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Day 40: The Lakers Make an Offer

September 17, 2010

I heart trophies.

I love watching trophies get engraved, get brought out by officials in white gloves, be awarded, get passed around and hoisted, get filled with various wines and spirits amidst transport to be displayed at numerous rallies and exotic destinations.

I’ve made a point of setting aside a line on the bucket list to having my photo taken with at least seven major championship trophies.  Some, like the FIFA World Cup trophy, are widely recognized as being difficult to locate.  Others, like an Olympic medal, are the type you might stumble across through an odd association or acquaintance.

At the start of the day, my list stood at three:

NCAA Championship, 2008 Frozen Four, Denver, CO

Stanley Cup, multiple (above: 2005 ECHL Katrina Relief Tour, Bakersfield, CA)

Commissioner’s Trophy, 2004 World Series Tour (with Red Sox broadcaster & college lecturer Joe Castiglione), Boston, MA

When the opportunity arose to expand the list, I jumped at the chance but was faced with existential questions about fan loyalties in adulthood.

After my days of broadcasting came to an abrupt close, I sought other outlets to stay connected.  My TV co-host had just secured a position handling media for the new NBA D-League team, the Bakersfield Jam, and started working the scorer’s table for NBA.com’s stats tracker.  For most of the team’s history, the Jam has been affiliated with teams throughout California: Sacramento, Golden State and the Clippers.  Good affiliations, but didn’t have the connect with the local fanbase.  The team drew less than 1000 fans per game playing in an 8500 seat arena and after 3 years, folded.

Or so we thought.  The team’s owners devised a new business model that effectively turned the games into a sports-themed business networking center.  The Jam expanded their practice facility to include a handful of courtside suites and a bar, limited seating capacity to just over 400 and sold each seat as a premium season ticket.  The team sold out all of its seats at the start of the year, management didn’t have to fret over corporate sponsorship and all of its revenue was in the bank after only a few games.

As the Jam model emerged as a D-League success story, other franchises began to waiver.  The Clippers’ previous affiliate in Anaheim moved to Maine and the Lakers suspended operations this year for their franchise, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.  For this season, both L.A.-based NBA teams will be affiliated with the Jam since they are the closest geographically.  The Jam decided to throw a party for staff, current and prospective season ticket holders to celebrate the affiliation.

That could be the end of the story, but give credit to the Lakers for helping the Jam kick things off with the full clout of the franchise’s reputation.  The official announced guests included Jeanie and Joey Buss, but just about everyone in the building was floored by the surprise appearance of RON ARTEST.  Now THAT’S how you celebrate an affiliation!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my historic connection has always been with the Knicks.  Aside for the Ewing-Starks era and the Finals run in ’99, there hasn’t been any return on investment.  Being in Boston for the resurgence of the Celtics rekindled some great memories of being caught up with a hoops team you could be proud of.  Although I’ve never completely broken from the Knicks, the Celtics have somewhat filled the void since graduation before I realign with another NBA team.  Truth be told, basketball’s not exactly a priority league for me but it’s still an issue I felt I needed to address.

I’m not saying that after tonight that I’ll start bleeding purple and gold.  I can, however, better appreciate the appeal.  The Lakers bring Showtime to any and all appearances on behalf of the organization.  You’re rarely in for a let-down.  They’ve got the championship legacy of the Cardinals without the arrogance of the Yankees.  There might also be a personal return on investment with the affiliation; as a staff member with the D-League affiliate there remains a remote possibility of an NBA Championship Ring making its way to the scorer’s table should Kobe & company pull off the three-peat this season.

The affiliation has already paid personal returns.  There was one other guest the Lakers brought to Bakersfield tonight.

His name is Larry.

Larry O’Brien Trophy, 2010 Lakers Affiliation Party, Bakersfield, CA

That takes care of three of the four major American championships.  Only one remains.  You & me, Vince…you & me. It’s gonna happen.  Not this year, but it’s gonna happen.

DR

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