The week in L.A. sports (6/23/16-6/29/16)

If you inhale deeply through your nose — down to the diaphragm — you’d be a little confused. Sure, there’s the purification of the Dodgers that makes you want to gag, but wait, is that optimism I smell for other teams?

It is. To wit:

Lakers: Even if you hate the team — and like the Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees, there is no middle ground; you either love or hate them — the Lakers held an excellent draft last week.

It would be most surprising if small forward Brandon Ingram didn’t start quickly for the Lakers this year, perhaps opening night. And if you’re a fan, you already knew that makes an interesting core of point guard D’Angelo Russell and power forward Julius Randle. 

That leaves 1 1/2 holes to fill. It’s possible Jordan Clarkson is a long-term solution to shooting guard, but I doubt that. Then there’s a great void at center. The kid drafted in the second round, Ivica Zubac, might play quickly. Pundits suggested he stay in Europe. I don’t see that, but I don’t see him starting, either.

The Lakers will not land one of the Crown Jewels in free agency — such as Kevin Durant. If they sign center Al Horford or Hassan Whiteside, though, the Lakers you have an outside shot of doubling the win total from last year. You’d still miss the playoffs with that, but it would make for a fun miss.

Quick side note: I read a story about the Lakers being surprised that Durant doesn’t want to come to L.A. There’s a reason the top free agents have snubbed the Lakers recently. It’s because there’s a big difference between Jerry Buss and Jim Buss. Jerry was revered. Jim is a trust-fund baby. End of story.

Clippers: I can’t help but like their draft pick of Brice Jordan. I don’t see him starting this year, but like most North Carolina players, he will perform like a professional in the NBA. Solid contributions. No disruptions. Every team needs that.

Free agency is another matter. The Lakers have $62 million of room under the league salary cap. The Clippers have about $8 million of wiggle room.

Rams: A few weeks ago, I was taken aback by an NFL columnist suggesting defensive lineman Aaron Donald was one of the top five players in the game. Since then, the hype has grown. J.J. Watt gets all the commercials in Houston, but Donald, some think, might be even better.

This team likely will miss the playoffs with a rookie at quarterback, but if you live in LA, you might want a Rams jersey simply due to Donald or running back Todd Gurley III.

Dodgers: The six-game winning streak turned out to be a fraud. They went on a road trip to play slumping Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. In the process, they are 2-4 with one more game later today, a full six games behind the Giants. In addition, three more players might be injured and they called up a guy who pitched in Single A earlier this year to start last night’s game.

There’s no getting around it. This team is suffering from the neglect of its front office. Injuries do play a part of the game, yes. But if you sign pitchers with a profound history of getting injured, why are you surprised when they get injured? That’s just logic.

If you let a man with one game of managerial experience lead the team, why are you surprised when the team plays poorly for long stretches of time? That’s just logic.

Make no mistake about it. This team is a whisker away from giving up and the season isn’t halfway over yet.

When injuries pile up, don’t forget it was Andrew Friedman who let this team go to seed over the last offseason, paving the way for this mess.

Galaxy: Soccer, for the uninitiated, is a funny sport. Other sports, you play in a league for a title and that’s that. The offseason starts. Where are the groupies?

In this sport, however, you not only play for a league title, but join these quirky side tournaments.

So the Galaxy last night beat the defending MLS champion Portland Timbers 1-0. Only it wasn’t an MLS game. It was an early round game in the U.S. Open Cup. I’ll leave you to determine if that makes your day better.

Kings: They didn’t even have a pick in the first round of the NHL draft. I’m not going to lie and claim I know anything about players taken after the first round.

Why yes, I do wonder what you think

Yesterday, one of my band of brothers — I’ll describe them later — let me know they had pre-ordered my debut murder mystery “At the Hour of Our Death” for iBook. The rest has since been downloaded. It’s available today.

When you create something for public consumption — whether it be a book, a gadget or the Halloween Whopper last year from Burger King — there comes that anxious moment at the point of debut. We all want to act like those snotty outsider high school kids who claim they don’t care what you think.

That’s a lie. It debuts today. And I really care.

