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Dylan Hernandez: Lakers are in first place in these standings, but just barely

Forward Kobe Bryant plays his last game as a Los Angeles Laker against the Utah Jazz.

Forward Kobe Bryant plays his last game as a Los Angeles Laker against the Utah Jazz.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Evidently, it is worse for a team to finish in last place than it is to not have its games on television.

While the Lakers remain the most popular Los Angeles-based professional sports franchise, their once-substantial lead over the Dodgers is diminishing, according to a report published by Loyola Marymount’s Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

Of the 2,400 Los Angeles County residents who were surveyed over the phone, 37% identified the Lakers as their favorite local team, compared to 35% for the Dodgers. In a similar survey two years ago, the Lakers were at 43% and the Dodgers 34%.

The Angels received only 5% of votes, finishing behind the Clippers (9%), the Kings (8%) and the Galaxy (6%).

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When the Dodgers visited the Atlanta Braves this week, the fans at Turner Field subjected them to countless performances of the Tomahawk Chop. The cartoonishly racist tradition remains alive in large part because of Dodgers President Stan Kasten, who defended the ritual when he was president of the Braves.

At the time, Kasten said the Tomahawk Chop wasn’t racist because the salute wasn’t a part of actual Native American culture. By that logic, Shaquille O’Neal’s infamous “ching-chong” joke directed at Yao Ming in 2002 would have been permissible because “ching-chong” isn’t real Chinese.

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It’s easy to understand why most star athletes have a sense of superiority. They became who they are by beating out millions of others who shared their dreams as children.

But a recently published interview with ESPN’s The Undefeated was a reminder of how Kobe Bryant has a special form of narcissism, one that completely blurs the lines between athletic achievement and intellectual enlightenment.

Asked if he wanted to be understood, Bryant replied, “I don’t do things for people to understand me. I say things to help them understand themselves.”

Seriously, get over yourself.

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Stephon Marbury has become in China what David Beckham was supposed to become in the United States.

The 39-year-old former NBA All-Star has become a cultural touchstone in his adopted homeland, which recently made him the first foreign-born Chinese Basketball Assn. player to receive permanent-resident status.

China’s infatuation with Marbury has produced a Stephon Marbury musical, a Stephon Marbury postage stamp and a Stephon Marbury museum.

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If Carson Wentz is selected by the Rams with the top pick in the NFL draft next week, he will be in for a significant change.

The Rams’ temporary home stadium, the Coliseum, is expected to have a capacity of around 80,000. That’s more than four times larger than the crowds Wentz played for at North Dakota State. The Bison averaged fewer than 18,500 fans at their nine home games last year.

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Middleweight boxing champion Gennady Golovkin is headlining a Saturday show at the Forum that’s close to sold out, but he still has a long way to go before he can convince millions of households to purchase pay-per-view events.

Transforming Golovkin into that kind of draw will require a victory over a big-name opponent, which is why his camp is determined to make a fight with the overrated but nonetheless popular Canelo Alvarez.

Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, said in a recent conference call that he was waiting for the “perfect moment” to stage an Alvarez-Golovkin fight. To an ear accustomed to hearing the nonsense that is blurted out in this sport, it sounded as if De La Hoya was waiting for 34-year-old Golovkin to become too old to seriously threaten his 25-year-old cash cow.

Golovkin’s trainer said the tactic wouldn’t work.

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“In this business, it’s not about years,” Abel Sanchez said. “It’s about difficult fights and difficult training camps. Canelo has been a pro longer than Golovkin has. Canelo’s had tougher fights than Golovkin has. So age isn’t really is not going to matter until we get to 40, 41, 42 because then father time will take over.”

Golovkin won’t necessarily remain dominant for six-plus years, but credit Sanchez for trying.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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