Paying attention to the haves and the have-nots


One team is Brad Pitt. He walks, you watch. He talks, you listen -- even if he has nothing to say.

The other team is your friendly uncle, the guy with the paunch who takes bit parts in church plays. You root for him because he’s the underdog who doesn’t get much attention.

The gap between the Lakers and Clippers is a chasm. This much was painfully evident Monday when both teams bestowed their presence in a stage-play called Media Day, a month ahead of their opening games. But, stage plays or not, these sessions are valuable. They tell us things about the players on each team, especially how they view themselves.


And they say something about us.

It is morning. We’re at Toyota Sports Center, the Lakers’ low-slung El Segundo gym. There are at least 120 of us: reporters, photographers, editors, TV camera people, hangers on.

But there is not a Laker in sight.

The TV people wipe their lenses. Reporters clutch their notebooks. For certain, one of the big questions has to be: What will Kobe say? It’s almost as if we are waiting for royalty. “There they are,” someone says, anxiously. “They’re here.”

Emerging from a doorway, players and coaches walk out in twos and threes.

They are languid, serene. For the last several years -- not just one year, but several -- the Lakers have been only a half measure better than mediocre. Never mind. They walk with stiff-legged nonchalance, even the bit players, who would be as interesting as meatloaf if they played for Memphis.

A dozen of us swarm Derek Fisher. Another dozen hang near Lamar Odom’s shoulder. Then, all at once, the floor trembles with footsteps. Some of us say, breathlessly: “He’s here.”

Kobe Bryant. Hollywood. Fashionably, dramatically late.

All of us leave the others and swarm around Kobe. When he talks, he stares into a thicket of cameras and tape recorders. We note his every move. We regard his every word, even his sighs, as monumentally important.

What does Kobe think about his team? His future? His hard, confusing summer?

He speaks vaguely, in clichés. He backs away, just slightly, from the harsh words he had for his teammates and the Lakers organization only a few months back. He equates himself to a soldier.

After this year, will he be back?

He sidesteps the question.

And then Kobe leaves. Disappears, really. One moment he’s doing a TV interview, and the next he has slipped back out the door.

You look at your notebook and realize it’s full of hot air.

Now it is afternoon. We’re in downtown Los Angeles, at Staples Center. Inside, it feels cold. The place is cavernous.

Now there are only 30, maybe 40, of us -- reporters, photographers, TV camera people. Now there are only a few editors and other hangers on.

The Clippers are already here.

They don’t strut. They don’t preen. With nothing but a history of losing and mediocrity, they know that they have no reason to.

Sam Cassell sits at a table, talking to four reporters about the season. He looks everyone in the eye. He laughs, asks his own questions and then answers them. You get the feeling that he’d be perfectly happy hanging out and talking hoops all day.

Elgin Baylor stands at the other end of the court, taking his time as he answers questions from four reporters about Brevin Knight, his new point guard. It feels strange and a bit sad seeing Baylor, one of basketball’s all-time greats, managing a perennially snake-bitten team. But now, with another season about to begin, he says he is hopeful.

Near a basket is Chris Kaman, maybe the most important player the Clippers have this year, counted on to apply the muscle. He crouches casually on a chair. Around him are more team employees than reporters. Then, for a while, he is all alone.

Over there is Elton Brand, a Clippers star, wearing a cast, autographing basketballs. He is recovering from Achilles’ surgery. Only one reporter talks to him. Brand says he is healing well. He’ll be back, maybe in a couple of months.

Another Clipper stands in the middle of the court, bouncing a ball, producing an echo that rings up to the rafters and swirls around the stadium.

Sure, there are clichés here too, and there is some hot air in your notebook.

But you can’t help it: Somehow, you appreciate your pot-bellied uncle more than you do Brad Pitt.