Something just seems wrong about the Kings’ first championship banner-raising ceremony when there’s far more Eric Cartman than Gary Bettman.
Man, oh, man.
The NHL’s top executive could recuse himself from being part of the pregame ring distribution to all the Kings’ players at center ice before Saturday’s delayed season opener at Staples Center?
Apparently, that’s in his power play.
If this happened to be another episode of the Lakers trumpeting their latest title, wouldn’t NBA commissioner David Stern have put on his best lipstick for all the TV time he’d be receiving?
That’s not how Bettman skates.
And it has absolutely, positively nothing to do with being the central figure in the latest NHL work stoppage, one that cost thousands of arena ushers, parking attendants, security folks and ticket takers around the country weeks and weeks of wages they could have used over the holidays while the league went dark for fourth months haggling over how $3 billion would be equally distributed?
No, no, no. Not in the least.
While Bettman parked himself in a sweet seat up in the luxury box occupied by Kings dignitaries, his vice president of communications Frank Brown explained the process:
“It’s a way for him to show respect, to not insert himself into the process,” said Brown between the second and third period, after insisting Bettman’s schedule was booked for the rest of the day and he could not accommodate a brief interview request.
“The ceremony is all about the players’ accomplishments. It’s about their legacy. He had nothing to do with that and he doesn’t want to draw attention away from all that. And this is in no way a departure for him.
“He is never part of the banner ceremony. In all his years as commissioner he has never been part of a Stanley Cup banner ceremony. He attends to show respect for the champion and to celebrate the start of the season. But the only time he goes on the ice is if he’s asked – like a player jersey retirement or something like that.”
We’ll ask again: Why wouldn’t he have wanted to be part of this goosebump moment? Why, in this case, shouldn’t have been required.
Because, it’s Bettman’s own business.
And, perhaps, his goose was cooked.
The minor fact that some Kings fans were paying four figures for the privilege to sit in the 300-secton of Staples Center is why the NHL took so long to restart after last summer’s Hollywood-type Stanley Cup run.
Arenas all over the country welcomed the game back – again – after yet another smarmy labor dispute. For the Kings, it was just a matter of how they’d retain a season-seat base is in the 15,000 range – unheard of in the previous 45 years of their existence. Those who wanted to give up their seats in protest of the whole process would have had their spots taken by someone else on a waiting list.
Would anyone in attendance Saturday have showered recycled trash upon Bettman had he showed his face on the ice during Saturday’s presentation – one where Kings Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Miller was the master of ceremonies, every Kings player was introduced and handed a Tiffany ring, the Stanley Cup with all their names engraved on it was brought out and then passed around one more time, and then a gianormous banner was rolled out and then floated up into the rafters above the Kings’ bench?
Bettman would have been welcome to the party. He could have popped out of a cake, thrown confetti in the air and done donuts on the Zamboni.
But apparently it was too much of a risk for Little Man Hate.
He needed to be there, face to face with the fans, apologizing for what happened, thanking them for their patience and promising that, under his watch, it’ll never happen again (this is a nine-year CBA, so maybe he’ll retire by the next time it has to be renegotiated).
He wasn’t shy when he was part of the Cup presentation last June, although Kings’ fans were too delirious to even notice. Just give us the Cup and move along. We’ll see you in the fall for the back-end of this whoop-de-doo.
But come September, there were no training camps. Come October and November, and December, there were no games.
The compromise was a 48-game regular season, with the fallout being that a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the opener may mean the Kings are already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs based on goal differential.
That’s just the collateral damage of doing business in sports today.
Business was back to normal Saturday, in many ways.
The line was about 50 people deep at the Pantry on 9th and Figueroa at about 9:30 a.m., with most of the patrons wearing their Kings sweaters. They weren’t looking for a Bloody Mary to cure their Stanley Cup hangover.
The parking lots around Staples Center had raised their rates, $5 here, $10 there. The scalpers seemed a bit more aggressive in their “Got any tickets?” requests, perhaps a little more desperate in trying to recoup their losses.
Even those on the down and out who’ve been curled up in the doorstops on the sidewalks near the rink seemed to shake their Styrofoam cups with a little more vigor, ratting the change inside to let the fans walking up that their livelihood, too, has been impacted.
At about 10:30 a.m., the Stanley Cup was ceremonial carried from the temporary rink at L.A. Live and carried by Kings’ season-seat holders into the arena first, before fans were allowed to follow it in.
On the restaurant balcony above the proceedings, there was Bettman, watching it all.
Fans below who also spotted Luc Robitaille nearby started, on cue the normal “Luuuuc” chant. Perhaps Bettman flinched and thought he was being heckled already.
Bettman did give a couple of pre-game interviews to a couple media members, and appeared on the Kings’ pregame show. Through that filter, you can judge for yourself whether he was just doing his civic duty or knew it was a safe-enough environment to deliver his latest state-of-the-game message.
The league also took out some full-page apology ads in some newspapers, but instead of the letter signed by Bettman, it was by The National Hockey League. Because, really, it wasn’t all his fault.
After the 20-minute on-ice pre-game presentation was complete – regrettably without longtime public address announcer David Courtney, who passed away during the expanded wait for the season to begin – the Staples Center video board lit up, and there was “South Park” regular Eric Cartman.
“Check it out, you guys!” the animated kid screamed while sitting atop the 2011-12 championship banner. “This is sweet! Let’s go win another one!”
Fans who wanted a replica of their own Kings’ championship banner could head to any kiosk or team store and plunk down $100 for a “wool blend” version, the size of a beach blanket. Another one was there for $30, made of “premium felt” and a bit smaller.
The tiniest of them all was one going for five bucks — made of almost paper-thin felt, about the size of the cover sheet of the agreement that finally ended the player-owner stalemate.
Is there one out there ever smaller? Say, the size of Bettman’s credibility at this point? If only he felt inclined to order one made.