LOS ANGELES - Not that I needed any reminders that I was traveling to L.A. to cover the middle games of the NBA Finals, but while walking toward baggage claim in the Southwest Airlines concourse at LAX earlier this afternoon, I noticed a commotion near Gate 3. Insatiably curious by nature - as are most journalists - I wandered over and saw Jerry West standing behind a table, making small talk with fans and posing for photos with the Larry O'Brien trophy. As I later learned, the Lakers icon was at LAX to "welcome" the championship series trophy from Boston, per the league's ongoing promotion with the airlines.
One of the security guard's told me that West already had been there for about 30 minutes before I arrived. (I saw him accommodate a few of the police officers who asked for a photo op toward the end of the session). At one point, the former Lakers great looked up and saw me standing behind the crowd, holding my computer roller bag and a stack of newspapers. He made eye contact and laughed. I called out to him, "Are they paying you extra for this?" He rolled his eyes ...
One of the things that always impressed me about West - who has long been known both for his accessibility with reporters and responding loudly when he doesn't like what he reads - is that he will do just about anything for his sport. He feels a genuine debt to the NBA for enabling him to enjoy what has turned out to be a pretty lavish lifestyle. I can recall three specific formal dinners where West, who was either the honoree or honoring one of his former Lakers teammates, broke down while talking about his career.
Phil's apparent memory issues
Longtime Kings fans will probably appreciate this: After the Celtics were awarded 38 free throws to the Lakers' 10 in Game 2 Sunday evening, Phil Jackson was quoted as follows: "I've never seen a game like that in all these years I've coached the Finals. Unbelieveable."
Now, while Game 6 of the memorable Kings-Lakers series in 2002 was only a conference finals, surely Phil hasn't forgotten? In the game that many of the NBA's longtime observers publicly and privately labeled a travesty - among them Sport Illustrated's Jack McCallum and Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who were seated baseline at Staples Center - the Lakers shot 27 free throws IN THE FOURTH QUARTER to the Kings' 9. Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard both fouled out after receiving ticky tack calls in the fourth period.
Interestingly, the officiating crew that night included veteran referee Bob Delaney, who in yet another hilarious aside, was shown receiving an earful from Jackson during Sunday's game.