Conspiracy fodder with a soundtrack
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

A weekly survey of what's happening at the busy intersection of sports and pop culture:

Be forewarned ...
I'm not saying it means anything but, then again, I'm not saying it doesn't
Chris Webber
Chris Webber and the Kings just aren't hip enough yet to inspire songs.
Nice animated Kings intro from NBC before Game 1 of the series against the Jazz on Saturday. Kind of Gorillaz-looking, kind of hip, kind of now. The hip-hop accompaniment from Jurassic 5's "The Game" sounded sweet, too.

Here's the thing, though: Jurassic 5 is a dyed-in-the-wool L.A. band and "The Game" features a sample of Chick Hearn calling an old Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar game.

I don't know much about much, but I gotta think there's exactly zero good mojo coming off that song for the Kings. I wonder, is this the smoking gun? Do we finally have hard evidence that the league and the network are conspiring to put the Lakers back in the Finals?

If they meet in the Western Conference finals, somebody start charting calls for and against Shaq and C-Webb. Let's see what's what.

Weirdest thing I learned this week
Bob Mould, punk rock god and the former frontman of Husker Du and Sugar, dropped off the face of the music earth in 1998 and resurfaced last month with a new solo album called "Modulate."

What was he doing in the meantime? Working as a creative consultant to the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling, of course. According to a story in the Boston Phoenix, he "sat in on all the writing meetings where (they) try to figure out which talent is gonna get showcased and which (guys) need to have a rest."

I swear, sometimes I think life is just a script the Coen Brothers are working on.

Second weirdest thing I learned this week
Warren Zevon's got a new record out featuring tracks he co-wrote with Detroit Free Press sports columnist Mitch Albom and Colorado ranch owner and Page 2 columnist Hunter S. Thompson.

Actually, now that I think about it, this might be the first weirdest thing ...

On the big screen
"Dogtown and Z-Boys" (Opening April 26)
"Dogtown" is the story of a bunch of kids from a rundown area of Santa Monica, Calif., who sparked a skateboarding revolution in the early 1970s by skating the way they surfed -- fearless, low to the ground, and with banks and turns in every run.

As teenagers, they were in search of their own individual styles. They scoured west Los Angeles for empty swimming pools and hilly playgrounds, and they pushed each other to try new tricks.

As 40-something adults, the Z-Boys remember Dogtown with love, and they still wax poetic about the art of a clean line or a new move. They talk about skating like it's a lifestyle, they talk about it as part of a philosophical rejection of rules and a noble reclaiming of hard urban spaces.

You're skeptical, but after a while you find yourself believing them because they're so earnest, and maybe because some part of you wants to think that whatever sport you love isn't just a sport either -- maybe it's an art, a thing you do because it's a part of you. Anyway, you believe them because, without a trace of irony or jadedness, they tell you what skating has meant and still means to them.

And finally, and most of all, you believe them because, incredibly, they and their friends had the presence of mind to film the Dogtown skating scene at its peak. And there it is, right in front of you, run after run, spin after spin, downhills and bowl rides. And you watch that footage for a while and, sure enough, there's art and poetry and revolution in there, just like they said there was.

On the newsstand
Sally Jenkins' Washington Post article on Kwame Brown's frustrating first season with Michael, Doug, and the Wizards. (Issue of April 21)
Kwame Brown
Confirmation of Kwame Brown's tough season brings new reasons to cheer for him.

I saw Brown play his last high school game at an all-star gathering last spring in Evanston, Ill. Eddy Curry played that night, too, but Brown was unquestionably the best player on the floor. He handled the ball in transition. He could shoot. He found open men (boys, actually) with his passes. A friend and I were sitting in press row, and we both voted for him for the game MVP award.

After the game, Curry had a press conference announcing he was entering the NBA draft. His parents were alongside and they advised him on how to handle questions from the press.

