The long ago Pacific Coast League baseball team was called the Hollywood Stars, a name both pretentious and truthful in Southern Cal. Down there, if you’re not signing autographs, you’re asking for them. It’s an L.A. way of life.
So much glamour, so much talent, so much success. They made us paranoid. Nobody chanted, “Let’s go Warriors.” Always “Beat L.A.” Which the Warriors rarely could do. It was Elgin Baylor or Jerry West. Or Magic or Kareem or Shaq. And now it’s Kobe Bryant.
Eleven in a row the Lakers had won from the Warriors before they played Wednesday night at Oracle. Too many big men. Too many stolen passes. And when it mattered, too much Kobe.
Sure it bothers Keith Smart. Then again, only to a point. He is in his first season as Warriors coach, but he was an assistant the previous seven years. He’s been in the arena when the Warrior fans are mysteriously transformed into Lakers fans, or at least Kobe fans. He won’t let anything or anyone shake him.
He watched Tuesday night on television when the Lakers thumped the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-57. He read the quotes when Kobe said, “We’ve been getting better game by game.”
He understood what it would be 24 hours later.
“We won’t gauge our season by one game,” Smart promised. “We know how good the Lakers are. They’ve got [championship] rings. I don’t believe we’re in that category right now.”
We, the Bay Area, weren’t in that category in any sport, compared to Los Angeles. USC was winning football titles, if not entirely by the rules. The Dodgers were winning division championships. The Los Angeles “We Don’t Want to be Anaheim” Angels won a World Series. Beat L.A.? No chance.
But like that, Stanford starts kicking the Trojans around. And finally, the Giants get their World Series. So, the pain of watching Kobe hit that jumper in the final seconds isn’t quite as bad. Or is it?
“We know the Lakers,” Smart said. “We play them in training camp, in preseason games, during the regular season. The Lakers are great, but we’re not awed. When we play them close, we have several guys playing well.”
Smart understood the challenge but wouldn’t emphasize it. A sellout. A packed media section.
“It’s like church on Christmas,” Warriors public relations chief Raymond Ridder joked. “The only time some writers show up.”
A renewal of a rivalry that since one team dominates really isn’t really much of a rivalry.
“What you find out is where you stack up,” Smart said. “The Lakers have the best overall front line of players in the NBA right now. Kobe scored 81 in a game, but if you just try to stop him he kills you with a pass.”
The coach was ready, for the Lakers, for the response of the sellout crowd, for the rest of the season.
“Yes, there are always a lot of Lakers fans here,” Smart agreed. “But in close games, you see and hear the shift. People start cheering back and forth. When we play the Lakers here, it’s like half a home game, half a road game.”
And the Warriors haven’t been able to win either half. Agonizing.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.