Friday, April 16, 2004
To live and die in San Antonio
By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com
We were hoping that Robert Horry was going to go Richard Clarke on us, exposing for all to see the seedy underworld of the Los Angeles Lakers now that Horry is a member of the rival San Antonio Spurs, against whom the Lakers will play once they both get past the first round of the playoffs.
But alas, Horry is more laid-back than a chaise lounge, less talkative than a Tibetan monk, and not willing to pull out his shovel and unearth the bones currently and formerly rattling around the closets of Hollywood's beloved cagers.
As it turns out, who needs Horry when all we have to do is visit the Lakers' locker room itself to get the dirt on a family that is more dysfunctional than cross-breeding between Mike Tyson and Courtney Love. All we need is for Paris Hilton to play small forward for the Lakers and we'd have some can't-miss reality TV. Of course, if that happened, Donald Trump would probably purchase it, put his face on it and claim it as the Donald Trump National Basketball Association and Shakespearean Play Combine, something he devised while spray painting on his hair helmet.
Seriously, have you been following this fiasco in L.A.? Kobe Bryant, already a ridiculously complicated figure, supposedly sabotages his teammates last Sunday when he intentionally forgoes shots he would normally not hesitate to take to prove a point to his teammates as they go down in roaring flames against the archrival Sacramento Kings, whose own bad boy, Chris Webber, only aspires to such chaos and calamity.
One of Bryant's teammates then anonymously tells the Los Angeles Times, "I don't know if we can forgive him."
Bryant then confronts every one of his teammates and asks them if they were the anonymous player, each of whom denied being the Deep Throat -- though we did hear that Shaq started calling himself the Big Source.
Then Bryant goes on the radio and vehemently denies that he sabotaged the game, saying he loves the game too much to ever do a thing like that -- though that then elicits memories of Phil Jackson saying he once was told Bryant used to allow his Lower Merion High School team to intentionally fall behind so he could bring them back in the fourth quarters of games and look like a hero, which makes one wonder if Bryant's love of the game has grown so much greater since his prep school days that sabotaging games is no longer an option, or perhaps it has become passe.
Hey, I'm just saying we must use history as a guide, for if we learn nothing from the past, why archive it, right?
In any case, Bryant then turns this story from interesting to absolutely delicious -- I sound like a Hollywood gossip reporter now -- when he goes out and hits not one, but two incredibly impossible shots -- one, appropriately, over self-proclaimed Kobe-stopper Ruben Patterson -- to not only defeat the Trail Blazers -- the team that started Los Angeles on its dynastic journey -- but to win the Pacific Division title -- the last Pacific Division title of its kind, by the way -- and earn the second seed in the Western Conference.
I mean, does this guy not take the cake?
Oh yeah, and don't forget, he has a court date in a week and a half to further sort out this whole rape thing. I have to say, after watching Kobe for the past week, I'm not feeling so great if I'm Mark Hurlbert.
And now, with the postseason starting in a few days, can you imagine the coverage this thing is going to get?
Which takes us back to the original point of this column, which was to compare and contrast the two favorites for the NBA title, the Lakers and the Spurs, using as the vehicle of that comparison Horry, the one man who has spent time with both organizations and who, you can probably guess, is pretty pleased he is not in the middle of this Bryantroversy, but rather tucked away in the outer reaches of sleepy San Antonio, where the big news is that waiters at Dick's Last Resort on the Riverwalk were complaining that Bruce Bowen tipped them with dirty money.
"I just like the fact that there is no media coverage here," Horry said. "I don't really like to talk to the media. Down here, you get two (reporters) who follow us, if that. In L.A., you go to practice and you got 30 people sometimes, depending on what Kobe or Shaq has said. I like the fact that you can just go about your business and play basketball."
A large reason for that, of course, is the carriage of Tim Duncan, who makes comic Stephen Wright look vivacious.
"Man, there is no controversy here at all," Horry said. "We have not even had a skirmish in practice -- no pushing, no nothing -- and that is the first time I have ever been on an NBA team where that has not happened. It is just a great atmosphere. Guys are cool, laid-back. There are no flashy guys on our team. The only flashy guy we've got is Manu (Ginobili), and he's not flashy like Ray Allen or Kobe or Vince (Carter). He is flashy in his own little way, but nobody knows who this guy is."
Earlier this season, when the Spurs had won 13 games in a row, Horry made the point that if the Lakers had the same streak, the entire country would be talking about it. Yet because it was San Antonio, it barely registered on the national scene.
Well, guess what? The Spurs ended their regular season on an 11-game win streak, and the only thing people seem to be discussing is the exploits of Bryant. In fact, I went on a talk show based in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, and the guest actually said to me: "I guess we can all agree that the title is the Lakers' to lose." I gently reminded him that the Spurs are the defending champions, so technically it is theirs to lose.
"There are no expectations put on this team," Horry said. "The only person who picked us to do anything is (Charles) Barkley. It's like you go out and just play and nobody expects anything but you do what you need to do to win games. I like it. I know a lot of these guys like it. It doesn't bother us one bit flying under the radar."
The other thing I found interesting was that Horry bristled at the notion that the Lakers, or the Spurs for that matter, turned it on once the postseason began.
I think a popular perception is that the Lakers, and more specifically Shaq, coast through the regular season, then ramp up their play once the playoffs start. Horry says that is not the case.
"If you coast through a season, you are going to have a bad record," Horry said. "We never coasted through a season. That last season I was there, we didn't have a good record. But it wasn't because we coasted. It was because we had a lot of injuries. There wasn't no coasting going on.
"And I don't know where the flipping-the-switch thing comes from, and people got L.A. flipping the switch. It's just different when you play one team and you can stay focused on them. You know their plays as well as they know them. So it's no switch flipping. You just got good game preparation."
Horry said it is still too early for him to evaluate how the Spurs and the Lakers handle things differently once the playoffs start, so he said as they head into the playoffs: "Your playoff preparation is totally different from your regular-season preparation. Right now, we are focusing on playing good D. Every team is focusing on playing good D to go into the playoffs hot."
Well, most teams anyway are focusing on playing good D. One team out on the coast is worrying about a few other things as well.
|Robert Horry and the Spurs can go about their business of a repeat rather quietly in San Antonio.|
Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.