Lakers On The Road - January 22nd - 25th, 2008

San Antonio-Dallas | January 22nd - 25th, 2008

Lunch with Jordan, Ronny, & Luke
Published by Ty Nowell | January 26, 2008 @ 10:14am PST

Something a lot of fans seem to like is getting to see the players doing normal things. With us being around the training facility and arena on a regular basis we get to see quite a bit of this, but even for us it's been nice to see the guys casually interacting with each other and doing normal things on a day-to-day basis.

Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, & Ronny Turiaf were nice enough to let me tag along after shoot around on Thursday. The biggest thing you take away from hanging out with this group is that they're just normal guys that enjoy hanging out with each other. It's obvious that they spend a lot of time with each other as they have each others tendencies down pat and none are afraid of some good natured ribbing.

The conversation stays mostly on basketball, specifically tonight's game against the Mavs and Pac-10 basketball, and where the they'll watch the Super Bowl. The team is in Washington on Super Sunday for a noon eastern tip against the Wiz, then they'll travel to New York for Tuesday's game against the Nets. In past years the organization has put together a watching party for the big game.

One unusual part of the day was going to lunch in the Vault. Most of the hotels the team stays at are within walking distance of a lot of places or a short cab ride at the most. The accommodations in Dallas are no exception, but when someone has a converted Brink's truck stretch limo waiting for you, how do you say no?

The Vault puts a standard Hummer limo to shame. If you're ever in Dallas and you need the finest in bullet proof, bomb proof transportation give them a look, it's definitely an experience.

Mavs, Planes, & Home
Published by Nick Kioski | January 26, 2008 @ 1:43am PST

The final game of our 2 game swing is upon us. Waiting in the hotel room today was interminable, I could sense being home and was anxious for the game to hurry up and start.

The Mavericks arena, the American Airlines Center, has a much easier underbelly to navigate. It's basically a big ring. Sometimes you get in there not knowing which way to go, but worse case scenario, you walk around the entire arena, at least theoretically you should only have to do it once.

Our seats are on a high perch, where all the hockey media sits. It's above the top row on one side of the arena. It's a great overhead view and if you've seen some play diagrams, it's easy to digest the action, but it's hard to see the nitty gritty of each play. The contact in basketball is so quick and there are so many bodies in a tight space, it's tough to know for certain what happened. And in a game such as this one, with so many foul calls, the refs' decisions can begin to make an odious pile.

One of the first things I notice, cruising through the arena well before the game is that the Lakers fans come early. It makes sense, simple supply and demand relative to the Mavs fans, but clad in their gear it makes it seem like the place is chock full of Lakers fans. As the full crowd arrives, their number gets diluted.

On the subject of crowd arrival, as a Los Angelino, it's hard not to take a perverse pride in our late arriving crowd, much like you'll always boast that the traffic is the worst there is. But we have been trumped. At 16 minutes before the game, there are only a scant number in the stands. 7 minutes to go, barely 20% full. Keep in mind, Dallas has a string of something around 5 years of consecutive sellouts, the longest string in the league. As the game tips off, still not even half full. Sometime in the 1st quarter (blogging duties keep me distracted) it fills in, but from what I have seen and maybe this was an anomaly, we have a new king of late arrivers.

The Mavs are no stranger to promotions and their arena is rife with examples. Their blimp is not merely festooned with a logo, oh no, it's a giant chili pepper, the Chili's chili pepper to be exact. The seats are covered with "tickets" that match a code for an American Airlines promotion. They also have extra video screens and signage way up high behind the baskets.

Another arena decoration of note, disco balls, high in the rafters. Alas, they were not used during the game presentation.

As the Lakers players are announced, they get the usual quick run-through treatment. Again, you can't sneak the name Kobe by other teams' fans without getting boos. Also, and this was the case in San Antonio as well, they announce the players by forwards, centers and then the guards. And Kobe doesn't come last, that goes to Fisher. I want to pay attention now to see how the opposing team is announced at STAPLES Center.

The Mavs players come into considerable pomp and circumstance. I was hoping for some pyrotechnics, since we don't use them at home, but it was not to be. The noise level rises appreciably for the player intros, but given that the building is still somewhat empty the noise bounces around. They have a whole video game looking video where Coach Avery Johnson imbues the players with various "powers" like determination or drive or some other motivational D word. It overlaps with the banners in the practice court from yesterday and the fact that you have guys named Dirk, Devin, Diop, & Deaven on the squad. It's a pretty neat gimmick though.

