Day 333: Kobe

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

After a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers (my favorite sports team) Kobe Bryant announced that he’s retiring at the end of this season.

There’s an unofficial tradition in my family: picking a Laker to have a love/hate during his career. My uncle always complained about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. My dad couldn’t stand Magic Johnson.

Kobe was my love/hate Laker.

When things went bad, he was a ball hog, a player who didn’t play the game the right way, and a diva that would sabotage team goals in order to score more points or try to be the hero.

When things went well, he was basically Jordan 2.0.

His greatest individual moment was the perfect example of his good/bad: he scored the second-most points in NBA history, 81, on the same night where he dished out two assists. Two assists by one of the all-time greats on a night he was virtually unstoppable?

As someone who came of age when Magic could completely dominate a game without taking a shot, I saw this as one of the greatest sins a player could commit: not sharing the ball.

And yet, I remember that night, completely blown away by his shooting display (and the fact that the Raptors never double-teamed him). It showed everything good and bad about Kobe. His greatness was never in question; his commitment to playing the game the right way was. It’s why, even as a diehard Laker fan, I’d rather watch LeBron James. He’s the one who took the torch from Magic when it came to playing the game the way I watched it in the ’80s. A player who used his talent to make his teammates better.

Kobe was the closest thing we’ve seen to Jordan. He forced his teammates to bend to his will through his unparalleled dedication and preparation to the game he loved.

For me, his greatest display was during the 2001 playoff run, when the Lakers defeated three straight 50-win teams, going 15-1 in the postseason. The way they demolished the favored San Antonio Spurs was spectacular: Shaq and Kobe at their peak playing-powers, a modern Wilt-Jordan combination with the perfect set of complementary players and the best coach in NBA history.

Kobe played perfectly during that run, scoring at will yet doing all of the things a great teammate does: share the ball, rebound, and defend the opposition, but most importantly he made everyone better

It’s a shame that he and Shaq couldn’t work things out because I’d be writing about one of the all-time great players from the Greatest NBA Team Ever.

Instead, I’m appreciating one of the greatest to ever play the game (and one of the top five guards in history: MJ, Magic, Kobe, West, and The Big O) who was part of one of the most incredible postseason runs ever.

Day 176: D’Angelo Russell

D'Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers

D’Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers

With how awful the Lakers have been the last two seasons (yes, I count a 45-win, first-round playoff exit as awful; Lakers fans are used to watching the team in June), they really couldn’t screw up the second overall pick in tonight’s draft. Most of us thought they were locked into Jahlil Okafor and given the franchise’s history with big men, it seemed a foregone conclusion. At the start of last season, I joked with my fantasy league that the Lakers’ motto for the year should be “Lose More for Okafor” (which eventually changed during the season to “Go Downs for Towns” and “Don’t Hustle for Russell”).

The Lakers surprised everyone and went with D’Angelo Russell, a 6-5 Ohio State point guard, who impressed the heck out of Kupchak. I like the pick. Even though Okafor should make an impact sooner than Russell, the newest Laker has the higher upside. It also doesn’t hurt that the Lakers have a young frontcourt player in Julius Randle, there are All-Star free agent big men available (Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc.), and there’s a still a chance that Boogie Cousins could don the Purple and Gold.

It’s the best I’ve felt as a Lakers fan since the last championship banner was raised (five years ago, which is an eternity for Angelenos) and as a sports fan, today was all I ask for: hope.

Day 160: Stunned

King James

King James

Like every NBA fan in the world, if you would’ve told me at the start of the playoffs that the Cavs would lose Love and Irving to injuries and then they would go up 2-1 against the best team in the league in the Finals, I would’ve asked you to submit to a random drug test. What we’ve seen so far through three NBA Finals games is LeBron giving a performance for the ages. He’s averaging nearly a triple double against a team that won 67 games. He’s gone beyond what I’ve been calling him for years: Magic Johnson 2.0.

No matter how the rest of this series plays out, what LeBron has done so far won’t be forgotten. He’s slowed down the game for the Cavs, who have outmuscled, outhustled, and outplayed the Warriors so far in the series. I still feel like the Warriors have enough talent 1-12 on their rosters to figure the Cavs out (David Lee played some great minutes for them tonight), but if the Cavs hold on to win a title, it’ll go down as one of the greatest upsets in NBA history.

I’m still stunned that the Cavs managed to win not one, but two games against the Warriors. I don’t know how I’ll feel if they actually win the championship. Flabbergasted? Bewildered? I’ll have to dig up my old Roget’s if that happens.

Day 139: Bizarro World

Go Lakers!!!

Go Lakers!!!

Remember Bizarro, the Superman villain that did everything the opposite of our hero? As a Lakers fan, I’ve felt we’ve been in a Bizarro world the last few years as the Lakers have become the laughingstock of the NBA while the Clippers are perpetual playoff contenders. Instead of dissecting the next opponent in the playoffs, fans are dissecting the next NBA draft. June used to mean parades in L.A.; now, it means fully devoting oneself to the Dodgers or even the Kings.

Bizarre-o. And then some.

Hopefully today begins the return to glory for the Lakers. In today’s NBA draft lottery, they nabbed the second pick in the draft, which gives them plenty of top-notch players to rebuild around. I’m hoping that the Timberwolves take Karl-Anthony Towns with the first pick and Jahlil Okafor falls into the Lakers’ laps. Or vice versa. Frankly, any good young talent will be a welcome addition to the team.

