Family Friendly LA

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Greg Veis complicates our idea of Los Angeles by delving into its surprisingly conservative sports culture:

No one who loves his hometown should ever feel the need to explain that it is in fact not a place where souls go to die--but I do, incessantly. It's a reflex now, developed over a decade of having lived on the east coast, of having a simple statement--"I grew up in LA"--regularly followed by a grimace, or, at best, a sympathetic pursing of the lips. Most New Yorkers and Washingtonians, you see, don't have a whole lot of respect for Los Angeles. They consider it to be the world capital of plastic, on an uninterrupted streak of fakery that stretches from the Chinatown days through the porny '70s and into our very own benighted era of the celebrity crotch-shot. And, of course, it's not an insane way of looking at the place. LA's not exactly tweedy.

But my argument back has always been that the day-to-day influence of "the industry" on most Angelenos is vastly overrated, and that the city's more traditional side gets short shrift. That it's not a silicon wonderland, but a pretty damn good place to raise a kid. And reflecting back on LA now, in the days immediately following the death of John Wooden, UCLA's legendary basketball coach, I think this family-friendly vision has an awful lot to do with what the city's sports culture was like when I was growing up in the '80s and early '90s.

The article is pegged to the death of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach (and spends time on the peerless Vin Scully), so it makes sense that longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is mentioned only briefly in the piece, mostly for the astonishing 3,338 consecutive games he called. Its worth mentioning that he was by far the most influential announcer in the history of basketball. For example, he invented the term "slam dunk." And "dribble drive." And "air-ball."

Like Coach Wooden, the beloved play-by-play announcer was tremendously dedicated to his longtime wife, Marge. Chick was also loved by fans. Consider that Chick Hearn died 8 years ago. He nevertheless finished third in votes when the Los Angeles Times asked Angelenos about the best Los Angeles Lakers of all time. Let's put that achievement in perspective: he was competing against a franchise where the players include Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant.

Near the end of his piece, Mr. Veis wrote, "sure, the Lakers--with Jack in the front row, and Pat Riley in Armani--have always flashed as brightly as the LA of our national imagination." In some ways that's true. Presumably John Wooden hated Showtime style basketball, though he certainly would've approved of Pat Riley's famously grueling practices and the work ethic he demanded from players. And Jerry Buss has never been a traditional family man, though he has made his franchise into a great family business.

But the fact that Lakers fans so beloved a franchise fixture who never stepped onto the court, whose broadcast booth in The Forum was high above the pricey court-side seats, whose personal style wasn't Hollywood in the least, and who somehow always felt like the conscience of the team says a lot about the side of the Lakers that the haters never see. Chick Hearn, rest in peace.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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