The actual player announcements worry me a little, as the announcer is a raspy throated yeller. I am thinking that I am going to be in for another deafening auditory assault similar to San Antonio, but the Dallas version is different. The announcer has his yelling range, but also a lot of low key almost whispers. Each foul shot is said with descending volume until it's just a normal voice, "Dirk Nowitzki, ooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnneeeee shot." He also will cheer along with the video board prompts for the crowd to make noise.

Now I can't tell if it's because we were seated so high, but the Dallas game is almost unusually quiet, maybe as quiet as a Lakers game in terms of arena sound system volume. I had in truth expected the opposite, but I was dead wrong. Part of the problem is the crowd. They cheer, but they don't approach something that you would call screaming their heads off. They respond to the calls to cheer and players entering the games and bad calls, but it's a brief wave of noise and then nothing. But in general, the audio simply isn't as loud as in San Antonio, the promotions or the crowd prompts.

Maybe for whatever reason it was a low energy night, but they were far less rabid than expected. Maybe San Antonio set the bar at a different level.

One of the most interesting things is that the baskets are mic'd. So each shot, either swish or clank, is amplified. Some foul shots hit the mike almost dead on; it becomes another way to judge how the ball goes through the hoop. What's interesting is that the mic picks up voices near the basket. Early on I catch Kobe shouting for Fisher to close down the shooter (he does). I was interested to see how they would deal with potential encounters with . . . choice words, shall we say. I figured, guys driving to the hoop, getting a foul, this seems like the prime location to pick up some colorful phrasing. But I didn't hear anything the whole game.

For in-arena entertainment the Mavericks ran the gamut. There was the usual dance team, though they only have 10 dancers, whereas the Laker Girls have 19 a night. They also have a cheer squad. During a tumbling run a cheerleader absolutely laid out one of the refs. He was fine, but there is a chance that it will surface on Youtube later. There's also a drum squad, an in-crowd cheer team, a Mavs ManiAACs section (American Airlines Center, AAC... get it). Just a lot of stuff. It's hard to tell how riveted the crowd is by all of it.

On the accidental entertainment list, they have the most energetic sweat moppers of all time. Maybe they shouldn't have had that second red bull, but I assure you, the basket near the Lakers bench was as sweat proof a court as you can find.

The Mavs also put together a couple of videos. One is a Beat LA video based on a parody of the NBA tag line Where Amazing Happens. They use where nepotism happens with Luke and where a Geico caveman audition happens with Radmanovic, and where pleading your case happens with Kobe and a ref and then it ends with a where in your face happens with Dirk dunking on Mihm. It's a little bit clever. You feel bad for Radmanovic, but he chose that head band.

They also have a video of Dirk, Jason Terry and Josh Howard lip syncing Bohemian Rhapsody. Dirk even adds gestures and a guitar riff. It's funny and good to see the players clowning around.

The other thing that caught my eye, clearly there was a lot, was the exit to half time. The Mavs coaches head left and exit in the middle of the bleachers. The Mavs players go to the opposite tunnel from their bench, diagonal across the court. The Lakers go to the tunnel right behind the Mavs bench. I have no idea how it ended up like that, but it's chaos.

So now it's on the plane cruising across a very dark desert. The players were pretty quiet upon their entry to the plane. I was hoping for a win, both as a Lakers fan/employee and to be on a happy plane and to get that experience. I also don't want to hear any crazy correlation theories about being the reason for dropping both games. But it has been a great trip, a good sampling of that side of the life of a basketball team. Let's just say I didn't sign up for the 9 game trip, but I'll appreciate a bit more what it takes to make this team go on the road.

Day 4 Shootaround & Travel Talk
Published by Nick Kioski | January 25, 2008 @ 1:34pm CST

We got a chance to check out the locker room in Dallas while the team was at shoot around. Actually, Phil talked to the guys before taking them on the court, so we snuck out and took a look at the arena. The thing one is sure to note are the seats for the teams.

Dallas has a reputation for all sorts of perks for the home team, courtesy of Mark Cuban. Their seats on the bench are extra padded with tall backs, which I would imagine to be quite a nice feature when you're that tall. The visitors just get normal padded chairs, which trump a simple metal folding chair any day, but when you see what the Mavs get, it's just another level.

The locker room is a bit more spacious than the visitor's locker room in San Antonio. They also managed to break the monotony of the arena and not have exposed cinder blocks. They also have wood lockers, not the dark wood that you would find in a top notch locker room, but a bit up the ladder.

As we leave the arena for the short jaunt back to the hotel for some lunch and the afore-described pre-game chill time, we pass the main entrance to the American Airlines Arena. They have huge screens in the front that have a remarkably clear picture for a screen that size. Somewhat fittingly, they are showing a weather radar graphic through slight drizzle.

