Right before the game ended on Sunday night, Laker players and coach Phil Jackson appeared in public-service announcements asking fans to “celebrate with dignity” and be safe. Well, so much for that.
Instead, TV viewers were treated to the by-now predictable spectacle of “fans” lighting fires, shaking moving cars and looting in response to the NBA franchise’s 15th championship. It looked a little like the video coming out of Iran, only the issue wasn’t about Democracy, other than the freedom to drive around with flags hanging out of your car windows.
Of course, local stations covered these unseemly events but didn’t want to let them detract from the celebration. Sports guys made no mention of the unrest, leaving that to the news anchors — who busily exulted over the big win themselves. Meanwhile, it was all “How does it feel, Kobe?” and the usual post-game blather. KCBS-TV’s Jim Hill is always utterly vacuous in his interviews — I can’t remember the last time he actually articulated a question — but the rest of the gang at competing stations gave him a run for his money.
What nobody mentioned — and the NBA and Lakers certainly have no interest in identifying — is the weird disconnect that exists between pro sports and the fan base in terms of economics. Los Angeles is suffering through double-digit unemployment rates, and the area surrounding Staples Center — where the Lakers play their home games — is economically depressed. Yet the team charges hundreds of dollars per ticket for those playoff seats — and thousands for the celebrities and agents that line the court to rub elbows with Jack Nicholson. Pro sports isn’t a family excursion anymore, but a trip behind the velvet ropes of a very exclusive club.
As a consequence, most fans will never experience actually being inside the arena for a game, which is just fine with the league, since owners derive much of their revenue from television rights. The result is a modern-day electronic Roman Colosseum, with the peasants relegated to the cheapest of cheap seats — in this case, on the couch.
They watch the games on TV, some of them get liquored up, and then a bunch of yahoos take to the streets. The expected news outlets express disgust — “Hey, we won! Let’s have a riot!” chortled Fox News’ Jon Scott on Monday morning — but the dynamics are unlikely to change, and no one has the slightest interest in addressing or exploring them. Indeed, a passion for the Lakers and Dodgers is about the only civic glue that L.A. possesses, traditionally cutting across class and ethnic divisions.
Meanwhile, the acts of what L.A.’s police chief dubbed a few “knuckleheads” are quickly forgotten. It’s simply rinse, repeat. And for some lucky city, see you after the World Series in October.