I care on that “first date/she’s really pretty/don’t fuck it up/watch everything you say” level.

I know comics back in Los Angeles. I like them as friends, but their Facebook feeds were nothing but show promotion. Same for some musicians. It was annoying then. I suppose I wish they still did that. It would break up the shrill political posts.

But now, I wonder if I was spamming your feeds. I actually — no lie — read books as to how often I should tell you I’ve written a book. If you want to know, the ratio is 1-in-5 or 1-in-10. Even the experts can’t decide.

So I avoided “presale” talk, until one of my band told me he saw it and preordered it.

What constitutes the band of brothers? They’re more than acquaintances or friends. To be frank, I wanted to raise the standard of friendship in that doing so might lift the quality of my life in general. If you act like a friend, I will do likewise. It might require more of an investment of my time, but if I can do it, so be it.

The band are my closest confidantes. These men I value because they aren’t just sycophants. They’ll call me on my stupidity. If I have a flat tire, they’ll pick me up. If I get thrown in jail, they’ll laugh their asses off and then try to bail me out. Not that I’ve put the latter to the test.

Ultimately, what my band of brothers do — without saying it to me — is they make me a better person because they know what my standards are and will not let me slip below them. As a consequence, I try to reach for better things.

Like “At the Hour of Our Death.”

So I wonder what they will think. And I surely wonder what you think.

If you download the book, by all means let me know. Put a pic of it on your tablet and pin it on Pinterest, post it on Facebook, tweet it, Instagood it on Instagram, and maybe even see if your MySpace account still works.

Also, it’s not the end of whatever relationship we have if you don’t give it five stars on Goodreads, iBooks or Amazon. If all the reviews of “At the Hour…” are five stars, people aren’t stupid. They’ll assume it’s only friends reading the thing. If you think my book has a flaw, I’ll live with it. Promise. If we’re friends on social media, I added you for a reason and it wasn’t to sell books.

But I admit I do hope you enjoy it.

“At the Hour of Our Death” is available on iBooks, Nook, Amazon and a bunch of other apps for your smartphones and tablets at $5.99. For more information about the book, there are links describing the plot, theme and main players in the book in the upper left corner of the blog.

Shrillness overload

I don’t even know who Jesse Williams is.

He probably said something worthwhile. It may have been a glorious address that rivaled the Sermon on the Mount, for all I know.

For the record, it’s not Jesse Williams’ fault that I don’t know what Jesse Williams said. I have absolutely nothing against Jesse Williams, I believe.

Because social media has been a relentless procession of anger hurricanes for the last few years, I can’t take another speech, even if it’s worthwhile or beneficial.

I’m tapped out of rage, indignation, self-righteousness.

Consider that Williams — who has been a trending topic for two or three days regarding something at the BET Awards — inspired a furious Grade 5 downpour of political tweets and posts after social media became Hurricane Screw Brexit, which was preceded by Tropical Storm Congressional Sit-In. And this was all within the last seven days.

Not to mention the fact that I live in Orlando and millions of people who have never set foot in Florida condemned me as the cause for being a conservative Christian, as opposed to the guy screaming “Allahu Akbar” and with more firepower than a warship.

For the last year, I can’t turn on any app without seeing memes about Donald Trump.

How am I supposed to have deeply held convictions about all of these topics? Heck, how does anybody have deeply held convictions about all of these topics?

It’s too much.

I miss the days when pretty girls used to take happy photos and post them on social media. I think they still do on Instagram. Please Lord, I hope they still do on Instagram. Even if I don’t have a chance with those girls, it’s much more uplifting to admire beauty than it is to shovel this much anger manure.

Just now, I looked up who Jesse Williams is. OK. He’s an actor on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Perhaps one day I’ll read what he said. Hell, there’s a fair chance I agree with his opinions right now without having read them in the first place.

But I’m here to tell you, I’d be more willing to hear what he had to say when he said it if people picked their spots instead of flooding the “cause of the day” on my feeds.

The future of masculinity is in serious peril

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, the following opinion has nothing to do with “Pride month,” rainbow flags or where you go to the bathroom in the Deep South.

