A (self-serving) appreciation of weekly media sports column, thanks to a bunch of sports broadcasters who refrained from throwing food at me

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Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers
Why you don’t let a sports writer get up in front of a group of sportscasters and try to make a speech. It’s quickly obvious why you’re a writer. Especially when you go off script.

It’s really, really nice to be recognized and appreciated.
And even nicer to be employed.
Survival of the fittest isn’t really the best way to address the current extinction of the mainstream sports media columnists, particularly those native to the Southern California market.
There are too many other factors in play here.
As Bob Miller introduced me at Monday’s 21st annual awards lunch for the Southern California Sports Broadcasters, the group appreciates the fact I’m the last remaining weekly columnist in the area writing about the media. They’ve given me this nice glass microphone as their token of that.
I hope not to break it by accident as I clear a space for it on my desk populated with stacks and stack of papers and things.

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Play It Forward: Jan. 30-Feb. 5 on your sports calendar

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

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Super Bowl XLVI: New England vs. N.Y. Giants, Sunday in Indianapolis, 3:30 p.m., Channel 4:

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Neither the Patriots nor the Giants are like a virgin when it comes to Super Bowl history — not like Madonna, who will be the one dragged out this year for the 12-minutes-of-agony halftime show. More to the point, aside from their names, there’s not a lot new when you’re putting New England and New York together in the same sandpit. What’s old is what everyone wants to talk about. Like how the Giants outlasted the Patriots in Week 9, 24-20, at Foxboro, Mass., when Eli Manning capped off a final drive by hitting Jake Ballard on a 1-yard TD pass with 15 seconds left. “I knew we would win,” Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said. “It definitely took me back to the Super Bowl.” That would be the older news, when Manning rallied the Giants to a 17-14 victory in the 2008 title game, hitting Plaxico Burress on a 13-yard TD with 35 seconds to go and ending the Patriots’ perfect season. “I’d rather be down by three with a minute-thirty (left) than up by four with a minute-thirty with Tom Brady, with their offense on the field,” Manning said after the recent regular-season win. “You like those situations where you have an opportunity to go win the game.” Now, on the field where his brother, Peyton, may never play again, Eli will be the Manning on the spot. The Giants, just 9-7 in the regular season, have been playing elimination football since having to win three of their last four games just to make the playoffs, then snatching three playoffs victories — the last two on the road. The 13-3 Patriots didn’t beat anyone with a winning record until the AFC title game — including that rout of 8-8 Denver in the first round. But they haven’t lost since the last meeting with the Giants, pilling up 10 in a row and averaging more than 35 points a contest during the stretch. Since each team has suspect defenses — the Giants have given up 376.4 yards a game, which is better than the Patriots’ 411.1 a week — this could get pretty offensive. Like, say, Madonna dragging out her training bra-cones. They say revenge games make for better storylines. Even if a Packers-Broncos matchup might have been far more compelling.

MONDAY

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NBA: Clippers vs. Oklahoma City, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

Russell Westbrook said he hopes his decision to make a long-term commitment to stay with OKC will end rumors of a rift between him and fellow All-Star Kevin Durant. “I wish it would have never started,” the former UCLA standout said at a press conference to announce his five-year, $80 million contract extension. “Me and Kevin get along great on and off the floor, and now we’re going to be together for at least five more years. Hopefully we can stay together.” Meanwhile, Eddie Johnson of HoopsHype.com came out with his top 25 players in the NBA at this moment. While Durant wedged himself in at No. 4, Westbrook has made it to No. 12. “If Westbrook realized 17 and 10 is better than 20 and 5, he would be considered the second best point guard on the list (behind No. 10 Chris Paul),” wrote Johnson. “He is the best athletic PG I have ever seen, but his demeanor on the court is deflating and needs to change if he ever wants to move up further on this list.” Humpf.

TUESDAY

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NBA: Lakers vs. Charlotte, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

And you thought the Washington Wizards were bad? These Bobcats lost twice to the Wiz last week, have an eight-game losing streak and, at 3-18 coming into this week, stand with the worst record in the league. Despite the fact 21-year-old rookie guard Kemba Walker (20 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) recorded a triple-double the other night. But then again, we know what kind of trouble — with a capital T — the Lakers seem to have with Charlotte over the years.

