Bearing flag is like ‘royal wedding’

Highlights from The Times’ “Ticket to Beijing” ( blog:

BEIJING -- Dawn Staley, an assistant coach of the U.S. women’s basketball team and a three-time gold medalist during her playing days, was chosen the flag bearer for the entire U.S. Olympic team at the 2004 Athens Games opening ceremony.

So she knows exactly what her successor as the U.S. flag bearer -- 1,500-meter runner Lopez Lomong -- will experience here tonight when he carries the U.S. flag into the Bird’s Nest ahead of the enormous U.S. delegation.

“It’s going to overwhelm him. He’s going to walk through the stadium, it’s going to be an automatic smile,” Staley said. “He’s not going to be able to hold back. It’s going to be an incredible feeling he’s not going to ever be able to duplicate.”


Staley remembers the sensation of having thousands of eyes in the stadium -- and millions around the world -- watching her as she marched. “The only thing that I can compare it to, and I don’t have any experience, is a royal wedding,” she said. “That’s what I would think a royal wedding would be.”

-- Helene Elliott


Hoop dreams


Proving that the truth will emerge from the marketplace of ideas . . . in inverse proportion to the number of press people on the story . . . multiplied by a factor of 1,000 if said press people have access to the Internet . . . Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are not currently entertaining fantastic, or made-up, offers to play for European teams.

Bryant’s throwaway line three days ago about playing in Europe if someone offers him $40 million has now turned into a series of “reports,” like the one that says the Greek team Olympiakos, which just signed Josh Childress, will offer James $50 million per season (

Meanwhile, LeBron’s people told ESPN the Magazine that he has been contacted by European teams before and would be “strongly interested” if someone comes up with $50 million -- per -- when he’s a free agent in 2010.

Someone should make up something more realistic; $40 million is almost 80% of an entire NBA’s team’s salary cap. NBA teams can support payrolls that high only because each of them gets $30 million annually from the network TV deal and they play 82 games, after which come eight weeks of playoffs.


European teams get a tiny percentage of the NBA’s TV money, their season lasts about 35 games, their arenas aren’t NBA-sized, they don’t know from luxury suites and their postseason tournaments are single-elimination, not best-of-seven series.

Aside from that, it was nice knowing you, ‘Bron.

I asked an NBA spokesman for a comment. He said for $50 million, he’d go to a European team too.

-- Mark Heisler



Of particulate interest

The smog on Thursday was like nothing you can even imagine. On the bus ride to the Main Press Center, it was notable that a 30-story building that had been there the day before wasn’t there anymore. Gone. Couldn’t see it. Maybe a quarter-mile off the road. Gone. I’ve never seen anything like this before and I once spent an hour in Riverside.

Turns out the much-maligned U.S. cyclists who showed up at the airport wearing surgical masks were the smart ones. A friend went to lunch and said his eyes started to water. The smog was inside the restaurant.


Everybody is writing about this, and I hate to be just another beating drum, but, oh man, Thursday was awful. Good thing nothing of international value or importance is happening around here soon, except for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games!

Let’s be positive. This is a gathering of nations that the world loves to love, so let’s hope the wind blows hard tonight. Or they postpone this -- until 2028.

On a more positive note, it is impressive how few Chinese people are fat. I have watched carefully, looked hard for some. And there are about 500,000 people on each main street, every day, so I should be able to find one. So far, zero, zilch. Maybe they shipped them out with the homeless and the beggars. Or maybe there just aren’t any.

I find it unfair. A person travels nearly 7,000 miles and he can’t even find one kindred spirit. I’ll guess I’ll just hang around with the German photographers.


-- Bill Dwyre


And finally

Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Nini and Yingying are the five Olympic mascots, and they grace everything from billboards and billfolds to backpacks and snackpacks. They’re on postcards and picture frames, cameras and cellphones. They even have their own 100-episode Olympic-themed cartoon series and have made cameos in a Super Mario Bros. video game.


More than 9,000 Chinese parents have named a child after one of them.

-- Kevin Baxter