That shiny thing over my shoulder is the WWE World Heavyweight title belt. I’d love to tell you what’s on my bookshelf are among my most-prized possessions, but none of them compares to this ridiculous accoutrement. Perhaps I’m an idiot for liking pro wrestling, but let it be known I’m an idiot with a taste for bling.

As are many other men. People like this belt. People like this belt more than they do me. If this belt had a mouth, people would buy it drinks.

The WWE came to Orlando last night — the city will also host Wrestlemania next year — and I came out to see Dean Ambrose defend the title he actually earned, unlike me, against Seth Rollins.

You shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone for enjoying pro wrestling. When I take a girlfriend to a Broadway play, we’re well aware there really isn’t a phantom living in an opera house or giant singing cats. Same difference, only the WWE pyrotechnics are better.

Anyway, back to masculinity…

I’m pretty much peacocking around Amway Center and inevitably other men ask to have a photo with the belt. I get it. The belt is an icebreaker. I’d want a photo with it, too, if I didn’t have one.

Only they don’t realize this isn’t for kids — the toy one you get for 15 bucks in a Walmart. It’s made of leather and metal.

We should be afraid for the future of manhood when four of seven men who took pictures of the belt had extreme difficulty lifting the belt and even worse, complained.

Bro, you mean to tell me you have no problem letting a tweaker with a needle full of ink use your arm for a doodle pad, but that same arm can’t hoist that belt up without you curling into the fetal position and rubbing your AC joint? Even with two arms? 

Is that what’s up, tough guy? Do you need a hydraulic jack to gently lower that over your shoulder or is that too much strain? Part of me started to think you had to fight me in a steel cage for the privilege of taking a photo with the thing.

Nobody’s asking you to be Henry Cavill and be so muscle bound that the Batmobile bounces off your legs and people are so overwhelmed by your physique that you no longer have to act. But if you can’t clean and jerk a leather strap with a hub cap taped to it over yourself, then you probably would weep over how to change a tire.

Which means ISIS is winning.

And I’m hitting the gym daily because if that’s the case, the apocalypse is nigh.

Why this first book means a lot to me

I feel a little silly about this confession. I’m not ungrateful for the life I’ve had. It’s been unusual in that it’s been both full and solitary. 

My youth was spent in news, particularly sportswriting. My friends were out meeting girls on weekends. I spent Friday and Saturday nights meeting deadlines. Then came stand-up comedy, also fun but a deeply isolated life.

All of that is fine. It’s the life I chose for myself.

Besides, I did have a lot of friends in comedy. That was a dichotomy if ever there was one. I was a better writer than a comic. I was accepted more by fellow comedians than reporters.

It doesn’t take much thought to understand why I’m no longer in news. It’s all economics. The print industry was more profitable than online. The print industry pretty much doesn’t exist now. As for comedy, the next person to explain that business model will be the first.

I went into health care because I had money saved and didn’t want to be homeless when I got old. The first well-paying job I had was in a miserable place called Redding, Calif. I left my friends and family, lived a year up there. And made exactly zero friends.

Oh, I had gotten off to a great start. I had my patients and coworkers laughing. Not that I was efficient in the more complex exams, mind you, but being able to put patients in a good mood for an MRI exam is surely helpful.

Only the boss hated my guts. He was a truly miserable old louse, a divorced doctor with a stone-bald head, pot belly and an understanding that some personally painful developments would not get better. Redding — the next largest city is Sacramento, a two-hour drive away — has no singles scene. The people there were either minors, happily married or elderly. Young adults had to leave “North State” for college. The pickings were slim for middle-aged divorcees.

So if he couldn’t be happy, no other male employee could be, either. One of his favorite things to do was to yell, “My name is on the bottom of the paycheck and yours is up top. Do you know what that means? That means you do what I say.”

Once, I actually replied with an impression of Kane from “The Dark Knight Returns”: “And this give you power over me?” I asked in a discombobulated voice, because I was at a point where I didn’t care if I got fired. I could find another job if necessary.

After five months of solitude, I knew I couldn’t return to Hollywood. It wasn’t pride. It was financial. I was on good footing. LA is breathtaking in how expensive it is. So the one thing I recalled was taking great pleasure in creating.