WEDNESDAY

NHL: Kings vs. Columbus, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

The Kings come off an All-Star layoff that lasted, what, nine weeks? And Jonathan Quick isn’t even well rested, having been forced to play in Ottawa for the annual exhibition. One of the few Blue Jacket victories this season was just a couple of weeks ago at Staples Center, when goalie Curtis Sanford recorded the team’s only shutout, 1-0, in an afternoon contest where Quick had to take the loss, giving up that one late goal.

NBA: Clippers at Utah, 7:30 p.m., Prime, ESPN:

The Clippers were in Salt Lake City just a couple of weeks ago — and embarrassed in a 29-point loss where the Jazz had a 56-36 advantage on points in the paint, 16 off dunks — five of which were alley-oops.

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High school football: National college signing day: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., ESPNU; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., CBS Sports Network:

Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is part of the CBS coverage, and new Bruins head man Jim Mora Jr., is supposed to be one of the coaches interviewed to assess their team’s talent haul. On ESPN’s coverage, the network says at least 10 players, four of whom are ranked No. 1 at their position on the ESPNU 150, will make the college commitment decisions live on their show.

THURSDAY

College basketball: UCLA at Washington, 6 p.m., ESPN2; USC at Washington State, 7 p.m.:

The fact that the Huskies share the lead in the Pac-12 to this point is beside the point. The last time the Bruins won in Seattle, freshman Trevor Ariza scored five of his 21 points in overtime to secure a victory in 2004, upping UCLA’s overall mark to 11-17. Nate Robinson had 18 points and Brandon Roy had 16 for the Huskies.

NBA: Clippers vs. Denver, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TNT:

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Nuggets coach George Karl said it about the fact his team plays in L.A. tonight, then goes home the next night to meet up with the Lakers, then has to fly to Portland for the third game in three nights on Saturday: “That has to be the most sadistic three games that the NBA doled out this year. If anyone else has three tougher games in a row, I’d like to hear about it.” Add to the fact that the Clippers and Nuggets played each other just the other night.

FRIDAY

NBA: Lakers at Denver, 7:30 p.m., Channel 9, ESPN:

The Grammy Awards are just around the corner, meaning this is the first of six in a row away from Staples Center for the Lakers until Feb. 12. Meaning, they sweep, and they’re finally over the .500 mark on the road. Sure. Ninety-two points was good enough for the Lakers to beat the Nuggets on Dec. 31. Ninety wasn’t enough to beat them in Denver on Jan. 1. Either way, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol enjoyed large point production in each.

NHL: Kings at St. Louis, 5 p.m., FSW:

The first of six in a row on the road for the Kings, who’ve already defeated the Blues twice this year, once with each goalie. It’s the Blues’ first game since Jan. 24 — 11 days off — and they’ve lost two in a row, to Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Men’s college volleyball: UCLA at USC, Galen Center, 7 p.m.:

The latest USA Today poll had the 9-1 Bruins (4-0 in the MPSF) at No. 3 and the 4-3 Trojans (3-3 in league) at No. 5, but that was before they had a three-game match losing streak in there.

SATURDAY

NBA: Lakers at Utah, 6 p.m., Channel 9:

The Lakers’ first (and, for a long time, only) road win of the year happened on Jan. 11. Here in Salt Lake City. In overtime. Thanks to 40 points from Kobe.

NBA: Clippers at Washington, 4 p.m., Prime:

And the Clippers start a six-game roadie in D.C, again missing an invite to the White House, but allowing themselves a chance to marvel at just how spectacular a dunker JaVale McGee can be.

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NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame announcement, 1 p.m., NFL Network:

Two former Los Angeles Rams — running back Jerome Bettis and defensive end Kevin Greene — join former Los Angeles Raiders receiver Tim Brown among the 12 candidates up for induction. Expect former coach Bill Parcells to get enough love for enshrinement.

NHL: Kings at Carolina, 4 p.m., FSW:

Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward tied a franchise record with his 2-1 win against the Jets last week. He’s given up two or fewer goals in nine consecutive games (5-2-2, 1.54 GAA), tying the single-season Hartford/Carolina record established by Arturs Irbe in 1999 and by Kevin Weekes in 2002.

