- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin followed the Lakers through six of the eight stops on their recent mega road trip. The following is a series of scenes from the trip captured in Dave's notebook to give you a feel for what life's like for the Lakers when they leave the confines of Southern California.
JAN. 20, 2010
10 p.m. Pacific time: Continental Gate 34 - Los Angeles International Airport
I'm waiting to catch my red-eye flight to Cleveland and thumbing through Chris Ballard's profile of Kevin Durant in Sports Illustrated, his latest must-read for any true hoophead, when I hear whispering beside me.
"Are you from Cleveland?" a man in a yellow shirt finally asks me.
What is this, a heckler? I know I don't fit the typical Los Angeles profile -- my jeans aren't skinny, teeth aren't bleached and sunglasses don't occupy 60 percent of my face -- but I don't think my look is screaming middle America either.
"Nope," I say, burying my eyes back in Ballard.
"Are you from Los Angeles?" he continues.
"Nope," I say, hoping to end the conversation, this time looking up long enough to see that the man has his daughter with him and she's wearing a Lakers sweatshirt.
"I'm from Philadelphia, but I live in L.A."
"It's just that I see that you're reading about basketball ..."
Ah, I see where this is going. We have a nice chat about the Lakers and Moris Shemian, 42, and his daughter Nicky, 15, explain how they are making the trip from their home in Beverly Hills to Cleveland just for the game. Moris says he wants to show me something and hands me what seems to be a book in a clear plastic bag.
I open the bag and see that it's a calendar dedicated to Kobe Bryant, all done by Nicky on her computer. She really did a smashup job with it. The photos for every month coincide with something that happened in Bryant's career (naturally, January has a shot of his 81-point game against the Raptors and August is him in his Team USA jersey).
Certain dates on the calendar are marked off with the events of All-Star Weekend, Lakers players' birthdays and even Bryant's kids' birthdays. One of the pages is dedicated to Bryant's high school days and there is an old Lower Merion I.D. photo of Kobe where he can't be more than 14 years old that I've never seen before.
JAN. 21, 2010
1:17 p.m. Eastern time - Court: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Kobe Bryant is at the far basket, meticulously running through a series of shooting spots with Chuck Person rebounding for him.
Derek Fisher is at a basket that's been set up off to baseline at center court with Josh Powell running at him and making him put the ball on the floor as he attempts dozens of pull-up jumpers going left and going right.
Ron Artest is at the basket closest to me, getting up shots of his own with no real rhythm or structure. He shoots, runs down the rebound, sets up at another spot and shoots again. Not that you can blame him. His rim is being bombarded by the rest of the team.
"Let's see ... 1-2-3-5-6 ... six of y'all," Shannon Brown exclaims from half court after swishing a shot from 47 feet away. "I'll take that $600."
Lamar Odom follows with a brick.
Andrew Bynum heaves an airball.
Adam Morrison lets one fly. Money.
"Adam!!!!!!" screams everybody in the huddle at center court except Brown, who just saw his Free Parking pot vanish. It's the loudest cheers for the little-used reserve that I've heard all season, and I'm including games at Staples Center.
"Let's go, baby!" Morrison yells back as he chases his ball down and Artest patiently stands off to the side, waiting to shoot again.
Everybody gets a couple more tries. Assistant coach Brian Shaw can't resist it anymore after watching from the sidelines and budges in line to hoist one. Jordan Farmar comes out the winner for the day, hitting from half court in consecutive rounds to collect the kitty.
Artest gives up on shooting in the middle of the Spalding meteor shower and leaves the court. He answers a few questions from the media before getting his knees iced, putting on a sweatshirt and sweatpants and changing out of his basketball sneakers. Into dress shoes. With no socks.
6:34 p.m. Eastern time - Hallway: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Jeanie Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of business operations, and head coach Phil Jackson's main squeeze, rattled off a series of tweets revealing all of the books Jackson presented to his players as personalized reading material before they embarked on their 14-day trip.
We ask him about it.