Tonight it's another big game. I am excited to see the Mavs game production. I am hopeful of a nice flight home, rather than the dreaded long flight of silence the announcers mention when a team goes down on the road.

We took a moment to talk to Gary Vitti, the Lakers trainer, and assistant coach Jim Cleamons about how travel has changed since they've been in the leagues. Not too surprisingly after being on the plane, they mentioned the charter.

Day 3 Practice & Dead Time
Published by Nick Kioski | January 24, 2008 @ 5:21pm CST

Today was the easiest of the trip. Even without seeing tomorrow and this being my first road trip and all, I can still go out on that limb. Practice wasn't until 2 in the afternoon, giving everyone ample time to rest after arriving in the wee small hours of the morning.

The hotel is another quality place, this time near the arena, but with less in the immediate vicinity. There are some offices adjacent and the parking lot had a series of Bentleys, must be the posh part of town. This particular hotel is renowned for the quality of the weight room, one of the few that the team uses instead of finding a gym somewhere else in town.

American Airlines Arena is hosting a hockey game tonight, so we couldn't linger around (or perhaps we could have, but decided filming the ice since it didn't fit the overall theme of the trip). That gave us some time to go into the city and take in one site, in this case the 6th Floor Museum (showing where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the infamous shot that killed President John F. Kennedy). It does make a difference to do anything that breaks the routine. I caught myself at one moment almost losing track of the days. Of course, days of the week don't much matter in the season, you can play any day, but as an every-day-joe, it is disorienting to not know if today is Thursday. Keep in mind what the calendar vertigo will be on the 9 game trip later this month.

We got to go in after practice with the rest of the media. The Mavs have their practice facility in the same building as the arena. It's a standard 6 basket affair with all the rehab equipment at one end. There was a longer than normal period at the end when we got to watch the players working through shooting drills. The players are broken out in groups of similar skill sets, including the not elusive enough "get post practice treatment" group.

The Mavs practice facility also has a series of motivational banners that go around the entire gym. It wasn't something you'd expect to find in a building for professionals, but then again, some of these guys come in pretty green all around. I wonder if that is an Avery Johnson (Mavs coach) thing or a Dallas Mavericks thing. And how often do they change? Phil was asked about them in his interview and he doesn't seem likely to be adding those into the Toyota Sports Center any time soon.

After practice there is nothing else on the docket. That means the staff and players get a leisurely evening before shoot-around and then the game tomorrow. We fly home straight from the game, which means packing and loading too. Got to enjoy this respite while we can.

Hey There Was A Game Finally.... and Now We're In Dallas
Published by Nick Kioski | January 24, 2008 @ 2:57am CST

Now we're actually at the game. Sometimes you can almost forget that everything points to this moment. I want to focus on how the game experience is different at the AT&T Center vs. at the STAPLES Center. I found a number of differences, a large number, but keep in mind they're just differences, good or bad is a matter of taste. I have only been to see three (home) teams, Lakers, Suns and Timberwolves, and the last 2 were a long while in the past, so these differences are rather strong to me.

I'll give the AT&T Center this, it's easy to find the media room. Beneath every arena (or those in my limited experience) is a honeycomb of rooms and it's real easy to get lost. I can't say the STAPLES Center is a well labeled building. I guess you could say that each is a maze, but if it's your maze, it's not so bad.

Players arrive, this time it's the Lakers who are decked out in their NBA approved outfits. Gone are the comfy travel clothes we saw on Tuesday, now it's ties and coats and sweaters. The Spurs are already on the floor running through drills and getting in their shoot-around.

In-Game Blog
Get a feel for what it was like at the AT&T Center during the Lakers visit with our In-Game Blog

In sitting in the arena during the Spurs warm up, something strikes me, a stark difference to how it is at home. Fans are lining the entry tunnel for the Lakers, or lining as in 10 people. A guy walks up and asks about getting a wrist band for the Lakers. At first, I have no idea what he's talking about, I don't recall the Lakers being a ride at the county fair, but then he joins the now 12 person throng with a bag of recently purchased items. I just can't imagine that happening at STAPLES Center. Maybe that's how it works out for the away team and I am always looking away, but man, that seems easy.

It's always interesting to see the game opening. You know it's going to be something that the operations folks put some thought and money into. The Spurs are pretty normal in this regard, loud, dark, booming voice, but nothing over the top. I did like how the Spurs announcer had a tone of complete boredom while introducing the Lakers. He whipped through each player, but not so fast that the fans couldn't rain boos down on Kobe.

