That said, I have played video games with him, most recently “MLB The Show 19,” which he was on the cover of, and you get to know someone in between playful trash talking while playing video games. It’s the modern-day version of getting to know someone over a round of golf, with controllers and headphones replacing clubs and tees.
We met up in Las Vegas to play last October, shortly before he became a free agent.
“I just want to win,” Harper told me. “I want to go somewhere and do the things I can to help an organization win at the highest level. We’ve been able to do that in D.C. for many years. We’ve grown into a powerhouse in D.C. We have Juan Soto and Victor Robles and Trea Turner. We have so many good young guys on that club. The future is bright but if I’m not in those plans, I’ll definitely go somewhere else and make that decision.”
He was actually looking forward to free agency back then, saying, “I think it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be something that’s definitely different.” The process probably hasn’t gone as quickly or as smoothly as he would have liked but the team I always felt he was leaning toward if all things were equal reemerged as a real contender Sunday when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, chairman Mark Walter, team president Stan Kasten and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman flew to Las Vegas to meet with Harper for the first time since he became a free agent.
When we played the game, Harper knew I was from Los Angeles and allowed me to pick the Dodgers while he picked the rival Colorado Rockies. During the game, he talked about how much he enjoyed playing at Dodger Stadium and how much respect he had for Clayton Kershaw and the organization. When we were finished playing he talked about his love for his hometown of Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, where he bought a home, how it’s a 45-minute flight to Los Angeles and how he still hasn’t gotten used to the harsh winters living on the East Coast the last seven years.
It was nothing more than small talk between strangers but I left that day thinking that if the Dodgers were serious about signing Harper, he was more than serious about coming to Los Angeles and joining a team close to his hometown and his family and friends in Las Vegas. It’s now up to the Dodgers to make the numbers work but my gut tells me if they're close to what he wants, the next time we play the game, Harper will be with the Dodgers.
I think Luke Walton will be remembered as a great coach when all is said and done but there’s just too much going against him right now to ever be remembered as a great Lakers coach. I don’t see how he possibly returns next season outside of the Lakers going on an incredible run that includes a first-round series win, which seems almost impossible with this group.
I love March Madness and the Stanley Cup playoffs but it looks like USC and UCLA, currently in the middle of the conference standings in the Pac-12, and the Kings and Ducks, currently the two worst teams in the Western Conference, aren’t going to give college basketball and hockey fans in the Southland much to cheer for come spring.
Sean McVay and the Rams officially added tight ends coach Wes Phillips and assistant quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson to the staff Monday, which means we can officially make them hot names to look for as possible head coaching candidates next year.
My colleague Nathan Fenno wrote a fascinating front page story in The Times on Sunday about the talks between the Clippers and the City of Inglewood for a proposed arena that would open in 2024. Perhaps one of the best lines in the piece comes in an email from Clippers owner Steve Ballmer when he’s asked about building an arena in Carson. “Pass on Carson,” Ballmer wrote. “We would never go there.” So much for the Carson Clippers, I guess.
It was a great night for Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High as my former classmate Rami Malek won the Academy Award for best actor Sunday for his amazing performance as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Malek and I graduated in 1999 along with actress Rachel Bilson, who was in “The O.C.” Our 20-year reunion is coming up and I’m just hoping my far more famous classmates show up so we can reminisce about going to the food court at the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square after school. I still think the title of wealthiest Notre Dame Knight goes to New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who graduated in 2007 and signed a 13-year, $325 million contract in 2014.