The Audible: Southern California’s Mt. Rushmore, Caitlin Clark and the Lakers’ coaching quagmire

Jim Alexander: The death of Jerry West this week got me to thinking: If there were a Southern California sports Mt. Rushmore, which four faces would we carve out of the hillside?

And my next thought was: How can you keep it to just four? With all of the memorable athletes, coaches and, yes, broadcasters who have entertained us for so many years, it seems like an impossible choice. It also seems like one that would probably be heavily influenced by the generation in which you grew up (and/or the teams you cheered for hardest during those formative years).

That said, West is definitely on mine, not only because I actually watched him play but because of his influence on the game as player, coach and not least executive.

My four – and I fully expect people to come at me on this one – are as follows: West, Sandy Koufax, Magic Johnson and Kobe. For what it’s worth, it’s four guys who started and ended their playing careers with the same team, won championships, and thrilled and/or awed us with their performances on a nightly basis.

We could go a lot of different ways with this. A coaches/managers foursome, for example. Or a Mt. Rushmore of play-by-play announcers, and how many other cities or regions in this country could have their very own wing of the Broadcasting Hall of Fame?

What say you, Mirjam?

Mirjam Swanson: I’ve been thinking about this since you mentioned it yesterday, it’s so tough! I like your list – the distinction of having started and ended a career with the teams definitely makes sense.

If it was up to me to choose which four faces to chisel into our Mount Rushmore, they’d be two Southern Californians who changed sports – and America – forever. And the most iconic representatives of the two teams who L.A. loves most.

Pasadena’s Jackie Robinson. I mean, the man broke baseball’s color barrier as the first Black player in the 20th century to play in either the American or National League, paving the way for so many players after him.

And Long Beach’s Billie Jean King, who LIFE magazine once recognized among the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” for her work promoting gender equality – efforts that we’re starting to see really pay off these days.

I’m proud that those two athletes – sports figures who were so much more than athletes – are from here.

And if I had to pick just one Dodger and one Lakers from the multitude of impactful and beloved L.A. heroes: It’s Vin Scully and Magic Johnson.

But we could for sure decorate another few hillsides with iconic sports figures from the area – John Wooden, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Cheryl Miller – Kobe, of course! And so on.

But … those are the four I’m looking at if I had to choose four to look at forever after.

Jim: All great choices. Historic ones, actually. And I thought of including Billie Jean, who is still fighting for the cause to this day.

It’s almost like trying to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot. If you include this person, don’t you have to include that one as well? And what about him? Or her? You could have a Mt. Rushmore for every team or sport in town and still not have enough room for everyone deserving.

Hmmm … maybe we should be leading the charge to establish a Southern California Sports Hall of Fame. Who’s with us?

In the meantime, any readers who have their own ideas for the Mt. Rushmore of SoCal Sports, let’s see ‘em. Email us or post ‘em on X, or Facebook, or Threads, or what have you.

Meanwhile, sports’ Hot Take Industry – never a bastion of learned discourse in the best of times – has gone stark raving mad in its dissection of all things Caitlin Clark in just the last couple of weeks. First it was the hip check from Chennedy Carter in a game against Chicago. Then there was the supposed “snub” of Clark by the committee selecting the Olympic roster, with the insinuation somehow that the women’s basketball committee should be looking out for NBC’s interests and taking marketability into account, which it didn’t and shouldn’t have. Their objective is to win a gold medal, period.

Then, of course, we had Stephen A. Smith trying to mansplain to women who actually know something about women’s basketball why they’re wrong. He’s cared for, what, 15 minutes?

And now in just the last day or so, people are ripping Caitlin for initially not commenting strongly enough on some of the opinions of those whose fandom has been, um, less about her and her skills and more about her status as a white, straight player in a very diverse league. (Later, she clarified her stance to condemn the hate, but why are we demanding that she address a firestorm she didn’t start?)

Two personal opinions here: One, I am glad I do not partake of the morning argument shows on ESPN and FS1. You watch that stuff often enough and long enough and you run the risk of going insane. (Judging from social media comments, I suspect some viewers already have.) And two, I’m convinced not making the Olympic team may be the best thing for Caitlin and her career. As turbulent as this WNBA season has been for her so far, right on the heels of the end of her college career, she’s going to need that Olympic break just to take a deep breath and get away from the foolishness for a while.

Mirjam: If you’d told me a couple years ago that a women’s basketball player from Iowa would be a daily magnet for controversy and the most hotly debated athlete in America for weeks straight, I wouldn’t have believed you. Like, what even?

She must have said some outrageous stuff, I’d have thought.

But no. She’s trying not to say much of anything, in fact. And yet, here we are – and I get it.

