The LeBron James mural in Venice drew a steady crowd of people who wanted to take in the image of L.A.’s newest Laker and local savior.
“It’s been really good for us,” said an employee of Baby Blues BBQ, whose back lot borders the wall that served as the muralist’s canvas.
Fans from California, Georgia, Texas and elsewhere arrived on foot, by car and scooter to pose for pictures in front of King James. It must have been like this in Fatima, Portugal, where mobs journeyed a century ago to the spot where three shepherd children claimed to have seen an apparition of the Blessed Virgin.
“I think it’s good for the city because we’re used to big stars out here,” a local resident and rabid Lakers fan told me after his friend took pictures of him posing before the mural.
That same day, hundreds of fans gathered at Blaze Pizza in Culver City, hoping that a rumor of James’ arrival might pan out. It didn’t, and The Times ran a photo of a distraught young woman, hands to her head, as if her puppy had just died.
Folks, I’d like to make an observation here.
The L.A. hype machine in overdrive
Yes, the arrival of the best player in the NBA may be a good thing for the Lakers and Los Angeles. But this level of slobbering idolatry is the stuff of second-tier cities, it’s bush league and it is beneath us.
You have to pull yourselves together.
If you’re really true to yourself, enjoy basketball and care about Los Angeles, the team for you is not the Lakers. It’s the Clippers. For those unaware, that’s the name of another NBA team based in Los Angeles — a team that has labored, for 34 years, in the shadows of West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, Kobe and Shaq.
I’m going to explain everything if you’ll just be patient.
The LeBron mural, by the way, was twice defaced — which strikes me as a waste of time rivaling the original painting of it. After my visit, the artist erased the whole thing, and I hope Baby Blues can recover.
As I drove back downtown from Fatima, I flipped to several of the roughly 90 sports talk radio stations. I should confess that I’m a sports fan who hates himself for it, not that I think therapy is called for.
I could have listened to all the classics on tape 10 times each while stuck in traffic, and instead I have wasted half my life listening to fevered debates about make-believe trades and other testosteronic trivia, all of it passionately delivered by the guys you always steered clear of in the locker room.
The local fan boys were in such an orgasmic dither over LeBron, I had to roll down the windows until the nausea passed. Then I switched to my favorite show — “Farmacia Natural” on KWKW-AM (1330) — to remind myself I was in a sophisticated city with thoughtful discussion of things that matter. Dr. Neyda Carballo-Ricardo was talking about kidney-related issues, including urinary tract problems, and I felt better immediately. (Cranberry products can work wonders).
“Farmacia Natural” is the best show on local radio, with heartbreaking tales of physical maladies suffered by the working-class masses who couldn’t afford a bag of popcorn at Staples Center, let alone a ticket to a Lakers game. Whether you’ve got hammer toe or a neck goiter, Dr. Carballo-Ricardo can help. She offers great advice in Spanish and often has an herbal cure she’s pitching — and she doesn’t talk sports, but I would bet my left kidney she’s a Clippers fan.
Lakers vs. Clippers: Sticker shock
Speaking of the price of a Lakers ticket, it’s been reported that after James was signed as a free agent for a $153-million ransom over four years, the average price for an opening night seat next season jumped to $1,500. ESPN reported that the cheapest season ticket went from $3,499 to more than $6,000, and one person bought four season tickets for $188,781.
With all due respect to the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, we now have a clear definition of obscenity.
The $1,500 some suckers will fork over for one opening night Lakers ticket would almost pay for two season tickets — they start at $792 — to 41 Clippers games. This follows a season in which the Clippers had a 42-40 record while the Lakers were 35-47.
In picking a team to root for, it’s not about basketball. It’s about whether you truly know Los Angeles and answer to your own conscience.
Are you someone who’d like to buy a dream, or build one?
Are you the kind of person who sees a movie star in a coffee shop and asks if you can take a selfie, or do you have enough discretion to pretend you really couldn’t care less, even if you later text friends and relatives?
Just listen to the enlightened observations of Justin Blumoff, who could have gone with a winner when he fell in love with basketball as a junior high student in the 1980s, but fell for the Clippers instead.
“I could never relate to the Lakers and that whole Showtime era, where they all had this persona of being entitled,” said Blumoff, a Valley guy who’s in commercial real estate. “The Clippers are kind of like the every-man team, and I think they embody what L.A. stands for — just hard work and determination.”
Exactly. And how hard is it to root for a team — the Lakers — that has already won 16 NBA championships?
A Clippers fan has no ego, but plenty of pride. You can’t be a smug Clippers supporter, or impress fans with offers of free tickets. The team doesn’t even have its own arena yet. It’s still couch-surfing in a house built for the Lakers.
In a city that’s supposed to understand narrative structure, what’s the more compelling story?
The Lakers buy the most expensive talent on the planet and win yet again?
Or the underdog Clippers use star-free teamwork to rise from the depths of obscurity, with long-suffering cheerleader Billy Crystal as grand marshal of the victory parade?
Can L.A. root for an underdog?
“I was a Laker fan at first,” says Jeff Lipton, semi-retired chairman of the board of a loan company, “but now I’m a super fan for the Clippers.”
Lipton, 58, has courtside season tickets and attends every game decked out in red-and-blue Clippers gear.
Are you wondering why?
“Because the Clippers are embedded in the community,” Lipton said. “They’re rebuilding basketball courts at all the schools, they’re giving eyeglasses to students, they run a fan-first operation and they’re the underdog.”
I have to stop now. I’m getting too worked up.