So I bought a notebook at Target and started writing.

With regards to “At the Hour of Our Death,” I am not the protagonist. I empathized with Micah Connacht. I can recognize people who are dedicated, altruistic and lonesome.

I plotted the book heavily, developed the city of San Siddinus and its residents, their agendas. I also read a lot of philosophy. I enjoy reading metaphysics and ethics. If I get into the minds of the world’s greatest thinkers, I figure I can come up with a point or two of my own to make. Themes are important to me. If I don’t have something compelling to write, I won’t undertake a project as big as a novel.

After months of plotting, I cranked out the first draft in less than a month.

Understand, I realize that draft was not ready for marketing.

What I was ready for was to get the hell out of Redding. It’s far easier to feel optimistic in Orlando, Fla., even with what happened at Pulse Nightclub recently. Florida is surprisingly conducive to creativity, the horrible music of Jimmy Buffet notwithstanding.

The book “At the Hour of Our Death,” therefore, is important to me on a number of levels. The most important one is that you enjoy it. I didn’t write this book with the idea of becoming fabulously wealthy. I wrote it with the idea that I wanted to reach out to people again. That’s the key to not feeling isolated.

I think it’s well-plotted, compelling and affordable. If you like it, feel free to review it for Goodreads or on Apple iBooks. I’d look forward to hearing from you.

As for my old employer, I don’t particularly care who is the name above his on the paycheck. Nobody needs to hear from him, anyway.

“So James, how close do you work to the place that got attacked?”

That close.

To be clear, I don’t work here every day. My employer sends me all over Central Florida. I wasn’t here when Omar Mateen screamed “Allahu akbar” and blasphemed his faith, and I don’t want to make a big political argument about guns or militant Islam.

I just want to keep things simple and tell you what’s been going on it Orlando.

The FBI has left, but the police are keeping the actual plot of land secure and there are still news vans in the area. When the FBI was here, blocks of downtown were locked down. People created their makeshift memorials as close as the authorities would allow — such as this one:

I previously wrote that I had no idea Pulse was an LGBT club, not that it mattered. I have purchased donuts for ungrateful coworkers at the shop next door.

I knew one of the deceased, albeit very little. I knew people who ran when they heard gunfire.

Billboards across the city rotate flashing hashtag affirmations about how strong we are and how we are united and have pride. Maybe we do. We no longer appear to be in shock. Considering much of this area is based on tourism, and therefore weren’t actual Orlando residents, how shocked were we in the first place? The Florida Mall was pretty full the day after the attack.

To be frank, I would prefer #OrlandoSafe to #Orlando(whatever), but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

Who are we to tell the Brits anything?

The British, arguably our best friend in the entire world, pretty much haven’t told us what to do since 1812. Man, that’s some loyalty there. Who wouldn’t like a friend that doesn’t pass judgment on us, even when we do something so stupid as to elect Richard Nixon?

The Brits are friends that share their immense talents for the world to enjoy. They gave us The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and even the Spice Girls. Hey, they were cute.

They gave us top-flight action heroes with James Bond. They made us laugh with Monty Python and Benny Hill. They challenged our wits with Sherlock Holmes.

When we stunk at soccer, they let us have the best player in the world, David Beckham.

So who are we to tell them what to do with their politics?

Last night, I checked the web before drifting off to sleep and found out that our best friends were deciding if they should stay in the European Union. Ultimately, it was about economics in Europe. Self-governance, perhaps. 

It took me a while to go to sleep. Not because I was troubled over world affairs. It’s because I knew all these ultra-political hard-core types would hyperventilate all over social media tomorrow about what bumholes the Brits are for whatever choice they made. And that’s funny to me. I laughed my ass off until I had insomnia.

Because it’s not our call to make. It’s theirs.

They weren’t deciding on war, nor were they deciding an intense civil rights issue. They were deciding on their future.