The Spurs announcer sets the tone for the overall difference between the game production of the teams. Let's just say that the Spurs guy is not of the understated LT variety of announcer. He booms out everything (except things about the Lakers) and also throws in a little extra info. It's not "Lakers basket", it's "Toooooooonnnnnyyyyy!". Apparently Tony Parker has no last name when he's on the court.

While we're at it, their audio guy is also louder than our audio guy. Everything is a solid 20 decibels louder. And it never stops, all game play has some music or sound effect. I say it's in the background, but it's nothing of the sort. The result is an unrelenting wave of sound pounding you the whole evening. I know the league has specific rules about how and when sound can be played, now I see where the inspiration for those rules came from. By the end of the game, I will have heard every song that begs to be played cranked to 11.

To go with the announcer and the audio is the crowd. They clearly know the drill, they follow all the prompts to cheer (which are many. Many. Many.) Give them credit, they're behind their team. They will also eschew the LA habit of early departure. Later when the score is Spurs by 13 with 3:45 remaining, the departures are barely a trickle. They hold out until the last minute and those people still draw the ire of the hardcore.

In fact, our seats are behind the basket which leaves me a bit disoriented in terms of following the action, and right behind us are the Spurs' Baseline Bums. A whole section of fanatics. Somehow a Lakers fan scored tickets and is wearing the home whites into the section. The booing is constant and the suggestions for the Lakers fan are quite pointed, though nothing over the top.

There are a few other twists in the game performance. The Spurs have a few promotions that run during the longer breaks (this was a national game so the timeouts are extended), which cuts into what would be Laker Girls time at STAPLES. The Spurs also incorporate for one dance the secondary dance group in with their Silver Stars dancers. The Spurs also have a kiss me cam, different music, but otherwise, exactly the same. Or it was until some couple tried to abstain. Not sure of the reason, but the announcer is goading them to kiss. The must take either their kissing or their kiss me cams very seriously here, because he would not let it go.

The Spurs also have a mascot, the Coyote. He does pretty simple stuff, leading the cheers, strutting about. No acrobatics like the Gorilla.

The best is the blimp. I am no fan of the in-arena blimp, but I love how the fans all look and reach up. Simpsons fans will remember the See My Vest episode where the little greyhounds puppies stand up when the socks come over their heads. Those are the fans for the blimp, and not just here it's been that way for every in-arena blimp in memory, they're like little Rory Calhouns to dangling socks.

One other thing I notice about the crowd. They don't trust Tim Duncan to make free throws. The cheering has an undeniable tone of relief when the ball drops through the hoop.

I also took a halftime stroll of the concourse, just to see what I can see. First off, the signs for the bathrooms have little cowboy hats on the typical figures. There are also a fair number of Lakers jerseys. Still in the minority and less than Spurs jerseys, maybe it's the gold that stands out, but the fans are there.

All told, it's simply a different experience. I admit, I still have "Spurs ball" ringing in my ears.

After the game media the is in a mad rush. Both teams are flying out (the Spurs have Miami) and the need for haste is paramount. Then it's a bus ride to the airport, back on to our plane (allow me a moment to gush again about the plane, they have food, good food. I opted for a PB&J while Ty went with the chicken cordon bleu with mashed potatoes, it's not a bad deal) and soon on the ground in Dallas. We get to the hotel around 1:30am and I begin to understand how the travel just feels like a series of hotels, buses and planes with an occasional arena thrown in.

Lakers Pre-Game Full Coverage
Published by Ty Nowell | January 24, 2008 @ 2:22am CST

UPDATE: We had some technical difficulties at the AT&T Center (like only half the media could get on the internet) so we weren't able to post this during the game, but you can check it out now.

The schedule for the team is a little different tonight since tip-off is set for 8pm to accommodate ESPN. Your bags need to be outside of your room at 5:15 so they can be picked up and loaded onto the bus, which is set to leave at 6pm.

We cabbed it ahead of the team so we could get ourselves situated in the building and be ready to tape the team's arrival at the AT&T Center.

It was also the second time today that we were able to our way past the security gate and get dropped off right where we needed to be. I can't imagine this happening at STAPLES Center, but then again, there aren't 20 barns right behind the arena prepping for the biggest rodeo in the country ("the biggest" might be an overstatement, but as I'm a rodeo neophyte I'm sticking with it being true. If you're going to give an NBA team a reason to complain annually, then it's got to be big right. *cough*grammy's*cough)

The team arrived around 6:15 and proceeded to do what I assume is their normal routine, which is slightly different for every player. Check out the video below to get a feel for the pre-game going ons.