Whatever the case may be, it can’t be any worse than this year, when I watched the fewest Lakers games in a season since I’ve been old enough to cheer for the Purple and Gold. I miss watching basketball played at its highest level. I miss getting together with family and friends for the annual playoff run. I miss living in a non-Bizarro world.

Day 137: I Love (Most of) L.A.

L.A. Clippers

L.A. Clippers

My friends will tell you that I love L.A., but here’s a little secret: I don’t love all of it. Obviously, crime, traffic, and smog make my Don’t Like list. And when it comes to sports, I chose my allegiances a long time ago: the Clippers are not one of the teams I root for.

The Lakers, to me, are the quintessential Los Angeles sports team. There’s a glamour to them that only comes to professional teams that have consistently won over many years and decades, like the New York Yankees. They have a championship legacy that generations of  Southern California families (including my own) have enjoyed for decades. The last few years of bad basketball have tarnished some of the shine of the Lakers franchise, but it won’t result in any permanent damage.

When the Clippers, aka L.A.’s other NBA team, were eliminated today, it was like a continued penance that franchise is paying for all of the years they were owned by someone eventually be banned by the league. Obviously, I feel bad for the players; Chris Paul and Blake Griffin don’t deserve that type of heartbreak.

But for me, like most L.A. NBA fans, I only care about whether or not the Lakers can contend any time soon. Until then, I’ll have to make do with all of the things I do love about L.A.: the food, the people, the weather, days with no traffic, etc.

Day 84: Backcourt in the Front

History: Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin

History: Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin

I had just posted how happy I was to see more and more Filipino Americans and Asian Americans in the news, when history was made: my beloved Los Angeles Lakers starting backcourt was Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin. Although these two will never be confused with Magic and Scott or Kobe and Fisher, it was A Moment due to the fact that they were the first Asian American starting backcourt in NBA history.

Lin is a Chinese American and well-known for Linsanity, the two weeks where he absolutely ruled New York and the sports world. It was the feel-good story of the year, not only for Asian Americans, but for sports geeks like myself.

Clarkson is a Filipino American who joined the Lakers this year and after stints in the Development League, made it to the big team.

Confession: I did not actually watch the game, something I could not have said just two years ago. Since the Lakers bungled the Dwight Howard signing, I’ve lost interest in my team, due to mismanagement (primarily in ownership; yes, that means Jim Buss) and a lack of talent. I support the team, obviously, but after watching a lifetime of games where the Lakers were contenders (if not for the title, then at least a solid playoff team), it’s tough to get excited about a team that has no shot of doing well in the postseason, let alone actually qualifying for it.

Still, the moment was not lost on me and it wasn’t lost on Lin, either. That’s his Instagram photo above, which he captioned with a note about the history he and Clarkson made. Here’s hoping they can somehow drag the Lakers back to respectability next year.

Day 28: When Manny Met Floyd


When Manny Met Floyd. Photo from

I saw the Manny Pacquiao documentary last week. Since I’m a huge Manny fan, I knew I would love the film. There was nothing in it that was new or relevatory for us diehards, but casual or non-fans will appreciate the boxer’s rags-to-riches story. It’s the classic underdog tale, with an extremely likable protagonist.

Of course, these days, you can’t say Pacquiao without mentioning Floyd Mayweather; there have been talks for years about a Pacquiao-Mayweather superfight. My brother said it when the idea was first floated by the media and it took me a while to agree with him: this fight will never happen. No matter what the terms of the fight are, Floyd seems to come up with another excuse: blood tests, purse splits, promotion companies … nothing is ever just right for Floyd.

In recent weeks, supposedly there have  been increased talks between the camps, which led to last night’s interesting moment at the Heat-Bucks game, pictured above. The two best fighters of this generation met at courtside and exchanged numbers.

Will they finally meet in the ring? Frankly, I no longer care. Both fighters are past their primes and the only thing either fighter gains are enormous paychecks. Yes, it’s the match that fans have wanted for years, but it won’t be anything like what it could’ve been five years ago. No matter who wins, it’ll always be, “Well, if they would’ve fought in their primes …”

Back then, Pacquiao would’ve destroyed Mayweather: Floyd has never fought anybody with Pacquiao’s devastating combination of speed and power. It’s the speed that generated Manny’s vicious punches: it’s those bombs that you can’t see that do the most damage.

If they fought now? I’ve got Floyd by a boring decision. He hasn’t sustained as much damage during his career and he’s perfected the win-without-risking-too-much style of boxing. As the years have passed, Manny has slowed down. He still has bursts of quickness, but nothing like what he showed against Ricky Hatton or Miguel Cotto. The wars and the devastating knockout against Juan Manuel Marquez certainly didn’t help his speed. Physically, I don’t think Manny could make Floyd fight his fight anymore. He’d probably try to box with Floyd, which is exactly what Mayweather wants. Pacquiao is at his best when things are chaotic in the ring, especially after he gets tagged and bangs his gloves together, as if to say, “Okay, now we’re fighting!”

It’s a shame, too, since anybody who loves fighting loves Manny. He’s a bit reckless in the ring, but that’s what appealed to so many boxing fans: he’s a throwback to guys who fought to win. It’s a big difference from boxing not to lose.