DANCING WITH THE DAMNED

Ryan Lochte 2Being a famous jerk still pays.

Take Lyin’ Ryan Lochte.

Please!

ABC didn’t have to be begged. In the Rio bad actor’s near future is season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” where he’ll have to be more nimble than in Brazil where he famously made up a story about being robbed at gunpoint at a service station as the Olympics were winding down.

That taint cost the gold medalist swimmer his major commercial sponsors. Not to worry, though. Lochte has since picked up a throat drop account and been named TV pitchman for a company that makes Robocopp, hand-held “sound grenades” that alert people to danger.

“I’ve been traveling a lot lately,” Lochte tells the camera, which sounds like code for his Brazilian stunt, “but it’s a good idea to stay safe.”

It’s not Ralph Lauren, but look, the guy has to make a living.

The culture is forgiving, with television especially known for welcoming bad actors from sports, politics and other areas of life back into the fold of respectability like redeemed sinners.

Coming to mind here is “The King of Comedy,” Martin Scorsese’s memorable 1983 dark comedy with Robert De Niro as a no-talent aspiring comic and talk show host named Rupert Pupkin who attains fame and ultimate respectability only after abducting a major TV personality, for which he goes to jail. Before that he’s a nonentity, a hapless, emotionally unstable wannabe radiating an undercurrent of danger. Afterward, he’s a star.

It’s the way things often happen. Memories fade, but the green of cash doesn’t. However enormous your flaws, you’ll thrive financially if your infamy earns a profit for others. If you’re a famous face who can make someone else money, you’ll always fill a niche and earn a payday somewhere on TV.

Dennis+Rodman 2The Rolodex of Reclaimed starts with the legions of political pundits invited back on TV even after getting everything wrong; you’re watching them now.  More egregiously, the list extends also to Watergate burglar-turned-radio-talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North, the former Marine colonel who went on to become a radio host, syndicated columnist and Fox commentator despite lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra affair. In sports, we have former pro basketballer Dennis Rodman, hired as a TV pitchman for Carl’s Jr. some years ago based solely on his reputation as an out-of-control, head-butting, cameraman-kicking, Mormon-cursing bad boy. Just as John McEnroe made Bic blades commercials that re-created his famed nastiness and name-calling on the court, cashing in on his petulance.

By the way, “Dancing with the Stars” will pair Lochte with Cheryl Burke, a professional who danced on the show in 2009 with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after a Texas Grand Jury had indicted him on money laundering charges tied to campaign contributions.

Although no one mentioned here comes close to villainy of epic size, TV’s path to resurrection is open to virtually everyone whose name and reputation will turn heads:

Now, dancing the rumba with Cheryl Burke, everyone’s favorite ruthless dictator, Kim Jong Un.

 

 

MY KOBE PHOBIA

To Ko-be, or not Ko-be—that is the question.

Not a question, really, but a cheap and contrived way to evoke The Bard in a blog about the slings and arrows of outrageous sports loyalties. Apologies to Elizabethans and “Hamlet,” I doth plead guilty.

I’m no Shakespearian, obviously. Even less—much, much less—a Kobian.

Kobe Bryant is a good-looking, smart, reasonably articulate, remarkably gifted athlete who has performed stratospherically in a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers translating to world-class entertainment.

Yet…

Something about the guy just pisses me off.

It has nothing to do with my being a Los Angeles Clippers zealot, which lands me on the wrong side of the tracks in a city where Kobedom and Lakerdom thread the culture as ubiquitously as good weather and bad traffic.

It’s just that anointing celebrities as deity is usually unearned genuflection, whether it’s the bafflingly famous Kardashians or the late great King himself. I’ve been to Memphis on the anniversary of Elvis’ death and observed his gridlock of followers light candles and parade like zombies up the slope to his gaudy mansion where they ultimately disperse into the summer night like smoke. Talk about the Walking Dead.

One difference: in L.A.—the epicenter of over-the-top—Bryant’s parade is on-going. These zombies ain’t dispersing.

No wonder I’m Kobed out, up to here with ceaseless adoration of someone who in his final season is a shrunken hologram of the stratospheric force he once was. Years ago, in testament to his own lethal-strike capability on the court—so much for humility—Bryant began titling himself the Black Mamba. The nickname was a nice marketing strategy, and it stuck. Today, though, he’s less Mamba on the court than Samba. Other than rarely, he can’t defend, can’t move, can’t shoot, can’t do much of anything consistently but unwisely chuck air balls and give interviews.

A continuing theme on local sports radio: Bryant deserves relentless praise because, as someone said recently, he’s “done so much for the city.” Oh? And that would be? I’d argue that his contributions off the court remain elusive.

Yet the multitudes—his giddy celebrants, including much of sports media—continue pumping helium into the expanding blimp otherwise known as Bryant’s ego. It’s the only part of his game that hasn’t atrophied.

Sports media won’t let it go, especially in L.A. where local TV sportscasters inevitably—and lazily—cap their Lakers highlights with repetitive Bryant soundbites. Night after night, same questions, same answers.

His popularity is indisputable. He received by far the most votes of anyone elected by fans to start Sunday’s NBA All-Star game (his 15th) in Toronto. Earlier Bill Plaschke, the Los Angeles Times chief sports columnist, appeared to suggest that Bryant’s fellow all-stars pay homage by stepping aside and allowing him to become the game’s MVP. As in the scripted Washington Generals rolling over so the Harlem Globetrotters could follow a script and humiliate them without obstruction? That was worth a double take.

It turned out there was no need to accommodate Bryant Sunday. No one played defense on either side, giving his teammates as much free passage to the hoop and as many open shots as the honoree. He missed most of them anyway (the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was MVP) after a lavish, over-produced pre-game tribute only slightly less thunderous than the Pope’s welcome in Mexico.

Now look, I’m hardly a stranger to intense sports loyalties. Although no marauding football hooligan, I’m pretty much a screwball fan myself.

In addition to the Clippers, I obsess over the Kansas City Royals in baseball (KC is my hometown) and Oklahoma Sooners in college football (I’m an OU alum). I’ve learned to roll with the ups and downs of the world-champ Royals. But when the Sooners or Clippers lose, my pain rises above mere suffering, I’m devastated—sometimes sad for days and too anguished even to read the game summaries online or in the paper. Can’t figure it. These teams don’t care about me, so why do I care about them so deeply? And with the Clippers, feel it to the bone when they’re unfairly maligned, which happens regularly in Lakers-centric L.A.?

Half the planet seems to be starving, the other half dying, and I’m crushed when the Sooners lose a football game or the Clippers get thumped? How rational is that?

When a fellow Sooners alum asked me recently why I wasn’t as passionate about OU’s highly ranked basketball team, I told him the truth. I already have the weight of Sooners football on my shoulders, I can’t take on more despair.

Or Kobe Bryant reverence. Which is why my answer is “not Ko-be.”