College basketball: UCLA at Washington State, 2 p.m., USC at Washington, 8 p.m., FSW:

The last time that the Trojans won in Seattle? Just last March, 62-60, when Jio Fontan scored 20 points and Nikola Vucevic added 19 points and 10 rebounds. Those were the days.

Series: “Feherty Live from Super Bowl XLVI,” Golf Channel, 10 p.m.:

Before the second season of David Feherty’s chat show begins in late February, he’ll do this hour-long special, performing before a live theater audience and bringing on folks from the sports and entertainment field.

SUNDAY

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Bowling: Chris Paul Celebrity Invitational, 1 p.m. ESPN:

The Clippers’ new kingpin does his annual charity event on the hardwood, taped a couple of weeks ago at Lucky Strikes in L.A. Live. Blake Griffin, Reggie Bush, Michael Strahan, Jerry Ferrara and Drew Carey joined in.

Golf: PGA Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., final round, noon, Channel 2:

Don’t waste this opportunity for some pre-kickoff golf on Super Bowl Sunday from the course where yelling is encouraged.

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How Kim Gilbert plans to paddle her way back into table tennis’ Olympic-sized pool of talent again

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Staff photo by David Crane

Along with a little bravado, Kim Gilbert has a lot of history on her side.

Now it’s just a matter of how far that, and the 47-year-old’s reputation as once being one of the country’s top competitors in table tennis, will take her this time at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

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There’s a story she has clipped from the Daily News dated July 23, 1986, along with a photo of her looking intense as she’s winding up to slam a return. Gilbert was routinely whipping male competitors at the then-Hollywood Table Tennis Center in the middle of a career that had already taken her to victories in U.S. Open and Olympic Festival tournaments.

Her resume from 1981 on had included junior, state and national level championships.

ESPN did a piece on her to record her reflexes and she broke the Olympic Festival record with a .14 of a second reaction time. By comparison, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps fastest reaction time off the blocks was .64 of a second.

She could have made a North American team that would be part of the 1988 Summer Olympics, but because of limited female spots did not make the final cut.

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Gilbert regrouped for the 1992 Olympic team, which would be made up of U.S.-only players this time. But just before the trials, the heel of a shoe she was wearing broke. She slipped on a curb in Santa Monica, braced herself with her right arm on the concrete and shattered the forearm into 15 pieces.

“I was devastated,” she said.

After four years of surgeries to rebuild it and another two years before she was brave enough to try playing again; Gilbert realized it was too painful and just wasn’t going to happen. She had to quit a game that she took up at age 14 while at Palisades High, and included intense training for two years in France and England during that time.

“I had to reinvent myself,” she admitted.

That meant the next 18 years of working in marketing, producing benefit concerts, and starting up a file management business.

Recently, while working for Dial800, a Los Angeles based marketing optimization firm, she took up the game again after turning down a complimentary offer to join a local gym.

“I was shocked — it felt as if I left the game for just a couple of minutes,” Gilbert said. “You’d have never known I hadn’t played in so long. Complete muscle memory.”

She then began training and eventually coaching at the Gilbert Table Tennis Center in Los Angeles. The muscles in her arm that had atrophied became stronger just from playing.

She soon hooked up with actress Susan Sarandon, who started a SPiN Hollywood nightclub inside the Mondrian Hotel that included the desire for table tennis experts to put on exhibitions and avail challenges to their patrons.

Gilbert was added to the weekly line-up of pros, taking on high-end clients who wanted to learn the sport. There is trend afoot through SPiN whereby ping-pong is being used in business as a way of breaking the ice between executives because on the “court” everyone is made equal by virtue of their competitive spirit and enthusiasm for the game.

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As her skills improved, she grew confidence and secured corporate sponsorship with Dial800 and Hama Sushi of Venice to compete in the 2010 and 2011 U.S Open championships again – and was a semifinalist in the over-40 divisions.

Her performance against some of the top-ranked players in the country was good enough for her. Even better was the support of her employer Dial800 who has built a culture that believes in a living and working balance and is delighted to support Kim’s efforts with both a flexible scheduling and actual event sponsorship.

Soon enough, Gilbert got an invite to the 2012 Olympic trails, set for Feb. 9-12 in Cary, North Carolina (linked here).