Back From Shootaround
Published by Nick Kioski | January 23, 2008 @ 1:06pm CST

UPDATE: We had some technical difficulties at the AT&T Center (like only half the media could get on the internet) so we weren't able to post the locker room setup video earlier. Scroll to the bottom of this post to check it out.

Since the team traveled on an off day, instead of right after another game, it gives the morning an easier more leisurely feel. Get up, catch up on the sports that ended after I went to bed, read: all events in Pacific Time zone, eat breakfast near the coaches as they discuss tonight's game and then get ready for shoot around.

Shoot around is closed to media until the very end, just like a normal practice, so in the meantime we'll be scoping out the Lakers' temporary digs at the AT&T Center.

First off, the AT&T Center is away from the city, actually probably how a visitor to LA would view the Forum, still in the city, but not downtown. In fact, it's off the freeway a bit and you turn a corner and suddenly a big flat spot with 2 huge buildings emerges. Up until then it's just houses and an occasional corner gas station. One of those buildings will hold tonight's game, the other looks like it held a game back in the Naismith days. These grounds are also being set up for the rodeo, so there is a distinct bustle. It's the rodeo that gives the Spurs a monster road trip each year, just like the Lakers and the Grammy's and the Bulls for the . . . well suffice it to say that they have an annual road trip too.

Thanks to all the chaos, we get the surprise taxi drop off inside the arena, and are not forced to stand outside. The chaos is because tonight is a side-by-side broadcast, that means national and local TV (home and away) and each with essentially a full 18 wheeler to hold the gear and their production room for the broadcast. The first things you notice when you get into the bowels of the arena are the bleachers. Bleachers can move and in this case, they can move to let just about anything short of the space shuttle be driven right onto the floor. STAPLES Center doesn't have access of quite that size, it's limited to the size of the tunnels in the corners, which get pretty big (think about the hockey configuration, when the bottom seats are pulled back), but still not quite like this. It is probably by design, given the region and other building uses, but the place comes across as a huge barn. It doesn't have the stack of suites at the place we call home, but it still has a cavernous feeling.

Besides that, it's an arena, big, grey and lots of pipes. And until the bus shuts off, some serious fumes too.

Video From Shootaround
Check out some of today's shootaround as well as interviews with Kobe & Phil. Video

As the players begin their shoot-around, the equipment staff sets up the locker room. It starts out as a grey cinder block room with black lockers and empty hangers. By the end, the huge bags have disgorged themselves to create some semblance of a home away from home. Overall the visitor's locker room, even after the set-up is spartan but effective. I admit I haven't been into the visitor's locker room at STAPLES Center. I am now a bit curious to see how they compare.

Our trainer, Gary Vitti, gets to set up his room, what lately for the Lakers has been the busiest room of all. Clearly the 3 beds were not designed to care for the Lakers of the last 2 seasons. That barely covers the ankle injuries. This season, Chip Schaefer has been staying home to work with the rehabbing players, so it's just Gary, Alex, Marko and Joe on the road. Per NBA rules, the Spurs provide, as every home team provides, a cart of a variety of bandages, tape, band-aids and the lot. We bring our own more specialized machinery.

There is also a tightly spaced training room, just to get guys warmed up.

As quickly as things get set-up, everything is done with an eye on leaving even more quickly tonight. Most of the guys have been doing this for a number of seasons (and even more seasons, just with other teams) so the routine is pretty set.

After shoot-around the media comes in. You'd expect a fair number of media types in LA, we have all our daily newspapers and it's safe to say there's a considerable media presence in the town, but San Antonio, at least for this game, has plenty of media too. Kobe gets the first round of questions. Let me spoil the end for you, it's all the same questions, just now these reporters get to ask instead of those in LA or all the other stops earlier in the season. Check past post practice videos for how Kobe feels about this season, the team's play, Andrew Bynum, the injuries, etc. He is consistent. The questions are slightly tilted to the Spurs, so there are some additional questions about the rivalry, but it's largely the same. Then Phil gets to jump through the same hoops.

After the media clears, it's on to the team bus to the hotel. The players will grab some lunch and begin their personalized afternoon pre-game chill activity. That means naps, in-room movies, and relaxing. Maybe an in-room visit from the training staff to work on some lingering injuries. Call it the calm before the storm.

Day One On The Road
Published by Nick Kioski | January 22, 2008 @ 10:37pm CST

First of all, let's set the ground work for how this all came about. This trip is a tribute to the clich


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