"Most of the books are handpicked," Jackson says. "'Monkey Wrench Gang' for Luke Walton, that's something that fits right into his wheelhouse growing up with a father like he did."
He runs through some of the titles. He got Bryant a book about Montana because he knows Bryant probably won't crack the spine, he never does, and so at least the coach could get some civic pride out of the purchase.
There's a book by a Chilean author translated from Spanish to English for Pau Gasol, although he says he's given Gasol Ernest Hemingway in Spanish before.
"Pau's quite a reader. We've exchanged books [before]. This is probably a 1,000-page book. He's got himself a tome right there to work on."
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Gasol's epic "2666" by Roberto Bolano is Morrison's "Che: A Graphic Biography" by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.
"Adam's been sporting a Che Guevara T-shirt quite a bit so he got a picture book," Jackson quips.
6:51 p.m. Eastern time - Visitors locker room: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
There are no books visible in any of the players' lockers other than "The 48 Laws of Power" in Bynum's cubicle, which he's been working on for weeks. He says he is going to read President Obama's book, "Dreams from My Father," next before he gets around to his Zen Master's Book Club selection.
6:58 p.m. Eastern time - Tunnel leading to the court: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
I hear it. But it doesn't register. That can't be for me. Who do I know in Cleveland?
I turn to my right and look up in the stands by the railing. It's Moris and Nicky. They tell me they met Bryant at the team hotel as the players boarded the bus to head to The Q for shootaround earlier that afternoon. Nicky got to give him the calendar she made for him. They are both beaming.
The Lakers go on to lose to the Cavs 93-86 a couple hours later. But, I'm pretty sure Moris and Nicky still think the trip was worth it.
10:58 p.m. Eastern time - Visitors locker room: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Odom's already put the loss behind him and has moved on to his favorite pastime: talking about New York sports.
His NFL team is the Giants, but since their season has already ended, he's now adopted the Jets' success as something he can take pride in.
"There's just a collective swagger of all New York sports teams," Odom says. "New York teams can't lose."
Hey Lamar, you're going to New York to play the Knicks tomorrow, I remind him. Are you saying you're going to lose that one because of the aura of the Big Apple?
"No," he says, caught in his words. "None of that counts when the Lakers come to town."
JAN. 22, 2010
6:43 p.m. Eastern time - Visitors locker room: Madison Square Garden, New York
It's a madhouse at MSG.
There's always a little extra glitz and glamour at the Garden when the Lakers make their annual visit, but tonight everything's been taken to another level by former President Bill Clinton being in the building.
As the Lakers change in the cramped visiting locker room before the game, Ron Artest does a sit-down interview (with lights, cameras, the whole shebang) while former prep school star Felipe Lopez is working the room with an NBA.com credential around his neck and a Flip camera in his hand and interviewing the players he used to be ranked above in all the high school scouting publications. ("Hey Kobe," Lopez beckons after the game, "I need you to say something Spanish for me on camera, it will take two seconds.")
Amidst the chaos, Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons is quietly huddled with Shannon Brown in front of the white board by the exit to the room. They talk for a few minutes as Cleamons draws a few squiggly lines on the board and Brown nods his head vigorously. Clem gives Brown a pat on the behind and Brown bounces out of the locker room toward the court to get some shots up.
"Part of Shannon's growth as a player is to see things as they occur," Cleamons says when I approach him and ask him about the exchange.
"We try to give them a database. The next time it occurs, he can pull it up and access it. That's what guards have to do. The next time he sees it -- boom [as Cleamons says "boom" he simultaneously snaps his fingers, then realizes the sharp sound interrupted an interview that a young woman was having with Jordan Farmar about what music he listens to. Cleamons apologizes for talking about basketball in, you know, a basketball locker room before continuing] he'll be ready in the moment.
"Ultimately, you trust your instincts," Cleamons says. "He wants to be better. He will be."