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The current U.S. Table Tennis rankings automatically put the top 10 women into the Trials – that includes Thousand Oaks teenager Ellen Hwang and Arcadia teen Erica Wu. Gilbert has been seeded No. 12, meaning she’ll have to play some extra qualifying matches. All matches will be best of four out of seven games to 11 points.

Let’s be realistic. The odds of Gilbert making the U.S. Olympic table tennis team at age 47 are stacked against her at best.

“But in competition, anything can happen. I know I can give some of these girls a run for their money – and I’ve got nothing to lose” the Los Angeles native admitted the other day. “I’m gunnin’ for them, and they’d better watch out.”

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Staff photo by David Crane

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The ‘Luck’ that went into HBO’s latest miniseries

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(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Dustin Hoffman arrives at the premiere for the HBO series “Luck” on Wednesday night at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The first episode airs Sunday.

By Beth Harris
The Associated Press

David Milch had the script for a horse racing drama kicking around in his head for 30 years. The screenwriter and producer was just too busy living it to put words to paper.

As a 6-year-old, Milch first accompanied his father to the racetrack in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He was too young to wager, but Milch’s father worked things out anyway.

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“‘You want to gamble, don’t you? Well, you can’t gamble because you have to be 18 years old,’” Milch (right) recalled his father telling him. “‘I’ve set it up with Max the waiter. He’ll run your bets for you.’”

That mixed message sent Milch off on a lifelong fascination with the track and an eventual gambling addiction. Along the way, he owned two Breeders’ Cup champions.

Milch’s portrait of horse racing’s seedier side comes to life in the drama series “Luck,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, debuting Sunday on HBO.

He couldn’t write it sooner “because I had to quit gambling,” he said.

The nine-episode first season was filmed at sun-dappled Santa Anita in Arcadia, an art deco racetrack set against the San Gabriel Mountains. Milch has won and lost money there, but he said he never hit the betting windows during shooting.

“You can’t do what we were doing and conduct yourself that way,” he said. “It’s disrespectful to the material and distorts everything that you’re doing. I had to let that go.”

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Weekly media column version 01.27.12

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Staff photo by Brittany Murray
At a booth in the Redondo Beach Cafe, Daryl Evans can camp out near a wall of Kings’ memorabilia that includes his signed jersey. And his protein smoothies on the menu.

What’s in today’s media column: A feature on former Kings’ “Miracle on Manchester” hero Daryl Evans (linked here), and the Top 10/Bottom 5 list of the game analysts in Southern California.

What’s not in today’s column: A couple of footnotes to the “Miracle on Manchester” game.

Did you know: Evans was assessed a 10 minute misconduct penalty, as were a handful of others, after a scrum broke out with 9:56 to play and the Oilers up, 5-2. Evans happened to be on the ice and grabbed another Oilers player — and back in those days, everyone who didn’t go back to the bench was given penalties. The incident occured when Wayne Gretzky was either pushed or took a dive into the corner, leading to his teammates coming to his defense.

Here’s a video clip of that from the Kings’ telecast, with Bob Miller and Nick Nickson describing it:

So with less than 10 minutes left, and Evans out for at least the rest of regulation, you’d have thought they’d have gone back to the dressing room and started to hit the showers.

“I didn’t think it was over,” said Evans, who just witnessed the two teams slug out a 10-8 game — the Oilers’ victory to open the series. “Maybe I was just a naive kid coming out of junior hockey, but we were only town three goals. If could get another …

“Being so young at that time (21 years old), I learned to appreciate what actually transpired. Now looking back, wow, it’s really something special. Just look at the personnel at that team – and that’s the best thing that ever happened to that team. We made them. We taught them a lesson they didn’t like and made them dig in their heels and go other way. Maybe it was a defining point in franchise history for both teams.”

Here’s how it played out:

And there’s this video tribute that the Kings put together when honoring Evans earlier this year as part of their “Legends” series:

More of Evans in the community:

== A skate and strategy session with a youth group:

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== Visiting with a long-time fan at last week’s 5K run at Staples Center — someone who’s proud to say he saw the “Miracle on Manchester” first-hand:

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== Part of another blood drive:

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== And helping out a young fan with … a fishing pole?

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Coming up next Friday: The best and worst of the play-by-play guys. Scully vs. the field. Who’s got the best odds?

Photo credits: Los Angeles Kings, Kings Care Foundation.

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