Brown came back to the press conference, too, and he sort of hung back, listening to Curry. I sought Brown out to tell him I really appreciated his game and to wish him luck in what was next for him ... at that time, he was headed for the University of Florida. I remember thinking that no matter how genuine my intentions were, I was already just another reporter's face to him and it kind of made me feel bad for both of us.

Still, I thought of myself as a fan then, and I still do. When Brown declared for the draft and was eventually taken by Washington, I read all the articles about him carefully and eagerly, wondering how he was doing, excited that I had "discovered" him.

His answers to predictable questions from the press at that time were consistently original and showed a real thoughtfulness. I continued to be impressed and I was hopeful that maybe, even though I knew he was just a kid, this year might work out great for him.

It hasn't turned out that way, of course.

Jenkins' article has a lot to say about why it hasn't, and I appreciate the piece because she works from basic, empathetic questions, such as: What's the year been like for this 19-year-old kid? What's it been like for the people around him? How's he doing? Is he going to be all right?

The answers are compelling throughout, and one story about a particularly rough Wizards practice session is amazing. Reading the piece has left me rooting harder for Brown in season two and, as difficult as this first season's been, I'm still hopeful.

On the web
Los Angeles Weblogger and photo essayist Tony Pierce's imaginary chat with Anna Kournikova
Anna Kournikova
Check Page 2 daily -- heck, hourly -- for our imaginary chats with Anna Kournikova.
A sample:

Anna: Do you love me?

Tony: Of course I do.

Anna: Then why don't you ever say so?

Tony: I say so all the time.

Anna: But never on your site, you just always say that I lose tournaments.

Tony: Not really.

Anna: Yes, huh.

Tony: I'm sorry, I love you, Anna.

Anna: Now say that on your site tomorrow.

Tony: I'll think about it.

Anna: You don't really love me.

Tony: If you loved me you'd wear the white top that you wore in Mexico.

Anna: Would you shut up about that already?

Tony: Look, man, I'm just trying to help you win.

At least I think it's imaginary. Either way, it's funny stuff.

TV viewing tip of the week
Gary Payton (Seattle vs. San Antonio, Games 3, 4 and maybe 5)
Watch his layups in traffic ... no one's ball hangs in the air longer; He lets it go a fraction of a second earlier than he should, as if he can just will it into the hoop. And he can. It's the damndest, subtlest, most delicious thing going, and it's got a whole world of smarts and touch wrapped up in it.

Shameless in-house plug
Tony Gwynn's The Book On ...
It's on the Baseball index page here at .com. He knows some stuff. You should read it.

Why I like Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley
We'll be moving to Alabama to vote for Charles Barkley, at right with John Smoltz, as soon as he declares his candidacy.
Last Thursday night on HBO's "On the Record," Bob Costas asked Barkley whether and why he wanted to be governor of Alabama.

Barkley's response: "I want to help poor people, Bob. Somehow, I'm going to help poor people."

He pops off a lot, and he's undoubtedly driven by a mammoth ego, but he has a heart, too.

If by chance you're not watching the NBA playoff tripleheader
Eco-Challenge: New Zealand Marathon (Parts 1-6, Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., USA Network)
This is can't-turn-away television.

On the one hand, the climbing and walking and rafting and climbing and walking and scaling and climbing and walking and running and climbing and walking these mugs do makes you feel like the good-for-nothing, pass-me-another-jelly-doughnut sadsack you are, and you watch because you're being shamed and scolded and you need to sit there and take your punishment.

On the other hand, these completely insane, do-it-all-for-the-love-of-pain freaks who can't carry on normal conversations with one another make you feel totally superior, and you watch because, while your whacked-out family is dysfunctional, it ain't this bad.

Next week's column: "Baseball Prospectus 2002" ... really, I mean it. Bill James' "Win Shares" and the Nike Vince Carter ads, too.

Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column, which will appear every Wednesday on Page 2. You can e-mail him at



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