I thank Cleamons for his time and as I walk away, out of the corner of my eye I see him erase what he was working on with Brown, get down on one knee, take the game notes package out from under his arm, unfold it, and use it as a ruler to draw perfectly straight lines as he replenishes the white board with more half-court diagrams of a basketball court to use as teaching tools later that evening.
A couple of minutes later, former Lakers player Ron Harper emerges from the trainer's room adjacent to the locker room looking for Brown. "Where's Shannon?" he asks nobody in particular. "I want to talk to him about the dunk contest," adds Harper, a former contestant in 1989.
I'm pretty sure Brown got out of there at just the right time.
7:07 p.m. Eastern time - Courtside: Madison Square Garden, New York
A little girl wearing a No. 18 Sasha Vujacic jersey is sitting near the court as Vujacic and Luke Walton are going against Jordan Farmar and Brian Shaw in a two-on-two 3-point shooting competition.
The girl calls out to Vujacic after he misses a shot and it becomes Farmar's turn to shoot.
Vujacic turns around.
"Hi Sasha, I'm a big fan," says the girl, who can't be more than 8 or 9 years old.
"What's your name?" he asks.
"Lindsay," she replies.
"OK Lindsay, are you sitting here for the game? I'll throw you a wristband," he says as he signs her jersey.
"Can I get a hug?"
Vujacic's cheeks redden but he obliges.
The hug is interrupted by Walton.
"Sash, what are you doing?" Walton yells, perturbed. "It's your turn to shoot."
Now Vujacic's cheeks are really red as he returns to the competition.
Lakers broadcaster Mychal Thompson strikes up a conversation with little Lindsay.
"You know, I used to play for the Lakers," he says. Despite Lindsay's knowledge of the current team, she just stares at Thompson blankly. She's not quite old enough to remember the Lake Show era, let alone the Showtime era, of the team.
Thompson has a better idea.
"Hey, do you want to sit on Phil Jackson's chair? Come on," Thompson says as he lifts up the little girl and gives her the best seat in the house to watch her hero, Vujacic, continue shooting.
JAN. 24, 2010
9:14 p.m. Eastern time - Visitors locker room: Air Canada Centre, Toronto
"This is cold, man," Andrew Bynum says as he's hunched in front of his locker with both of his feet in an orange Gatorade rectangular-shaped cooler full of ice water, making his 7-foot frame look much smaller as he tries to hug himself to keep warm.
"I'm 22, I don't do the ice thing."
His teeth are chattering for a couple of minutes as we ask him about the big game he had against the Raptors' Chris Bosh, whom he was rumored to be on the trading block for earlier in the season.
Eventually he is sitting upright and conversing like normal.
I ask him if he's still cold.
"Now it's just numb," Bynum says. "I don't feel it no more."
Funny, that's basically the same answer he gave when he was asked if he is bothered when his name pops up in trade rumors.
JAN. 25, 2010
1:37 p.m. Eastern time - East Room: The White House, Washington
There's a foyer attached to the East Room where the guests on hand to witness the Lakers' special ceremony are enjoying a reception with piano music gently playing in the background.
Double doors open up and the guests flood into the room where the proceedings are set to take place. Kobe Bryant's wife and two kids are immediately escorted to front-row seats. Lamar Odom's wife, Khloe Kardashian, saunters in shortly thereafter and takes a seat in the back row next to Lakers broadcaster Stu Lantz.
A member of Bryant's personal security detail notices this and gestures toward a uniformed Army officer on hand, who walks to the back row and kindly shows Kardashian to a seat in the front.
The flurry of flashbulbs and clicking noises that ensue is almost embarrassing as just about every person in the room -- press and guests alike -- whips out a camera to capture Khloe's walk down the aisle.
1:54 p.m. Eastern time - East Room: The White House, Washington
As the Lakers enter the East Room and take their positions on the stands, waiting to be recognized by President Barack Obama just several minutes later, it's not team captains Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher who lead the procession. It's not All-Star Pau Gasol, coach Phil Jackson or legend and part-owner Magic Johnson either.
It's D.J. Mbenga.