Needless to say, the hyperliberal friends from the west coast had already flooded my Facebook feed by the time I woke up at 6 a.m. And I live in Florida, which means they stayed up all night to gripe at 3 a.m. their time. They might be mad because President Obama insisted the English stay in the EU and the Brits went against his wishes. Who knows?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure if the Brits decided to Brstay instead of Brexit, my hyperconservative friends would have done likewise.

Maybe I’m the only one who understands this: We don’t have the moral authority to tell our friends what to do. Enemies? OK, we’ll go to the UN and complain. But friends? Not so much.

It’s hilarious that many of us have become so engulfed by our politics that we have become the uptight, tut-tutting, priggish stereotype the Brits were always accused of being.

Try asking your barista if there’s some decaf available, people. You’re too high strung.

The week in L.A. sports (6/16/16-6/22/16)

I post this every Thursday. It’s not Thursday in LA. Kinda don’t care about that. It’s Thursday here…

Dodgers: Here’s the problem with LA’s current winning streak, which stands at six games. The Giants have maintained a lead of six games as I type. Only one Dodgers team has ever rallied from more than seven games back to reach the playoffs. The team remains on life support and we still haven’t hit the halfway point of the season.

The Dodgers are so boring that while playing the Washington Nationals, broadcaster Vin Scully is talking at length about Jayson Werth being 37 years old. And that is a shame, because Werth is desperately trying to look like a hipster looking for Portland Timbers soccer tickets to scalp. Seriously, playa, the world has enough unemployed slackers disguised as garden gnomes.

Here’s a subtle indication of how idiotic the Dodgers’ “smartest front office in baseball” has been. The Dodgers traded one of their top pitching prospects, Zach Lee, to Seattle. For a shortstop. You think that scrub is going to replace Corey Seager, who hit his 16th home run of the season an hour ago? Good going, “smart guys.”

Lakers and Clippers: Reports circulated on major sports news outlets — reputable ones — that the 76ers will take Ben Simmons with the first pick of tonight’s NBA draft. Those reports were followed with the Lakers having allegedly decided on forward Brandon Ingram of Duke. Not that I’m a genius because I’ve told you that for a month or so. The internet loves a good conspiracy theory. Part of my life’s mission is to wipe that flotsam away.

As for who the Clippers will take? Who cares? Their lineup is set. The guess here is for an outside shooter to eventually replace the aging J.J. Reddick.

Kings: It’s been an awkward week, to say the least. On the plus side, Drew Doughty earned his first Norris Trophy, which goes to the best defenseman in the league. The minus side was everything else. The Venezuelan soccer team has a brighter future when it returns home.

The team has a new captain in Anze Kopitar, which is nice except that former captain Dustin Brown is still on the roster. Kopitar has played here too long to pretend he can’t understand English, while on his OK Cupid profile, Brown lists “likes to hit people for no reason” under hobbies.

Even worse, Milan Lucic, the big trade acquisition from last offseason, is likely to leave the team as an unrestricted free agent. It’ll hurt. Lucic can do a lot of things well, but the Kings only had about $7 million of salary cap space and had to sign five players for the roster.

Galaxy: The team has played twice since last week’s blog post and has yet to score. 

Come to think of it, I’m looking back over the teams I’ve written about so far tonight and if I could put a layer of frosting on this failure cake, it would spell out “All My Favorite Teams Stink.”

Rams: Somebody posted a meme tonight on Facebook that read “Less than two months until football season!”

Screw you, dude. Preseason football is even more unwatchable than the WNBA.

Other than that, the Rams literally had no news in the last week. See you Friday! 🙂

The not-so-rapid reaction to the Yanks losing to Argentina

Whilst I rested the tormented rest of the sports fan whose team lost, a few Mexican futbol fans private messaged me about why I wasn’t criticizing the Americans as harshly as I did El Tri when it lost to Chile over the weekend in Copa America.

OK, not that I want to turn this blog into ESPN’s “First Take,” but here’s why:

People were looking forward to Chile and Mexico because the world thought these were two pretty damn good evenly matched teams and El Tri got humiliated 7-0. The entire globe took notice of that beatdown. 

The world also saw Mexico’s defense and midfield flat-out give up. And, of course, when your goalie has no defense and gives up that many goals, the world also noticed thousands of El Tri’s fans turn on their own goalie and call him a homosexual slur. A week after the Orlando terror attack, too, I might add.

