Confessions of an undercover Kings’ fan living in Los Angeles

Former Sacramentan hangs with the Laker faithful during Game 1

Illustration By Conrad Garcia

Alexander has written for Sacramento News & Review, L.A. Weekly and ESPN magazine, among other publications. His memoir, Ghetto Celebrity (Crown), is due out next spring.

Don’t let the lame name fool ya. Ye Olde Rustic Inn is the height of East Hollywood flavor. Above the urinal they keep a menu for the salon next door. (Microdermabrasions only $120!) And at 4 p.m. Saturday it’s rockin’.

Which is unusual in that L.A. doesn’t generally do rockin’ (except for late night on weekends with actual rocks headed for actual windows). One Mexican in a Shaq jersey has his Mohawk teased up high enough to graze pennants hanging from the bar’s dark wood walls. The tattooed Sapphists are rubbing their piercings all over each other. And the preternaturally perky waitress reminds that cocaine never really disappears, it just goes undercover as industriousness.

It’s probably not the right place to confess, but I do, because I want to enjoy the game.

I do it early, while NBC’s still inflicting us with War Emblem hysteria, eliciting theories about the connections between GE and Dick Cheney. I do it early because I don’t want to worry about it during the game. I don’t want any static. So I tell Swedish Mike, the architect who shares the table with me and Frank, another draftsman. They’re accomplished people. There’s no reason they can’t take it.

“You know,” I edge in, “I’m kind of a Kings fan.”

“No yer not!” corrects Swedish Mike, who actually hails from Switzerland. His eyes bulge and he slams down his Bud bottle. It’s a reaction a person might expect upon coming out to his redneck brother. In a way, though, it’s deeper than that. I’m not a mystery, I’m the enemy. I’m C-Webb, John McCrea and Gray Davis all rolled into one.

Swedish Mike thought he knew me.

“No yer not!” he demands. “Yer a freakin’ Lakers fan!”

“You’re right,” I mumble humbly over chili. “I am a Lakers fan.”

But what I didn’t say is that I love Sacramento and the Kings, too, and that I wouldn’t mind seeing the Kings’ David bring down the mighty Lakers’ Goliath.

You remember that song about being in love with two women that Mr. Cheeks did, back when the Lost Boyz were still crackin’? “Me and my Crazy World?” That’s basically it between me and the Kings and the Lakers.

You have to understand that the Kansas City franchise relocated to Cali the same week I moved to Sacramento from Ohio. I have more than basketball invested in this affair; it’s about hometown pride.

But then I lived in L.A. before heading back east. It was the Lakers’ championship ways that got me through a really trying period stuck in NYC. And if you had seen Kobe when L.A. wasn’t yet winning, when he was just a skinny 18-year-old, totally lost on defense and heaving up shots like Nick Van Exel gone spastic, you could only have pulled for him.

I never really chose a side, not up or down. I’d be on assignment for the sports mag that employed me, enumerating to Webber the reasons he should stay with the Kings and then, back in Brooklyn, I celebrated L.A. beating the Pacers by pounding brews like we were still in Hollywood.

To my Indiana-native wife, I quoted J-Ro from Tha Liks, “Tonight it’s going down like the house of Reggie Miller!”

California was still home sweet home, so I was thrilled to return last December. Both my teams looking good seemed like nothing but bounty. Instead, everybody looks at me as a spy in their house of love. This season, especially these days, people don’t abide my dual-loves.

Come on over and watch the game, I’d say.

“There aren’t going to be any haters are there?” asked Rashidi. Lakers fans are very hater-sensitive. For example, the subject line for the e-mail playoff convo with Philippe, who goes to 20 games a year at Staples Center, is: “Veiled Laker Hating.”

As in mine. As in, don’t bring it.

The old homies don’t trust me no more. So I watch a lot of basketball alone. This is not right though. Just because I have the Kings logo on my homepage doesn’t mean I don’t love L.A. You would never hear me chanting “Beat L.A.”

Not out loud, at least.

“It’s a bad show,” says Swedish Mike, “like Universal Studios.”

He’s talking about the home team’s glow-in-the-dark opener. And he’s right. The whole cultivated hayseed thing rankles. Before the Kings had even unpacked in California, I saw Dr. Dre on stage in downtown Sacramento. This was when you couldn’t find a club above Wilshire that would have even let him set up his equipment. A person can actually party pretty hard in Sactown. Sex, drugs, rock and/or roll, the whole nine.

Once, Sacramentans ringing cowbells resembled black folks calling each other nigga as a term of endearment. Now, that original irony seems lost on everyone, ringers included. One shrinks from this, especially as the first quarter winds down and sweep talk engulfs Ye Olde Rustic Inn.

And Turkoglu keeps taking those shots that everyone in the arena (in the bar, in the state) knows are not his.

“He’s still got that fuckin’ hair,” Swedish Mike says. We all agree the fucked-up hair is the source of Hedo’s problems.

“My little brother did that,” Frank says.

“I know,” chimes in the spy guy. “It doesn’t play in adulthood. Or in a real city. He should stop.”

If I had a shrink, she would say that I’m compensating.

In the second quarter, Frank complains about a non-foul in favor of the Kings.

“Who are you rooting for anyway?” I ask.

“Sacramento,” Frank says. “I want them to at least make it close.”

Sweep talk notwithstanding, everyone here is rooting for the Kings by this point, at least to the extent that they’d like the series to raise their heart rate a little bit. Well-managed drama plays well in El Lay. A little spicy salsa before the big enchilada. It’s getting too easy and the home-grown remedy is to hate on the Lakers a bit.

Up on the big-screen, Shaq runs through the street in a trenchcoat, doing the exta-curricular thing that gets him truly paid. BK never gave me a burger that big. Swedish Mike opines, “He needs to stop eating that stuff.”

As the Kings get back in it, all of my exhortations have a pro-Sactown slant. Pollard lets Shaq get down on the low-post and, even before the Laker center receives his entry pass I’m waving my beer and shouting, “That’s too low Scott. He can’t do that.”

Shaq scores, Mike looks at me with eyebrows raised. Veiled Laker hating? Maybe.

The Kings can’t keep it up and Webber commits a third-rate offensive foul and the lead is double digits. As the fourth starts, a barfly wanders over to our table. Offhand he says, “Man I didn’t know it would be such a blowout.”

Frank reverts, revises, deletes.

“Yeah, two here and they’re out.” Then they start talking football.

Frank clearly never resided in Sactown. One doesn’t have to ask to know.

What bothers me most is how no one even stops to rub the drubbing in my face. We’re like cocktail wieners to these people. They’re into it while they’re consuming us, but won’t stop to talk about it when the big dance is done.