, and now the crowd was standing and roaring.
“Their reaction on every little thing I did, it made me feel embarrassed at times,” Beckham said.
Then, just before he checked in, he disappeared to the locker room with the trainer, and the crowd was stunned silent.
“I felt like I had to get strapped [taped] a little more, and I didn’t’ want to do it in public,” he said, smiling. “Plus, I used the bathroom.”
When he finally entered the game to a constant roaring ovation, it took him only three minutes to show what all the fuss was about. With his good right foot, he lofted a perfect 40-yard kick to the head of a teammate who didn’t quite know what to do with it.
The rest of his brief appearance was like that, Beckham making cool passes to guys who were just a step slow in figuring them out.
This will be part of Beckham’s charm here. He may not be one of the world’s best players anymore, but he is so much better than any of his teammates, watching him could be like watching Kobe Bryant on last season’s Lakers.
“He’s played 10 years on the highest level in Europe, so in the U.S. it will be very easy for him to perform,” said Chelsea Coach Jose Mourinho, whose team won, 1-0.
Beckham even showed some toughness, bouncing through Chelsea’s Steve Sidwell and falling on his sore ankle before climbing up and limping on.
“I actually thought he wasn’t going to go into the guy, but he just gritted his teeth and went straight into him,” Kirk said. “I like that, even with the injury, he came and went out and played hard.”
The other part of Beckham’s charm will be that because he’s not a scorer, his skills can still shine even on a struggling team.
Every time he touches the ball, the gasps will appear, because every time he touches the ball, something cool could happen.
For a moment Saturday, the ball on his foot felt like the ball traveling toward Vladimir Guerrero’s bat.
Even those who don’t understand soccer can understand that.
“For those who have not played on a high level, to play with David Beckham ... will be an inspiration,” said Mourinho.
For 16 minutes Saturday night, it sure felt like it.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke