The Lakers

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As I wrote a few days ago, I’m a big big Lakers fan. Most of my friends don’t follow sports so they couldn’t care less. Or if they follow sports, they dislike the Lakers because some consider them the Yankees or Manchester United of basketball.

Well, if you’re not interested in watching the best athletes in the world move fluidly in an exciting fast-paced improvised choreography, then how about the stories of the people involved in the performance?

Why You Should Watch the Lakers

First there’s the partying owner, Jerry Buss, who’s probably the only owner of a sports team who has a PhD (in chemistry).

Then there’s the head coach, Phil Jackson. He’s referred to in the media as the Zen Master because he’s not afraid to blend his spirituality into the game. He does such things as drumming before big games to call the players to practice, having the team meditate together, and giving out specially selected books to his players. Only one other NBA coach has won as many championships.

Also on the coaching staff is the legendary Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Not only is he probably the most accomplished basketball player in history (he’s scored the most points, among numerous other records), he’s also a thoughtful writer, historian and activist. His most recent book, On the Shoulders of Giants, is about the importance of the Harlem Renaissance in American culture. I can’t say enough about this man. He has also acted extensively. Most notably he was also a good friend of Bruce Lee and appeared in one of his movies.

Kareem isn’t the only activist on the team. Ira Newble has been very active in raising awareness about the atrocities in Darfur, trying to get other players involved in pressuring the Chinese government to stop vetoing United Nations involvement in the region.

The team is a cosmopolitan blend of players representing 10 countries and 10 languages. There’s the Serbian sharpshooter, Vladimir Radmanovic. The floppy-haired Slovenian, Sasha Vujacic. The silky smooth Colombian, Trevor Ariza. And the 2006 World Championship MVP, the Spanish Catalonian, Pau Gasol.

One of the leaders of this team is the highly respected Derek Fisher. He sacrificed a part of his career so he could provide better care for his daughter who has eye cancer. But he’s more fortunate than Lamar Odom, whose infant child and grandmother died on the same day. For a real hard life, look no further than DJ Mbenga, who was a captive of warring militias during his childhood in the Congo, before he escaped to Belgium.

There are a lot of survivors on the team. Coby Karl has undergone two surgeries for cancer. The infectiously enthusiastic, Ronny Turiaf, from Martinique and France, suffered through open-heart surgery. You can see him constantly dancing during the game.

And if that doesn’t draw you into the Lakers, then you might be interested to know that every big Hollywood star clamors to attend the show. Jack Nicholson, who has been attending games since the 1970’s, is practically the Lakers mascot. Denzel Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio are regulars. And recent notables range from celebrities only there for the publicity like Paris Hilton, to sports superstars like Beckham and Pete Sampras, to musicians like Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake.

Still, the number one reason to watch is no. 24, the superstar of the team, Kobe Bryant. He spent most of his childhood in Italy and speaks Italian fluently, so that makes him pretty cool. All you need to know about him is that he was voted, by a landslide, the most feared and the best player in the league by his peers. And the man can jump over moving cars, and pools of snakes!

(Photo by Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)