Meanwhile, nobody expected the Americans to defeat the No.1-ranked team in the world. … Wait, I take that back. For reasons I’ll never know, three of four Fox Sports 1 commentators did. Seriously guys, that flag waving, were you from Fox Sports or Fox News?

How do you critique an inability to stop Lionel Messi, who scored an goal so stunning I needed a blood test to find out if I had taken hallucinogens before the match? Results negative. I didn’t get roofied in the sports bar.

What do you say? “Lads, that guy wearing 10. He’s good. You should have stopped him.” That’s like saying “Hi, Utah Jazz. That Jordan guy can shoot a little. Stop him.”

The entire world took notice — not of the U.S. giving up, but of Messi’s exceptional skill.

Sometimes, you simply get outclassed by a superior team. The thing I’ve noticed about Copa America overall? Some teams didn’t take the tournament seriously enough, such as Brazil. Other countries did.

The United States, to their credit, did.

But so did Argentina.

The only critique I could give the Yanks over that game came from USMNT legend Landon Donovan, who correctly pointed out that by fouling the Argentinians in midfield, you could have slowed the flow of their offense. Having said that, even if they did, they likely still lose by a goal or two.

But nobody thought for a moment the Americans gave up.

Mexico did.

Yo Facebook, I have a mom

You might have noticed at the top of your Facebook feed the social networking site is trying to encourage you to talk about specific subjects. Hey, your favorite team won! Tell everybody how you’re celebrating!

Well, I no longer live in Los Angeles and I’m sitting by myself in a one-bedroom apartment in Central Florida. I zipped up my fly, forgot to brush my teeth and went to bed. Go Dodgers.

I don’t recall why my pants were unzipped in the first place.

I can only guess how these make-me-comply suggestions helps Facebook. Perhaps it helps target ads. I’m no expert in analytics.

But you can only go so far with it before it becomes a little weird. Today is International Yoga Day. Facebook is asking me what’s my favorite yoga pose, like it’s been staring at my ass from the other side of the gym and wanted to say hi. Am I right, ladies? Am I right?

(Truth be told here: My favorite yoga pose doesn’t make my ass look good. It makes the ladies’ look amazing. Sorry/not sorry. I heard a lot of lousy “downward dog” jokes from hacky comedians in LA. Downward dog isn’t even close to the sexiest pose in the yoga girl arsenal.)

It started to hit me that Facebook — which changed the game in social networking because it wasn’t as creepy as MySpace — is changing itself again into a maternalistic pain in the ass. You’re not thinking of anything in particular, trying to decompress after dealing with mobs of confused or angry strangers you met in the course of your work shift, and your cell phone goes off. Oh yeah, Facebook, can I call you later? I don’t really have anything going on and I don’t really know what to make of International Respect-People-With-Chronic-Head-Lice Day.

Maybe Facebook is trying to influence our conversations because it’s gotten far too cheap and sleazy in the course of the presidential campaign. Yes, people, I know the GOP candidate has miserable hair and his wife took dirty pictures. Why are you trying to discourage pretty women from taking dirty pictures?

But the moment that really inspired me to retreat from Facebook came the day of the infamous Orlando terror attacks. I had just heard about it and during the course of finding of blood bank to donate because contributions were needed, Mom called and asked if I was OK because she didn’t know.

That’s what makes Mom Mom. She didn’t know the details of the attacks and wanted to make sure. Unconditional love. Even if it meant I might be gay.

Then while going to the blood bank, Facebook kept sending me text messages to tell everyone I was safe. The site knows where you are and wants you to post. That’s not unconditional love. That’s … Truthfully, I don’t necessarily know what that is.

But drawing attention to yourself when other people are in trouble just isn’t a particularly loving response.

And besides, those two moments confirmed to me what we all privately suspect: no amount of processing speed in a computer hard drive will be faster than your mom when it comes to expressing love. Mom won that race, social networks.

You can’t make automated “I’m safe” responses take the place of friends and family calling you. If it ever does come to that point, God help us all.