Monday, June 18, 2012

The Winters or Our Discontent

The Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup. My heart pounds in my
chest. Tears fill my eyes. I hug perfect strangers. I order
commemorative apparel. I am a man who has just been freed from the
sporting equivalent of Death Row after more than four decades.

The bitter taste is washed away with a quaff of champagne. Well,

Amid the celebration, I couldn’t help but recall that I followed this
often ragtag crew for 45 years of frustration, fury, depression and

Hopes were raised, only to be dashed. Star players would emerge, only
to be traded or surrounded by mediocrity.

I can state without hesitation that the Kings for the first 20 years
or so of their existence was the worst managed professional sports
team I had ever seen.

Even more, a dark cloud seemed to hang over the franchise.
Owners came and went. One group went bankrupt. One went to prison.
Two of their top scouts died aboard a plane that crashed into the
World Trade Center on 9/11.

The Kings erected a statue of Wayne Gretzky, “the Great One,” in
front of Staples Center even though he failed to lead the team to a
championship. With the Kings, close was good enough.

The ultimate insult? A team called the Ducks in Anaheim won the
Stanley Cup in 2007, after 14 years of existence.

Was there a curse? Was the Fabulous Forum or Staples Center built on
the site of an Indian burial ground? But no. Other tenants of those
buildings won.

Perhaps it was some insidious brainwashing plot concocted by Canadian scientists to hook us on their national sport and force us to spend big bucks. Maybe. I'm just saying....

Governments seized power and were then overthrown. Wars were fought,
won and lost. Markets rose and fell. Children were born, grew to
adulthood, then middle age.

The Kings stumbled on. No matter. We waited until next year.

And now, next year has come. Old, gray and stooped, I watch in
disbelief as they win the Cup. Not just win it but do it by crushing
the opposition. They are the champions, my friend.

I feel the same way I did when I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the
moon: I’m not sure how they did it and I never thought I would see
the day.

What a curious journey it’s been. I didn’t grow up with hockey, didn't lace up the old skates every winter.

Indeed, I was only vaguely aware of it. Living in Southern
California, the only ice I ever saw was in a glass.

But while I was still in high school, somebody slipped me a couple of
tickets to a game featuring the L.A. Blades, a minor league team that
played in the Sports Arena. Five minutes into the game, I was hooked.

It was fast, it was physical and, best of all, when a player scored,
he and his teammates would raise their sticks in the air in
jubilation. Such displays were frowned upon in most sports back in
those days.

In short order, I learned the rules, the players’ names and the words
to the Canadian National Anthem.

And now came the Kings. I would finally get to see the legendary
teams I had only read about: The Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal
Canadiens, the Boston Bruins, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago
Black Hawks, the New York Rangers.

Like many who went to the Kings games in the early days we came to
see those storied visitors. But in their first year, the Kings
surprised us. They made the playoffs. They did it again in their
second year.

Then the bottom fell out, thanks in part to owner Jack Kent Cooke’s
insistence that they trade draft picks for washed-up veterans that he
remembered growing up in Canada.

The league general managers fleeced Cooke like pickpockets in a
crowd. From 1968 to 1978, the Kings had one first-round pick in the
amateur draft. And he was traded.

In 1969, a year I had purchased season tickets, they won 14 games and
lost 52.

Attendance was abysmal. Someone asked Cooke one time why he decided
to open a franchise in Los Angeles. He remarked that some 200,000
Canadians lived in the area. Remarked one grizzled sports writer,
“Yeah, and they all moved here because they hated hockey.”

From 1994 to 1999 they made the playoffs once. From 2002 to 2009,
they missed the playoffs entirely.

In one brief, shining moment, they advanced to the Stanley Cup finals
in the spring of 1993 led by Gretzky. But Montreal swatted them away
after one of our boys was found using an illegal stick. It was so Los
Angeles Kings.

The current ownership, after being asleep at the wheel for the first
few years, finally woke up. They hired a really good general manager
who made some really good draft picks and trades.

They hired a good coach. Then they fired him in mid-season and got an ever better one.

And now, after 45 years of pain, hockey immortality.

That eternal optimist, Dale Carnegie, once said, “Most of the
important things in the world have been accomplished by people who
have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Don’t
we just know it.

Go Kings Go.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Empty Calories, Empty Gestures

The truck slipped over the Canada-U.S. border unnoticed, then crept
down rural roads on its way to New York City.

It arrived in pre-dawn darkness, and quietly pulled into a warehouse
where a crew waited to unload it.

But before they could begin, a van carrying eight men crashed through
the warehouse door and, armed with axes, began to attack the cargo.

When they were done, gallons of Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and assorted
other soft drinks, stored in 32-ounce containers, washed down the
gutters and into the drains.

One again, New Yorkers were safe against the scourge of large-portion
sugary drinks.

This, of course, is a bit of a fantasy with apologies to Eliot Ness.

But if New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, sugary drinks
more than 16 ounces in size will be banned at the city’s restaurants,
delis, food trucks, movie theaters and sporting arenas. This includes
energy drinks and pre-sweetened ice tea.

His motive? To help combat obesity.

If this sounds meddlesome, intrusive and a bit like Prohibition,
well, it is.

A bunch of politicians get on their moral high horse and set out to
eliminate the scourge of (fill in the blank) thus saving humanity and
ensuring reelection.

The reaction of New Yorkers has been, “Whaddaya, sumkinda wise guy?”
More than 50 per cent of them think it’s a bad idea, according to a
NY1-Marist poll.

And, like Prohibition, it won’t solve the problem that it is intended
to solve.