She’s historically popular and it’s worth contemplating: Why her? And why now? As I wrote last week, I think it’s a lot of things. Her entertaining style of play. Her marvelous talent. Her record-breaking prowess. But there’s also her timing, taking the baton at a time when women’s sports – based on years of progress and efforts by people like the aforementioned King – was ready to take a big next step in relevance. And, yes, unfortunately but realistically, it would be too obtuse to think that in some part, for some folks, there is an appeal to the fact that she’s white. Subconsciously? Consciously? It’s not NOT a thing.

So there’s this fascinating and heavy and relevant conversation swirling around her – which is, of course, not being handled especially delicately or respectfully by many. Including what I imagine to be a legion of A.I.-powered bots on social media programmed to fan flames and divide and make fools of us.

The hip check stuff got blown way out of proportion, of course. The Olympic conversation was absurd – anyone who’s watched her play these past few weeks can see she’s not ready for Team USA. She will be, but not yet. I’m offended on her behalf that so many people stood up and implied that they knew she wasn’t good enough but that she should be there anyway because she’s popular. No athlete wants to make a team – much less an Olympic team – because she’s marketable. Get out of here.

And then Thursday’s situation: She was asked initially to comment, after she reiterated that she’s trying to block out all the noise, as to whether she was “bothered that folks would attempt to weaponize your name in whatever fight they’re fighting?” It was a relatively open-ended query, delivered in a post-shootaround scrum: She responded, “No, I don’t see it, that’s not where my focus is.”

That wasn’t what a lot of people wanted to hear – including some other players in the league: How could she not see it when so much of America is focused on it? When so many of her colleagues are being subjected to the ugly rhetoric?

What I’ve sensed with Caitlin – who probably IS trying to block out this cacophony that gets louder with her every word and step and shot made and shot missed and foul taken – is her trying her damndest not to feed the trolls.

Recognizing that she can never say the exactly right thing and never say enough to satisfy what is a huge and hugely impassioned audience. I can see her thinking it better to just not say anything at all. And thinking that if she – like most athletes – just kept her head down and kept it to basketball, all these firestorms would blow over and blow out.

But it’s just not happening. That’s been clear for weeks. And so it would’ve been wiser, probably, for her to nip it in the bud earlier, to just go on the record, for the record, with the obvious and decent thing. Something like what she said said pregame when she was asked more specifically what she thought about people using her name “for racism, misogyny, whatever” and she gave a straightforward condemnation: “Yeah, I think it’s disappointing… people should not be using my name to push those agendas.”

In that moment, she reminded me how eloquent she is, and made me think how powerful her sharing such a message might prove. That’s not nothing, either.

But then, naturally, what she said wasn’t enough for some people, or/and it was too late for some people, and it only served to rile up other people who think she’s being asked to do too much or who don’t appreciate the conversation and its implications in the first place. And if we’re being honest, most people are projecting their own feelings onto her, sentiments that have more to do with us than her.

I’ve always loved athletes – Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King – who take stands on important, real-life issues. But also, I appreciate how much pressure Clark is under, and I respect her desire to want to focus on her work, which is hard enough. And impactful on its own.

Jim: Talking to Sparks rookies Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson this past week – players who only have to worry about playing basketball, without all of the other baggage Caitlin is carrying – it reminded me just how severe and stressful the adjustment is for anyone entering the league just weeks after their college seasons have ended. It’s tough just to catch your breath. And while Brink’s addition to the 3-on-3 team in Paris is a high honor and something she’ll have in her memory bank forever, I wonder if she wouldn’t have been better served with the break in the schedule.

Anyway, on to today’s last topic and one you wrote about after the Dan Hurley-to-the-Lakers story fell through. Your take is that the Lakers can’t circle back to JJ Redick now, that after romancing Hurley and basically broadcasting that someone else was your No. 1 guy, now taking a chance on an inexperienced coach in this case is close to executive malpractice.

(Then again, I’ve accused Rob Pelinka of that before.)

And this sounded an alarm: Redick is scheduled to interview some time this weekend, and according to the Times’ Dan Woike there will be “a broader spectrum” of members of the Lakers organization sitting in. When Hurley was out here last weekend he talked to Pelinka and Jeanie Buss only. Again, this brings to mind Magic Johnson’s complaint on his way out the door in 2019 that way too many people had too much influence, including some who had no real reason to supply input on basketball decisions.

To me, that’s “uh-oh” territory.

It’s also been suggested that the Lakers don’t really need to have a coach in place by the draft, which is June 26. Again, really?

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At this point, in my mind, they could do worse than to bring back Frank Vogel. He’s available, and he won them a championship.

Mirjam: OK, but what if someone in that “broader spectrum” is the sane one in the room who’s like – really? You’re gonna name the rookie who is smart enough, sure, but who knows – because the whole world knows – that he wasn’t your first choice? You’re gonna tab that guy to lead the Lakers?

Because yeah, yeah, that’s probably what they’re gonna do.

Jim: The counterpoint: If someone in that room had been capable of sanity before this, and willing to speak up, would the Lakers front office be the mess that it’s been all these years?

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