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Thursday, October 7, 2010
Courtside observations: Dave McMenamin's postcard

The latest update from our colleague, Dave McMenamin, who's along for the ride on the Lakers' European tour.

BARCELONA – Who could have thought that when the Lakers brought back in Kobe Bryant along with the rest of the starters halfway through the fourth quarter Thursday, the officers relieving the plebes on the front line, that it would only make for a more perplexing loss rather than a triumphant last stand.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant of Los Angeles Lakers competes with Pete Mickeal of Regal FC Barcelona during the NBA Europe Live game in Barcelona, Spain.

“Last stand,” that’s Phil Jackson’s phrase for the season, right?

He explained to a Spanish journalist what he meant by it the other day, sharing his Montana upbringing and how being from the “Treasure State” meant you knew all about General Custer’s Last Stand. Then he rambled on to say something about how Custer’s moment is now dubbed the “Battle of Big Horn,” adding something about political correctness these days.

I’m sharing this little anecdote to get to the point that there are certainly going to be times this season where it feels much more like a battle for the Lakers than a heroic last stand from their hall of fame coach.

There are going to be times when they have players hurt and they are playing in front of a crowd that wants to see nothing more than their yellow jersey-wearing team pulverized to a mustard-like state.

So, maybe it will be “Mustard’s Last Stand,” this year.Some of us will remember the result of the Lakers’ 92-88 loss to FC Barcelona. Pau Gasol will. Pete Mickael will. The Barcelona coach, Xavier Pascual, certainly will. But ultimately, it was just a preseason loss. It won’t affect the Lakers in the standings when Oct. 26 rolls around and they are jostling with Miami for the No. 1 record in the league.

And, for a preseason game, it was of the more memorable variety, but for me, being there, there were plenty of other things worth remembering instead of knowing that Ricky Rubio went 0-for-5 and Gasol went 1-for-8 in the second half.

-          I’ll remember the line of people waiting outside two hours before the gates opened. The only time I’ve seen a line like that before when I was traveling was tourists at the Vatican. The Lakers draw like the Pope.

-          I’ll remember Gasol taking the microphone to address the sellout crowd of 16,236 before the game and the arena going from a deafening din of appreciation for their hero as he was introduced to pin-drop silence as he spoke. I’ll remember how Gasol trimmed his beard to look good in front of his fans. I’ll remember how he came out and knocked in the first shot of the game with every single eye in the arena on him. I’ll remember how he teared up when the din grew ear-splittingly loud again as he finished his comments over the P.A. system.

-          I’ll remember the “Bar-ca! (thwack!-thwack!-thwack!)” cheers that fans choreographed perfectly, moving their thunder sticks as in sync with one another as any award-winning drum line.

-          I’ll remember the light bulbs flashing before the tipoff like this was a landmark game on the scale of the super bowl or something.

-          I’ll remember Kobe Bryant, the kid who grew up in Europe hoping for a glimpse of NBA basketball through VHS tapes his uncle would mail him from the states, being the first player on either team to take the court before the game started to see if he could put on a show because he owed it to the fans.

-          I’ll remember the media dining serving raw cookie dough as a dessert and wondering whether that was on purpose or if somebody on the Aramark staff in Barcelona didn’t know that you’re supposed to bake that stuff before you put it out for us to eat.

-          I’ll remember talking to a Spanish fan outside the arena who was ecstatic to finally see an NBA game in person after years of clicking on clandestine internet links, hoping to find live feeds before ultimately deciding to shell out the 68 euros, or whatever it is, that the NBA charges for its League Pass.

-          I’ll remember a lot of Lakers jerseys. Not just Pau and Kobe, but Magic Johnson, Elgin Baylor, Shannon Brown, Lamar Odom, Nick Van Exel … And not just Lakers jerseys, but the Bulls, Grizzlies, Celtics and Raptors too.

-          I’ll remember James Worthy milking up not one, but two trips to center court to be introduced during the game. Big Game James’ name rings bells in Spain.

-          I’ll remember the crowd knowing just the right time to switch into frenzy mode when Barcelona was mounting a second-half comeback and I’ll remember thinking that it was the same feeling in Staples Center in Game 7 against the Celtics when the crowd stopped being tight and started urging the players to leave it all out there on the court.

-          I’ll remember Mickael’s bright blue shoes during the game and gaudy rhinestone-covered Ed Hardy button down shirt after the game as much as I’ll remember his 26 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and two tie-ups with Ron Ron and Kobe.

-          I’ll remember the cascade of M-V-P chants for J-C-N, Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 25 points to continue his reputation as a Laker killer.

-          I’ll remember a lot of people caring about a game and creating an atmosphere that couldn’t happen had this game been played in the United States and thinking, well then, maybe the NBA got it right with this whole Europe Live thing after all.