The reason Mbenga was picked was the team was lining up by height, but still, when you consider that as a boy Mbenga was a prisoner in Zaire waiting to be executed and now is leading his team out to meet the president of the United States of America, it's mind-boggling.
2:49 p.m. Eastern time - Diplomatic Reception Room: The White House, Washington
Gasol is standing in front of a portrait of George Washington that looks strikingly similar to the one used on the $1 bill.
It makes you wonder who has better hair.
Magic Johnson comes up to Gasol and engulfs him as he wraps him in a bear hug. Wait a second, Magic was the point guard and Pau the power forward? You sure it's not the other way around?
"You're the best," Magic says.
"No, you're the best," Pau returns.
"I'm going to come to Spain this summer," Magic says. "Make sure your mom knows so she can cook me up something real nice."
JAN. 29, 2010
5:37 p.m. Eastern time - Visitors locker room: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia
"Livin' It Up" is playing in the locker room before the game and the team is loose as the media throng in Philadelphia is deep, but not as invasive as it's been in some of the cities the Lakers have already been to on the trip.
Odom is singing along to the high-pitched, Stevie Wonder-sampled portion of the song while intermittently eating a slice of an orange.
Mbenga comes up behind Odom and chimes in with the deep, Ja Rule verse, almost causing Odom to drop his fruit.
10:36 p.m. Eastern time - Visitors locker room: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia
Kobe is leaving the locker room and feeling downright Philly. He just spent almost 20 minutes talking to the media postgame -- his postgame thoughts in L.A. usually run in the six- to eight-minute range -- and much of it was reminiscing about playing for Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia's western suburbs and how he got goose bumps being announced from L.M. in front of the Philly crowd that's booed him ever since the 2001 Finals against the 76ers when he told a hometown newspaper that he wanted to "rip the hearts out" of Philly fans by winning the series.
Bryant and Allen Iverson turned back the clock for the third quarter, scoring 14 and 15 points in the period, respectively, and Philadelphia fans realized how good they had it nine years ago. Bryant even received a smattering of "MVP! MVP!" chants, which is as rare a sound in the City of Brotherly Love as hearing salsa music during the Mummers Parade.
Bryant is decked out in a maroon jacket and maroon sneakers -- the primary color of his high school -- and holding a soft pretzel as he exits and Louie the locker room attendant (it says so on his name tag) asks him to stop and pose for a photo.
"You're the man, Kobe," Louie says.
"That's what's up," Kobe says as he shakes the man's hand.
As he continues through the bowels of the arena he is intercepted by Aaron McKie, a former teammate of his and also an adversary on that '01 Sixers team he played in the Finals.
An oft-forgotten fact about the trade that landed Pau Gasol in L.A. two years ago was that the Lakers had to convince McKie, who was retired at the time, to give up a coaching gig with Philadelphia and sign a contract with the Lakers so they could trade his salary to Memphis to even up the deal.
Seeing how much success Kobe and the Lakers have had since Gasol came on board, Kobe was probably saying the same thing to McKie that Louie said to him.
JAN. 31, 2010
7:09 p.m. Eastern time - Visitors locker room: TD Garden, Boston
The Lakers have just beaten the Celtics for the third straight time since their wretched 39-point loss in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals.
The media has just been let into the locker room and Andrew Bynum emerges from the shower laughing uncontrollably.
"He's crazy, man," Bynum says.
Then we hear what Bynum's laughing about.
"Ba, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah-nah-nah-nah-nah ... Ba, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah nah-nah-nah-nah-nah!"
Kobe Bryant is singing in the shower at the top of his lungs, mocking the Dropkick Murphys song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" that the Celtics blast at their arena during the game.
I'll think about this scene every time a player tries to tell me that a win during the regular season means nothing more than one out of 82.
The Lakers finished their trip 5-3, following a 95-93 loss in Memphis on Monday, which is the bar Jackson set as the minimum expectations before they started on their eight-game, 13-day, 8,469-mile journey.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com
13hMichael C. Wright