T.J. Simers on STAPLES
T.J. Simers: A Good Place for Those With Time on Hands
I was sitting with Elgin Baylor in Staples Center on Wednesday afternoon, and if you had noticed Elgin Baylor sitting all by himself indoors on a wonderful sunny day watching two women playing tennis, you'd have gone out of your way, too, to make sure the Clippers' general manager was feeling all right.
I had been vaccinated before coming to the women's tournament, and because I know there have been cases of some strange side effects after getting a flu shot, I tried talking to Baylor in the event he had just gotten his and was now delirious and had no idea where he was.
"You know, I'd like to know why she's wearing a watch too," Baylor said after I pointed to the flashy wristwatch one of the tennis players was wearing. "I'll betcha it's because she's superstitious."
When I arrived at Staples Center, I couldn't think of any good reason to actually talk to a tennis player, but now I was on a mission to satisfy Baylor's curiosity. So I went to the Chick Hearn Press Room only to discover the tennis reporters were watching "Days of Our Lives."
That would explain why Sports Editor and tennis groupie Bill Dwyre knows all about Lexie Carver's being thrown in jail on kidnapping charges, and to be honest, I can't blame tennis reporters for watching anything but tennis.
JUSTINE HENIN, the wristwatch player, took her place on the podium so the tennis reporters could pay homage, and said, "It's hard to find the great motivation" to play when the arena is almost empty.
The tennis reporters seemed to appreciate that, but I found that odd, asking her, "Isn't the money [$765,000 to the winner] enough motivation" to play tennis for a couple of hours?
She came back with some double talk, so then I let her have it: "I don't watch a lot of tennis," I said. "Why do you wear a watch out there? Are you paid to wear a watch -- you know, an endorsement?"
"No," she said, and you would have thought I had asked her for Anna Kournikova's phone number with the dirty look I got.
When the news conference ended, I went to Henin but was stopped by an official who scolded me for being "too direct."
Then Henin said, "too aggressive," and that's when I noticed Baylor standing in the rear of the room, and I knew he was dying to know if he was right, so I asked her again about the watch and she crumbled. (Imagine what the sight of one of the Williams sisters is going to do to her).
"I have a contract with Rolex to wear a watch when I play," she admitted, and I was about to tell her she had just lied to everyone a few minutes earlier, but, perturbed, she cut off an interview with another Times reporter, made a face and walked out.
A short time later one of the tournament's public relations officials came to me and said, "Don't write that column."
I found that amusing, of course, because if I agreed not to write a column every time a public relations official or Dwyre told me not to write a column, I'd never have a column in the newspaper.
"I had no idea you were one of those columnists," the official said, "and you can quote me on that."
Now I was really confused. First I'm told not to write a column, and then I'm told to quote the official in the newspaper. I asked for a clarification and the official began crying and then scurried from the room.
THEY ADVERTISED that the top 16 women in tennis were going to be here, but when the first match started, the announcer introduced Elena Dementieva, "the 19th-ranked player in the world."
I found this odd and asked a tournament official, who directed me to Jeremy, who then sent me to Rob, who said he couldn't talk, but Jim could. By that time I forgot what I wanted to ask.
When the first match started, and then the second, I noticed both of them had something in common: No one was here to watch the women play. So I went to the front of Staples to see if the doors were still locked, and ran into the guy who was selling programs.
"Sold 10," he said, which makes him the best salesman I've ever met because the programs didn't include a schedule of who was playing.
MOST OF the concession stands were closed, although they had charged folks as much as $1,250 to attend all 10 sessions of this tournament, but I guess everyone realized no one would bother to show up to watch Henin play.
I counted 87 fans on one side of the arena and 93 on the other side and sat in section 116 so it could be said someone did. That left sections 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 117, 118, 104 and 107 empty. I think I would have noticed the "Justine Henin Fan Club" if it was there.
Take the smallest imaginable Sparks' crowd, subtract several thousand, and that's how many fans showed up for the evening session to watch Lindsay Davenport collapse against Monica Seles. I'd provide a more accurate count, but as of 10 p.m. officials were too embarrassed to announce the attendance, saying the doors were still open and somebody might walk in -- by accident.
The Staples' folks have a seven-year commitment for this tournament, which means if they want to draw a crowd, they better fix it so Kournikova gets an invite the next six years.
"There's a much prettier girl here than Kournikova," one official said. "Daniela Hantuchova will be playing [this afternoon]."
I think I have a dentist appointment -- as soon as I can call and make one.