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The Life

May 24, 2002
Livin' la vida Lakers
ESPN The Magazine

The best moment of any Lakers game, especially a Lakers playoff game, comes when Shaq walks from the bench to center court for the opening tipoff. On this walk, he is an exaggeration of the schoolyard bully, all strut and glare, and you have to laugh. You have to laugh because you get the feeling Shaq's laughing, too.

The Lakers are the perfect champions for our time. They're star-driven, ego-driven and surrounded by celebrity. And even though it's not cool to cozy up to dynasties or budding dynasties, the Lakers' self-parodying ways have turned them into a guilty pleasure.

Shaquille O'Neal
Who's your Daddy?
The Lakers know just how good they are, and that makes everybody else a little nervous. The Kings might be a better team than the Lakers, but they don't know it yet. They don't truly believe it, and every time they see Shaq and Kobe walk out there with their chins tilted to the sky, they believe a little less.

(By the way, on the topic of Kobe, forgive this digression: It's not food poisoning, okay? It's just not. Food poisoning is like the new plantar fasciaitis. The new rage sickness. A guy gets sick, recalls the last thing he ate and calls it food poisoning. I'm not a doctor, but isn't there a chance the guy just has the stomach flu? Especially since the hotel served hundreds of cheeseburgers that day and nobody else complained of being sick?)

Back to the Lakers: They're the best, for now, because they believe even when it's not rational to believe. Phil Jackson is the master of making his team believe. He's also the master of injecting doubt into the other guys' heads. It's a pretty fair combination, and he's got the guys to pull it off. That's why they start every game with a psychological edge. You can see it in the big man's strut.


Now that one mess is cleared up, it's time for the second phase of the ongoing campaign: Okay, just who else isn't gay in major-league baseball?

Judging by an interview he gave with D Magazine, there are two things we didn't know about Mark Cuban: 1) he is apparently the only really, really rich guy to ever get engaged, and; 2) if you cross him, you might find yourself minus two important manly bits.

Then again, it could be something in the drinking water: Another Dallas sports owner, the Rangers' Tom Hicks, has decided that wanton spending on random players is no way to run a franchise.

Just for the heck of it: Ed Armbrister.

Best moment of the playoffs: Third quarter, Game 2, Vlade Divac dribbling up court, figuring why not and driving to the hoop past Shaq to throw one down.

As we all know, if a guy from the Houston Chronicle thinks he can get by with a late mortgage payment, the terrorists win: The US Open golf tournament is planning to run background checks on reporters, including credit, criminal, tax and driving.

A trade so odd -- and oddly timed -- that it should be accompanied by the words "... for John Mabry and reasons to be named later": Jeremy Giambi to the Phils.

Snap observation gleaned from shamefully watching about 30 minutes of Celebrity Boxing II: Wow, Fridge has really let himself go.

The clinical term for Fridge's affliction: Chafin' to the knee.

By the way: How long do you think it took Joey Buttafuocco to use his big win as bait while trolling for skanky women?

How was he supposed to know the class met at the same time as his physics lab?: An investigation at the University of Tennessee revealed that a student-athlete (or is it scholar-athlete?) got an F in a course called "Walking."

One way of knowing when your team's losing big, even before you hear the score: When you turn on the radio and hear the announcer say, "On this date 71 years ago, the Tigers and the Red Sox played to a scoreless tie ..."

Inexplicably, city streets were lined with bottles of andro, and the lines to the tanning booths stretched around the block: Orioles outfielder Marty Cordova, who burned his face in a tanning booth on Tuesday, missed Wednesday's game, then returned Thursday with three hits, including a three-run homer.

And finally, we know it was for a good cause and all, but: Next time around, can't Manute just have a bake sale or something?

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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