Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Laker Nation, The Work Takes The Court

On a lighter note, a year ago this week, when the nation's lone prelate of Opus Dei roots was named to head the Stateside church's largest diocese, some elements of the British press lived up to their reputation for hysteria over news in blaring that, by sending Archbishop José Gomez to Los Angeles, the Vatican had exacted its "revenge on Hollywood" for the DaVinci Code.

As that's the kind of conjecture one can't seriously engage with a straight face -- well, unless you've gone the way of the Dan Brown Kool-Aid -- best to recall Gomez's reported crack to the LA priests when the topic of "The Work" came up: namely, that "I left my albino in San Antonio."

In the comedic sense, they say the line killed. Still, in one of the many things that Brown couldn't make up if he tried, the new Californiano closed out a busy first month at the helm of the largest local church in American Catholicism's four-century history with a quintessentially LA ritual for the city's high-profile newcomers: attending the Lakers' morning shootaround earlier today, and bringing along a visiting friend -- Peru's top prelate, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima.

The confluence was fairly natural; its fold including no shortage of LA's 5 million Catholics, Laker Nation is arguably Southern California's largest religious community... while, among his other claims to fame, Cipriani played for the Peruvian national hoops squad for six years before entering the seminary and remains a superfan. Still, the Laker beat-writers missed out on perhaps the story's most colorful angle -- the Peruvian primate is likewise the global church's senior Opus Dei hierarch, named the personal prelature's first cardinal in 2001.

This week's swing-through was Cipriani's second trip to LA in the last year; the cardinal was one of seven red-hats present at last May's Welcome Mass for Gomez, which marked the start of the Mexican-born prelate's year-long transition into the archbishop's chair, not to mention the beginning of his "conversion" from his beloved San Antonio Spurs.

Heading to Rome from the City of Angels, Cipriani told the LATimes that the Opus duo were invited to a Lakers' game on their return, and he was keen to take it up. Along the way, the prelates promised prayers for the two-time defending NBA champs and talked with coach Phil ("Zen Master") Jackson, Spanish-born center Pau Gasol, and star guard Kobe Bryant -- the longest-tenured Laker in franchise history -- who later described the visit as "pretty cool," telling the paper that in his 15 years in the league, he'd never seen anything like it.

If only Ron Artest were around, the moment would've been all the more priceless. Then again, maybe he was kept away on purpose.

All that said, here are the post-shoot interviews, first with the cardinal...

...and the archbishop:

With each team left to face roughly eight more games in the league's regular season, the NBA Playoffs begin on April 16th.

Currently three and a half games behind the Spurs in the West, the Lakers have already clinched a postseason spot.