- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

LOS ANGELES

The health-conscious sect here orders a mocha latte de-caf skinny before taking to the traffic-choked, smog-covered, graffiti-lined arteries of this faded metropolis.

The joke is lost on the Botox-filled crowd of the City of Angels. The dream that once beckoned America is no more, dead and gone, unless you have millions of dollars to insulate yourself from the unwashed masses and the sprawl.

Go East, young man. Go East.

The women of Beverly Hills and Brentwood and Pacific Palisades are both too puffy in the lips and too skinny in the hips, the men too paunchy and too old to be at their side.

There is a sad, forlorn quality about the place, overrun with people, strip malls and the have-nots. The juxtaposition of geographic beauty and human-caused ugliness is jarring. The place could use an uplifting victory at Staples Center tonight. Go, Lakers.

The arena juts out of the urban wasteland of downtown, soon abandoned after the final horn has sounded. The urban-renewal accessories associated with sports venues have yet to arrive. Not that they ever arrived at the Forum in Inglewood, a rough patch of asphalt impervious to government’s good intentions.

The Forum remains in use as the home of the Faithful Central Bible Church, which purchased the arena in 2001 at a cost of $22.5 million. It stuffs its daily calendar with faith-based activities. The former home of the Lakers and Kings still plays host to the occasional concert, with George Michael scheduled June 25. Tickets are still available, by the way.

Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum looks as it ever did, with its distinctive blue ring circling the top of the building and a facade that is as impressive as when Magic Johnson was leading the “Showtime” fastbreak in the ‘80s.

One of the side thoroughfares around the Forum is named Kareem Court in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer who serves as an assistant to Phil Jackson, the esoteric one taking the brunt of criticism after his team’s 24-point collapse in Game 4.

Jackson remains even-tempered in good times and bad, unflappable and undaunted, convinced that the team that had its heart ripped out in Game 4 will have undergone a heart transplant by Game 5 tonight.

The Lakers, down 3-1 to the Celtics in the NBA Finals, talked of keeping hope alive after practice in El Segundo on Saturday.

“As far as I’m concerned, I like the odds,” Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. “I still think we have a great opportunity. When you look back at all four games, it’s fairly typical of playoff basketball. I’m not surprised by the ups and downs. I think what it confirms for me is how fine the line is between being the champion and not being the champion.”

Fine lines and fine sentiments.

Kobe Bryant, the target of well-known blogger Curt Schilling after Game 2, re-rolled the season to opening night.

“If you had told me at the start of the season that we would have three tries to win a championship, I would have taken it,” the Lakers guard said.

Paul Pierce, the Celtics forward who cut his basketball teeth in the shadow of the Forum, said the only thing sweeter than a close-out victory in his hometown tonight would have been one in the building that he used to sneak into as a youngster.

“To win the championship in my hometown would be unreal,” he said. “But I wish it was at the Forum.”

These Lakers and Celtics have not reprised the artistry of the Lakers and Celtics of the ‘80s. The games reflect the expansion-stretched NBA. Celtics coach Doc Rivers recognizes the choppiness and pedestrian play.

“It hasn’t been a great series of flow, and that’s kind of surprising,” he said.

It is the Lakers’ last home game of the season, reason enough to prevail and spare their supporters and once-bountiful city the misery of seeing the team in green celebrate on the Staples Center floor.

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