Another title for Lakers’ Phil Jackson? Yep, it’s Mr. Too Cool
I’m not much for geeky sci-fi flicks featuring guys in bad pajamas. Who needs aliens when you have these wonderful Lakers? Kobe, please phone home. . . . Vanessa just nuked another housekeeper.
To be sure, there’s something otherworldly about this season’s Lakers. I don’t know whether to ask for an autograph or proof of residence. Are you really of this planet, Andrew Bynum? Can I see some ID, Sasha What’s-Your-Name? (Hint: Sounds like “dig a ditch.”)
Sometimes these Lakers are superhuman, sometimes not. At times, they play sort of bloated -- you know, overfed -- as if they just finished a big holiday meal and waddled onto the court to play a pickup game against the other uncles, only because the nephews kept insisting.
This gaseous approach to the game I can accept from the Clippers, find it almost entertaining. From the sleek Lakers, a franchise staffed by Maseratis and Ferraris, it doesn’t feel right at all.
I can’t imagine the e-mail agony Kobe endured the other day from mental-health types over his description of the Lakers as “bipolar.” The strident, almost maniacal thought-police are never more stirred up than if you use schizophrenia or bipolar in an inexact way. The only thing worse is saying something heartless about dogs. Then you may as well be dead.
But to the layman, bipolar was a perfectly apt description of these Lakers, hot one quarter, cold the next, exuberant today, depressed tomorrow.
Are they so skilled, so confident that they are better than anyone else, that they have the luxury of playing hard only when absolutely necessary? Or is the season so long, so hard on the legs and lower back, that it is best to pick your moments? I’d find that easy to believe, even as the fans demand virtuoso performances every evening.
Overseeing all this is Dr. Phil, not exactly warm and fuzzy, but neither is he the demanding scold. The creaky-cool Jackson seems to want to reach his players on an intellectual level, which he does with rather mixed results. Good luck. It must be like teaching Latin to a canary. Utrum per hebdomadem perveniam (“If I could just get through this week”). Squawk.
At times, Staples’ resident genius seems almost too respectful of the men, many of whom are really just spoiled boys. When we feel disgust over their halfhearted play, we want to see similar disgust on Jackson’s part. When we don’t get that, we feel exasperated, angry that he is passive-passive instead of passive-aggressive. After all, aren’t coaches who fly off the handle an American birthright?
He strikes us, when things aren’t going well, like one of those parents trying to be a friend to his children rather than a demanding dad. As with any parenting situation, outsiders like us always seem to know better.
All Jackson has done, with this composed approach, is collect more rings than Cleopatra, more championships than all of Rome. He has done it with gods like Jordan and Bryant, and divas like Rodman and Shaq. He is almost presidential in his patience, the only adult in an arena full of spitting, hyperventilating maniacs. Man, that must get old.
Yet, he has joined the likes of Kobe, Tiger and Manny as mythic contemporary sports figures who need only one name.
Well, if Phil can pull this one off, anoint him the finest coach of his generation, in any sport.
If not, there is much speculation as to what might happen next. Does Kobe opt out? Do Odom and Ariza bolt? Will Jeanie make a respectable man of the guy and ask Phil to marry her? Would Kupchak need to approve?
My speculation is that such a wedding would happen by a creek in Montana, with two people and a herd of knobby-kneed elk as witnesses. And the rest of the world might never know. Amantes sunt amentes (“Lovers are lunatics”).
As for leaving the Lakers, all I can say is you’re not going anywhere, Coach. We’re locking the castle gates. We’re filling the moat with quicksand and money. We even hid the keys to your precious Lexus hybrid.
‘Cause it ain’t over till you’re gone.
Erskine’s “Man of the House” column runs in Saturday’s Home section.