Covering Kobe's Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers are once again back in the NBA finals, but it took a rollercoaster ride to get there. And writing about the team has been a turbulent experience, too, says Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke.

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GUY RAZ, Host:

Showtime is back in L.A., and I'm not talking about cable TV. The L.A. Lakers have made it to the NBA finals, a season that might just mark the biggest turnaround in Laker history. Here to talk about it is Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke. Mr. Plaschke, hello.

BILL PLASCHKE: How are you doing, sir?

RAZ: So how much of a roller-coaster ride has this season been for you as a journalist?

PLASCHKE: I am barely able to stay in my seat at this point. I have gone through exhilaration and nausea and everything in between. It's been the most incredible roller-coaster ride probably in the history of this amusement park of a franchise.

RAZ: Wow. Let's go back to last summer for a moment. The Lakers' star, Kobe Bryant, was angry. He was mad at his teammates. He was mad at the team's president. He was so frustrated that last May, I believe, he called into ESPN radio, and he dropped this bombshell. Let's take a listen.

ESPN: Are you saying right here, on this show, that you want to be traded?

KOBE BRYANT: Yeah, I would like to be traded, yeah.

Unidentified Man: Are you saying now, emphatically, regardless of what they've done, you want out of Los Angeles?

BRYANT: Yeah, I would like to be traded, and as tough as it is to say that, and as tough as it is to come to that conclusion, there's no other alternative.

RAZ: Bill Plaschke, Kobe Bryant saying that he wanted to be traded. I mean, it seemed as if all was lost.

PLASCHKE: It certainly did seem that all was lost, including Kobe Bryant's mind. We thought for sure he had gone off the deep end, and you know, you have to understand, he is the entire franchise here. He's not just their leader. You know, in a city where sports is entertainment, he is the biggest entertainer, so when he says he wants to be traded, that's like the leading man asking off the hit Broadway show...

RAZ: But why was he so angry?

PLASCHKE: Kobe was angry because he felt like the Lakers weren't doing enough to give him good enough players to get them back to the championship, and of course, critics said well, Kobe, if you remember back in 2004, you had Shaquille O'Neal here with you. You won three championships together. Yet you weren't happy with him, and they traded him, perhaps to make you happy. So it's sort of like Kobe, you asked for this; now you're complaining about it.

RAZ: I want to ask you about Kobe Bryant because five years ago, Kobe Bryant was in a courtroom being tried for allegations of rape. Some of his sponsors had dropped him. He was booed in many stadiums around the country, and then at the beginning of this season, he asks to be traded, and he trashes his teammates, and he completely turns it around. He wins the MVP this season. What happened to Kobe Bryant?

PLASCHKE: Well, I think Kobe was always very immature. He never quite grew up, and suddenly, I think this year, he finally grew up and looked around and realized that he can't do it all by himself.

RAZ: So Bill Plaschke, the Lakers are going to take on the Boston Celtics in this year's NBA finals, one of the classic rivalries in NBA history.

Now the Celtics have the best record this year. How do the Lakers stack up against a team like this?

PLASCHKE: They stack up very well against the Boston Celtics, number one because they have Kobe Bryant, who nobody can guard. That's number one. Number two, the Lakers did not have Paul Gasol except for the last month and a half of the season.

So the Lakers stack up very, very well not just because they have - they're as good athletically and they're smarter than the Celtics, but they're also more versatile. The Lakers can beat you in a physical game, which they did against the Utah Jazz. They can beat you in a running game, which they did against the Denver Nuggets. Both of those victories were in the playoffs. Or they can just beat you in a combination slugfest and running gun, which they did against the San Antonio Spurs to get to the NBA finals.

RAZ: Bill Plaschke, this whole season almost seems like one of those movies about the underdogs, you know, sort of emerging from below to come back and win.

PLASCHKE: That's what's amazing is the Lakers are the New York Yankees. They have been the New York Yankees of the NBA. They've always been the franchise with all the money, all the stars, all the success. Suddenly this year, they're the New York Mets of the NBA. They're the amazing Mets because they're more of a working-man, everyman kind of team, and as you know, Los Angeles, while we're known for our Hollywood and all our movie stars, we're mostly a bunch of regular people, and they have really adopted, you know, really taken to this team. It's an amazing Hollywood story because it's not about Hollywood.

RAZ: Bill Plaschke is the sports columnist for the L.A. Times. He joined us from his home. Bill Plaschke, thank you for being with us.

PLASCHKE: All right, thank you very much, sir.

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