In a Los Angeles hotel lobby filled with the likes of Jerry Rice, Ray Lewis and Snoop Dogg last weekend, it was Ronny Turiaf, the Lakers' eccentric reserve forward, who stole the spotlight prior to an awards dinner three days after securing a spot in the NBA Finals.
"I knew you would do it," said Lewis, walking across the room to shake Turiaf's hand. "You have that passion."
After getting denied at Hollywood hotspot Villa a few months ago, Turiaf and the rest of the Lakers are as A-List as it gets in this fickle town of floozies, flunkies and fads. Even DJ Mbenga has been getting hassled by the paparazzi.
"Things have changed but I haven't really been out too much since we won," said Turiaf. "The only thing I know is that I see a lot more flags. There are a lot more Lakers flags than usual."
Yes, those obnoxious mini purple-and-gold Lakers flags that adorn the side windows of every Mini Cooper and gas-guzzling Hummer caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405 or the 101 freeway. They are the epitome of the Lakers bandwagon, as dead as a Von Dutch trucker hat for the better part of four years; they have returned now that the Lakers have once again returned to the Finals.
"I see the flags are back," said Phil Jackson with a smile. "I guess that means we're back."
That would be putting it lightly. The Lakers have hypnotized this city, rendering any venue with a television set helpless to highlights and updates on the team, with patrons looking at it as intently as election results. Whether it be Yamashiro, high atop the Hollywood hills, Moonshadows, nestled off the Malibu shore or Saddle Ranch in the center off Sunset Blvd., the Lakers have taken over the city.
They have amazingly turned Tinsletown, famous for always "having better things to do," showing up fashionably late to games and leaving unfashionably early, into something of a small town on the heels of the Finals.
"I don't get it," said Turiaf about the hype surrounding the Lakers-Celtics match-up. "It used to be a really big deal; I don't think it is anymore. If we are fortunate to meet again in the Finals over the next couple years then it could become a big time rivalry."
While the current Lakers and Celtics may not have as deep a rivalry as their counterparts who faced each other six times in the 1960s and three times in the 1980s, the simple fact that the Lakers and Celtics are playing each other in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987 is enough to make a ticket to any of the games in Los Angeles one of the most expensive and hardest to find in years.
One courtside ticket to Game 4 of the Finals at Staples Center is going for $54,055 on StubHub, an online ticket service. The cheapest single seat for that game is going for nearly $400. The best option for most fans to watch a Finals game at Stapes Center seems to be paying $15 to watch one of the away games on the big screens at the arena during the team's viewing parties, which aren't too bad considering the Lakers Girls are supposed to provide the entertainment during commercial breaks.
With the stars that are expected to be at Staples during the Lakers' home games though, people watching may actually take precedence over ogling at the Lakers Girls for the first time.
"The Lake Show is the only show right now," said Snoop Dogg, who plans to attend Game 3 and wrote a song dedicated to the newest incarnation of the Lakers before the playoffs. "I was born and raised off of that Lakers music played by Magic Johnson and Kareem. I'm a die-hard Laker.