was a high school junior, and Frank Zirbel was the basketball coach,
when I wrote of the Saturday night we played at Logan Hills, January
sophomores had won their game, but the varsity had lost theirs.
Therefore, custom required that we all put on a somber face,
regardless of how we really felt.
was a cold night.]
have just lost a basketball game we should have won.
coach isn't saying much. He acts disappointed, though, so the
players and managers are silent. This is always the case after
a loss, but tonight we still have to make the
long trip home.
I'm a student manager, I am one of the last to board the bus that
waits, engine running, outside the school. The only sound in
the dim interior is that of the engine and of the roaring heaters
which are trying to keep the bus warm.
from the schoolyard, filtering through steamed windows, faintly
reveals hushed basketball players sitting four abreast, with a narrow
aisle down the middle. I make my way to the back of the
bus. The coaches come aboard, and we start off.
we head down the road, a few passengers are quietly talking to
others about the game, about the coach's reaction to it, about why we
lost. But no one is in the mood to converse very much
tonight. The talk soon fades.
played a game last night, too, and we are tired. Even I am
tired, although I have done no more than keep a statistics chart.
of the players, the lucky ones near the back who have seats all to
themselves, try to lie down and go to sleep. A few freshmen
ahead of me aren't tired: they didn't play but just came along
for the ride. They amuse themselves with jokes, told softly and
laughed at softly.
moon shines on, its light reflecting from a snow-covered field.
is the purpose of it all, anyway? Why spend an entire evening
playing a meaningless game? Why spend two hours every day
suppose the players would say it's fun, if I should ask them; the
coaches would remind me that it develops character. But the
purpose of basketball to most people, coaches, players, and fans as
well, is to win.
And nights like this can be very frustrating.
look over at Jack Bright, one of the starting varsity guards.
He normally is rather talkative and light-hearted, but now he's
trying to get into a comfortable position to sleep. He
apologizes for accidentally bumping my coat with his foot.
look ahead of me at the frivolous freshmen. Their whispered
stories have become a little off-color, and they seem quite out of
place in this sober atmosphere. I try to shut out their words
by softly humming a tune.
think of a play that a friend and I are working on, a play dealing
with the uncertainty of two people about whether God exists.
But I can't seem to come up with any new ideas. This is not a
time to think constructively; this is a time to let one's mind wander
freely, thinking of nothing in particular, simply meditating.
come into a small village. Jack has never been able to get to
sleep; he sits up to ask where we are. Someone tells him.
With a sigh, he lies down again. Only nine more miles to home.
. . . and rest . . . and then, next week, back to the routine once more.
moon shines on.
the wee hours of January 22, 1991, the six-time world champion Los
Angeles Lakers and I were somewhere in central Florida, lost on a bus.
nation was on alert because of the Gulf War. We had security
concerns: the team could be assassinated or kidnapped or
something. Yet our trip from the airport was not a model of
efficiency. We turned here, then backtracked there, as the
hapless driver tried to find his way from the Aircraft Service
International hangar to the Sheraton Orlando North hotel.
we arrived. While checking in, Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn
said something to me about the shakiness of the ride.
"And," I added, "how did we know that that was a real
bus driver? He could have been taking us anywhere."
Fortunately, the driver was not a sinister impostor. But one
was I on the bus?
1989, Sue Stratton, producer and director for KHJ-TV Los Angeles,
wanted to make her job easier on the Lakers' trips east. She
lacked the budget to bring her regular Chyron graphics operator with
her from L.A., so she had been relying on local operators, a
different one in each eastern city. But there was a learning
curve; her complicated show took more than one game to figure
out. So she decided to hire an Easterner like me to cover several
cities. The travel would be affordable, and she'd have a
familiar face behind the keyboard.
started January 24, 1990, with Lakers vs. Pacers. Oddly, my
"font coordinator" was back in Los Angeles at the flagship
station, Channel 9. We kept a phone line open throughout the
game. My generic graphics were on the satellite feed from
Indianapolis, going both to the flagship and to at least one other
California station. At the flagship, the coordinator used a
second Chyron to add Channel 9 graphics.
there were telecasts from Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Sue and I would hitch a ride on the team bus between the hotel and
the arena. I kept as inconspicuous as possible, not wanting to
bother the players. I did share a seat once with a second-stringer,
Michael Cooper, who struck up a conversation about soap operas or
something. But this was the players' turf and I wasn't really
an NBA guy. I was just a TV technician, so I tried to stay out
of the way.
the Cleveland Airport Marriott, I recall eating lunch on game day in
the hotel restaurant, sitting by myself. At a nearby table,
also by himself, was coach Pat Riley.
back to my room after the game, I got on the hotel elevator.
Riley got on too. Here came a few players; we held the door for
them; there was plenty of space; they said no thanks, we'll take the
next elevator. The players were almost avoiding the coach.
spring, the Lakers didn't even make it to the conference finals, and
by the next fall, Pat Riley was gone. Channel 9 was also under
new management, its call letters now KCAL. But Sue Stratton was
still in charge of the telecasts, and I was back for more.
were three games in four days in January 1991. To save money,
Sue put me on the Lakers team plane, a fancy black chartered 727
owned by the MGM Grand Hotel. The rest of the press contingent
was on board as well. While the players got the big luxurious
swivel chairs in the main cabin, we media sat in the closets in the
back: four glassed-in four-seater booths.
Indianapolis (where autograph-signing Magic Johnson was the last to
leave Market Square Arena) we flew to Orlando for our after-midnight
adventure, then to Charlotte (where James Worthy was on a first-name
basis with the clerks at the Embassy Suites). I then flew home
while the team charter proceeded to the Lakers' next city.
rejoined the crew one last time at Philadelphia in February.
All I remember of that night is the bus ride after the game.
I conked Vlade Divac on the head. Not intentionally, of
course. I had stowed a reel of videotape in the rack over the
seats, but not securely enough. When Vlade walked by, it fell
out and hit him. Since he's 7'1'', it only fell a couple of
inches, and no harm was done.
the bus left the Spectrum to return to our hotel, the Sheraton
Society Hill. But it didn't take the direct route. Once
again, we were wandering, this time through the narrow streets of
South Philly at the request of some of the players.
we reached South Street, we stopped so that Magic and others could
disembark for a night on the town. The other late-night
revelers on the street were amazed and delighted when into their
midst, several Los Angeles Lakers emerged from our bus!