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Ode to Slava

March 7, 2006 |  2:11 pm

It's been about a day now. I've had time to pause, reflect and cope. I was momentarily distracted by last night's spirited dog fight against San Antonio (and one seriously good looking Manu Ginobili fan cheering her head off). I ate a decent breakfast this morning and watched about ten minutes of last night's tivo'ed episode of 24. I'm doing my damnedest to keep my mind occupied. But furiously running from my problems is merely taxing me without providing solace. Eventually, a man must stare his sadness dead in the eye in order to move past it. Thus, I've decided to face some unpleasant facts once and for all.

Slava Medvedenko is no longer a Laker.

Those who know me are perfectly aware that I've been an unabashed Slava fan since he joined the Lakers as a non-English speaking, often confused looking big man. I remain a fan as he leaves the Lakers as a "fakes-he-still-can't-speak-English-so-the-media-will-leave-him-alone," often confused looking big man. I can't recall a player with more natural ability to put up points or be unintentionally entertaining than my man from the Ukraine. Whether dazzling folks with his shooting touch or causing Phil Jackson to grimace like he was enduring a proctologist visit, I was never bored with Slava in the game. Not always happy with the results. But never, ever, ever bored.

Slava entered every game with one objective, and one objective only: Put the biscuit in the basket. He attacked that objective like a steel-willed (if somewhat erratic) sniper. Compared to Slava, Kobe is terrified to chuck. Critics always say Bryant never met a shot he didn't like. If that's the case, Slava practically french kissed the rock. Didn't matter where he was on the court, how much time was left on the 24 second clock, or how open anybody else was (especially since he wasn't much of a passer, anyway). The man was a field goal attempt waiting to happen. To say he'd freelance in the offense would infer he knew it in the first place, something I've never been quite convinced of. Or perhaps he mastered it and just didn't want to show off. Who's to say for sure? But I do know this much. Even if Slava was clueless about the triangle, this year's squad doesn't seem particularly up on it, either. They also desperately need a guy to come in, fire some shots, and do some of Kobe's heavy lifting. Sound like anybody who just got waived? Say what you want about his suspect D, propensity for picking up fouls (compared to Slava, Mihm is a ref's pet) or relative lack of development once he started getting minutes. Dude was "offense: just add basketball." This team has seriously missed Slava's contributions and I refuse to believe to believe otherwise.

In honor of the departed #14, I've relived a few of my personal highlights from his Lakers career. "Slava's Greatest Hits," if you will. These are but a few of the images I'll carry with me as I move bravely forward in a cruel, Slava-less Lakers era:

Slava spent most of his rookie season "injured," which loosely translated meant "learning English, the offense and how to navigate the 405 without ending up in San Diego." But when another one of my boys, Isaiah Rider, was put on the I.L. (a compromise from getting booted altogether), Slava was unleashed for about the last 5 games of the year. And in what I believe was his Lakers debut (second game at the very latest), he managed to get T'ed up about 20 seconds after stepping on the court for tussling with Chris Dudley. Classic. He seemed absolutely clueless about what was going on, and when I asked Robert Horry about it later on, Horry seconded that opinion. He also seemed to score every time he touched the ball. BK and I were both very impressed.

During the 2001 title parade (year of the Madsen dance), Chick eventually introduced Slava for the crowd. He was clearly uncomfortable speaking publicly in English, but gave it a nice go with a few short words, punctuated by a joyous "I love L.A.!" Right on cue, Chick responded, "You better love it. You don't have anywhere else to go!" That, my friends, is genius! Pure, unadulterated genius. Stand up comics would kill to be that quick. Chick also remains permanently linked to my Slava memories because of his inability to pronounce "Medvedenko." Just wasn't happening. Thus, I always waited for Chick to announce that Slava "Med-de-venko" was checking in. Nobody ever made a bricked name sound better. I've missed Chick every game since 2002. I now miss both.

I don't remember which game it was, but there was this one time where Slava got the ball at the arc, began dribbling... and kept dribbling. And dribbling. And dribbling. Stu and Paul Sunderland's commentary slowly tricked out, eventually silent for about 2-3 seconds (which feels like an incredibly long silence during a live broadcast), their total bewilderment obvious. Stu, with dead perfect delivery, finally uttered the $1,000,000 Question: "What is he doing?" Slava quickly answered the inquiry, firing a long jumper just inside the three point line, well beyond what one would define as his "comfort zone." Slava missed badly. Slava was yanked at the next dead ball. I'm not quite positive Slava reentered the game. But I laughed.

Slava stepped up big for most of the 2003-2004 season when Malone's knee gave out. It's no picnic replacing the the NBA's second leading scorer, world's toughest human, and supposed missing piece for a title. But Slava had some sweet games, then put in some good work during the playoffs. Everyone remembers the game against Minnesota when Kareem Rush went goony bird and hit all those treys. But people forget that Slava scored about 10 points in eight minutes and got some big boards. He was as much a part of that win as anybody. He also may have been over matched against 'Sheed in the Finals, but he didn't back down. In fact, I specifically recall the two tangling and getting double T's. Slava may not have been much of a defender. And he was hardly a banger. But he ain't soft. There is a difference.

Finally, Slava amused me this season simply by making me speculate his whereabouts. Ever since his back was clearly going to keep him off the court, I haven't seen the guy once. I mean, not at all. Period. He's the Lakers' version of "Where's Waldo?" It's actually a little weird. I've asked a couple fellow writers and they don't seem to know, either. Dude has literally vanished off the face of the planet. You'd have an easier time finding Jimmy Hoffa. But I'd expect nothing less, really. The cat was instant entertainment no matter what he did. Thus, even his absence was fun in its own right. Hopefully, he'll resurface next season with an de-herniated disc, ready to launch at will for the Lakers or somebody else. But until then, I wish the guy well. 

You're my boy, Slava.

You're my boy.