One of my favorite Prohibition stories told of a popular product
called “wine bricks” -- dehydrated slabs of pressed grapes and a
packet of yeast. Once purchased, you learned from the mockingly
worded label that you should “never mix contents in two gallons of
warm water to which you have added a pinch of yeast, and one pound of
sugar. If this mixture is left to stand in a cloth covered container
for two weeks, an alcoholic beverage will result, which is illegal.”

The point is that, like our Prohibition era forefathers, thirsty
citizens will find myriad ways to circumvent the law.
That won’t be difficult in New York. Grocery stores and many
convenience stores are regulated by the state and wouldn’t be

So New Yorkers will have to settle for two sixteen-ounce sodas. And
free refills.

Interestingly enough, Bloomberg appears to have the weight of the law
behind him. "There are so many examples where states impose standards
on consumer products sold within their borders," Michelle Mello, a
professor of law and public health at Harvard University told
Reuters. "It seems hard to believe that this would be singled out as
unreasonable by a court."

To give the Mayor his due, there is no question soft drinks can
contribute to health problems. The consumption of sugar-sweetened
soft drinks is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, dental
problems and low nutrient levels, according to a study in the
American Journal of Public Health.

In New York, Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner, blames
sweetened drinks for up to half of the increase in city obesity rates
over the last 30 years.

But Bloomberg’s plan is hardly the road to a lean, fit and healthy
populace. It is, instead, paternalistic, misguided and essentially an
empty gesture.

Who’s going to enforce this ordinance? Will New York have soda pop
cops? Will this set the table for even more Draconian laws,
regulating portion sizes or ingredients?

The real answer lies is education. School districts in California
banned the sale of soft drinks on campus in 2003. And that’s how the
problem should be attacked. Teach your children well and the problem
diminishes over generations.

The other solution is to tax the hell out of sugary soft drinks. But
Bloomberg has too many political ambitions to play that card.

Disney understands the value of early education. This past week, it
became the first major media company to ban ads for junk food on its
television channels, radio stations and websites, hoping to stop kids
from eating badly by taking the temptation away.

I’ll drink to that.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

In Search of the Real Gloria

The first press conference in recorded history was held by Moses.

Descending from the mountain, he said "Do I have news for you. From God's lips to your ears."

Scribes at the scene wrote it all down and headlined it "The Ten Commandments." The rest is history.

These days press conferences burst forth like weeds every day, conducted by paupers and presidents, jocks and jurists, and a lot of folks in between.

Some of it is important. But much of it is orchestrated by self-aggrandizing media freaks whose sole purpose is to stroke their egos by hoarding the spotlight.

Take, for example, Donald Trump. And Gloria Allred.

Trump is like a human infomercial run amok. Under the guise of having something important to say, he is usually found peddling a book or promoting a TV show. He likes to pose as a political kingmaker. In fact, he is a liability.

Allred is more difficult to figure. A tenacious lawyer, she has been involved in important and meaningful litigation during her long career.

But she seems hell-bent to make a fool of herself by elbowing her way into every celebrity sex scandal and gender bias dispute that comes down the chute.

She is now referred to as "celebrity attorney Gloria Allred." Perhaps "notorious" would be a better choice of words.

Worse, she has been described as the only celebrity who stalks the paparazzi.

When we last heard from Allred, just this past week, she was orchestrating a press conference for a New Jersey women who was dismissed from a temporary job at a New York lingerie warehouse because her male employers felt she was too busty and dressed too provocatively for the workplace.

It was a temporary job, she only worked a couple of days and her bosses were Orthodox Jews. Nonetheless, maybe there's a case here.

But the woman in question, Lauren Odes, 29, shows up at the press conference wearing, according to media reports, a form-fitting sequined black dress and black leather, sequin-studded boots. She then proceeds to pose like a Miss Budweiser contestant.

The case of a woman wronged is no longer a press conference, it's a circus. And when it is over, ringmaster Allred and her traveling media show moves on.

This is not new territory. Two years ago, Allred represented Debrahlee Lorenzana, allegedly fired by Citibank for being too sexy.

Lorenzana told the New York Daily News recently, "If I could turn back time, I would have not chosen Gloria Allred as my lawyer I thought because she was a woman that she would really fight for me (But) the only times I saw her was when the media was there."

Allred swings from significant to silly. She represented the woman who accused GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment, a case which ended Cain's political aspirations. Then she represented Mandi Hamlin who claims she was humiliated when TSA agents forced her to remove her nipple rings in order to board an airplane.

She represented former adult film star Ginger Lee who allegedly exchanged e-mails with Rep.Anthony Weiner. Weiner resigned amidst revelations that he had been "sexting" with a variety of women outside of his marriage.

But she also waged a publicity campaign against Madonna, demanding she record a pro-choice song to make amends for what Allred had determined was the anti-abortion message of the hit "Papa Don't Preach."

Sex scandals? Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen, John Travolta. She's ended up in the middle of all of them.

But Allred also forced the Sheriff's Department to stop shackling female prisoners who were in labor, advocated for AIDS victims who had lost their jobs, battled the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on behalf of a victim of sexual abuse and got the California Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage before it was overturned by Prop. 8.

She got newspapers to print the names of "deadbeat dads" many of whom were subsequently located. She represented actress Hunter Tylo who claimed she was fired from her role in "Melrose Place" because she was pregnant. Tylo won $5 million.

So is she a warrior doing battle for gender equality? Or a brazen opportunist who never met a camera she didn't like.

She's clearly an enigma. But love her or loathe her, rest assured we'll see her again soon.